Digging up history
Since the 1970s, the Department of Anthropology has offered local field schools to give students hands-on experience that will prepare them for their future education, research, and careers. Taking place over the summer, these two-week or five-week programs allow students to earn course credits and meet their degree requirements, all while experiencing a priceless hands-on learning opportunity.
The programs provide the students with excavation experience, which they usually can only obtain through a field school before they graduate. The field schools help meet a requirement set forth by the US Department of the Interior: all archeologists who wish to work on federally funded archaeology projects to have obtained field school credits as part of their degree. The different field schools have provided an opportunity to explore a variety of historic and prehistoric sites all over the Midwest, headed up by our skilled Anthropology faculty.
Dr. Mark Groover, Professor of Anthropology, has been teaching archaeology field schools since 2003. He has explored several different excavation sites with students, including the Moore-Youse House (Muncie, IN), Huddleston House (Cambridge City, IN), Clements Farm (Darke Country, Ohio), and the Yount Mill (Crawfordsville, IN).
In January 2020, Dr. Groover helped co-author the book Yountsville, which focuses on the historical significance of mill towns, including topics such as family labor, working women, and how to shape the future. Published by the University of Notre Dame Press, this book gave voices to Dr. Ronald Morris (Professor of History, Ball State University), Dr. Groover, other BSU faculty, and the students that worked on this project to share their findings and encourage the exploration of local history.
Recently, Dr. Groover and his students have been working at the Hyland Mill in Eaton, IN. This land contained a grist mill, farm sites, and other archeological interests for students to explore. Zoe Lawton, an undergraduate anthropology student, said that she and her classmates were tasked with determining where the mill was actually located on the farm. The mill burned down due to a dust explosion, which produced extreme temperatures that were high enough to melt glass and steel, making what was left behind all the more interesting.
The students spend the first few weeks doing survey work and familiarizing themselves with archeological processes such as post hole test pits, metal detecting, and probing to outline the former structure. They then got to perform layered digs, which outlined the structures foundation and led them to identify different artifacts from the mills past life. During all of this, Dr. Groover taught them other practical and necessary skills for their future careers, such as drawing, mapping, cataloging, and how to critically analyze archeological sites.
John Moynihan, a current graduate student studying anthropology, got involved in the field schools as an undergrad. For him, this opportunity was more than just a degree requirement. It helped him unearth and inform his research interests and master’s thesis. He also sited that this experience helped him gain a better understanding of how to analyze and use historical resources which will help him achieve his career goals in either field preservation or estate law.
“I wanted to take the field school due to my fascination with the field of archaeology and interest in local history. Dr. Groover helped me grow my interest in excavation sites which helped me decide to explore the role of grist mills in Delaware County, IN as my master’s thesis,” said Moynihan.
Zoe Lawton also holds Hyland Mill in a special place in her heart. After getting involved on the project because of her desire to gain experience with many different types of archeological methods, Zoe found herself captivated by the lives that had once inhabited the farm. She got the opportunity to open a unit that used to be a fireplace. With vivid detail, she remembers how it still smelled like it was burning, even after all of these years. Through this and the other artifacts that were discovered, she could clearly imagine the lives that had taken place here. For her, it was a meaningful experience.
Looking toward the future
As this program continues, Dr. Groover hopes to continue helping students and alumni secure jobs in Indiana and the Midwest. He also hopes to see how the projected boom in US infrastructure spending will impact both future jobs and field school sites, and how practical experience will help students discover if they want to dedicate their lives to rediscovering the past, an idea well encapsulated by his student Zoe Lawton.
“You will gain invaluable insight into archaeological process and understand if this is the type of career you would like to continue. You will gain friendships and connections & it will help to reveal your love for science and archaeology,” said Zoe Lawton.
The archaeology field schools provide students with a firsthand look into it what it means to be an archeologist. Dr. Groover and the other faculty help students to not only form research questions and develop resumes, but also inspire their students to find meaning in their work and the history that surrounds us all.