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Public Archaeology

Friday: September 23, 2011

In geoarchaeology, it is required to go on at least one of three field trips. Earlier this month, I took the option to visit the History Beneath Us event at the study of Lew Wallace. Prior to this, I knew nothing about Lew Wallace, who is likely best known for being the author of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. During my time there, I visited the small museum and toured his study. His fantastical study – check it out if you are ever in the area. He seemed like a really cool dude and from a photo on display, I believe it is likely he knew Hiram Bingham (“discoverer” of Macchu Pichu, or a relative of the man). I point that out because before grad school began, I had been reading Turn Right at Machu Pichu, by Mark Adams. It collects dust now, but I digress.

Under the direction of Dr. M and his archaeologist wife Anne, I worked alongside two undergrads and with two volunteers. One of them happened to be friends with Dr. Haskell, which operates a workshop about entomology that I have always wanted to attend. The other provided me some (small) photos since I did not bring my camera. Other photos can be found at The General Lew Wallace Study and Museum Blog.

Archaeology at the Lew Wallace Study

I dig while Dr. M discusses with the undergrads.

Being the grad student of the group, I got the pleasure of digging most of the day. It was exactly what I had expected, except that instead of being completely boring, I found it to be mildly therapeutic. It helped that I was there with people very passionate about archaeology. The phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” never rings as true as when a tiny chipped piece of ceramic pops up in an archaeological site.

Archaeology at the Lew Wallace Study

Anne and Dr. M shoveling out a new unit.

While I was digging the last layer of a unit, Dr. M and Anne began widening the trench for further excavations. They dug up a lot of cool stuff – nails, mica circles, a glass bottle of some type, pottery sherds, and a metal object of some sort. The undergrads, with the help of the volunteers, screened everything through a quarter-inch screen and saved it all for later analysis.

Archaeology at the Lew Wallace Study

Dr. M, a volunteer, and I screening for artifacts like glass and charcoal.

The purpose of this particular site is to assist the Lew Wallace Museum. On the grounds of the study, Wallace had a beautiful reflecting pool built which then later was filled in due to fear that his grandchildren may suffer harm. In every photo taken of it that the museum has archived, the photographer is standing at the end so little is known about this particular portion. The Ms volunteer their time and efforts each season to answer this question and give students some archaeological experience.

Public archaeology events are always great because one of the most important things to me is sharing anthropology with others. At excavations like this, volunteers do not only get to observe archaeology in action, but to also participate. Be sure that if you hear of an event like this near you that you check it out!

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