Mock excavation teaches class reality of archaeology

5 April 2017
Michaela Flonard, News Editor

During the Research Colloquium, students from Dr. Odewale’s class held a mock excavation for visitors to witness.

Students in Dr. Alicia Odewale’s “The Archaeology and History of the African Diaspora” class experienced a few hours in the life of an archaeologist during a live mock excavation. The four students participated last Thursday as part of the university’s Research Colloquium. Held outside of ACAC, the excavation was done by the students but others were encouraged to stop by and ask questions.

The excavation had four stations: digging, sifting, documentation and public outreach, meant by Odewale to mimic a historic site. The students had done research on other sites and had posters displaying their findings at the excavation as well. Odewale made the digging station herself with artifacts from her education collection that are no longer tied to any site.

The dig had four layers. The top layer didn’t have anything in it, which is “typical of a surface find,” Odewale said. Layer two was meant to look like the inside of a house, while the third layer had agricultural tools, like a hoe. The final layer was the remnants of a house. “You can imagine going down to the foundation of a structure, so you’d find things like bricks, nails, hinges,” she said.

Having a mock excavation was important to Odewale, who’s taught the same course at another institution with the mock excavation. “You can read about it all day,” she said, “but until you go out and do it you haven’t learned how to apply all the theories and discussions you’ve been reading up for.”

The students agreed. Amanda Chastang thought the dig was more difficult than she’d imagined, partly because they got off schedule and partly because of the cold weather. She also mentioned time as a factor. According to Odewale, this was typical of archaeology, saying, “you start out wanting it to be perfect, but then you have to realize you have to do your best within the time limit, and it’s cold and all these other external factors are affecting how you want the end product to be.”

Michael Trotter was surprised to find that he enjoyed, and even favored, the digging section. “It was interesting to read it in the book and then get to do it. It’s actually hands on, not just, ‘this is how to use a trowel,’” he said. Nkem Ike also liked the digging, as the experience of finding something new in each layer was rewarding. The last layer was most fun for her.

The students did note that their work was easier than a real excavation, as they knew they would be finding artifacts.

The excavation also made Chastang realize that archaeology requires teamwork and coordination. “Which is why it’s so crazy that every archaeology movie has some lone guy in a bucket hat digging by himself or robbing a grave and running away,” complained Odewale. “It’s just not what we do. Without teamwork you just can’t do it,” she continued.
Trotter summed up the experience as “definitely difficult, but definitely doable.”