Major: Ancient Studies
Summer Research: New Philadelphia NSF
How did you find out that you could participate in an excavation for this summer?
I was on the search for an internship for the summer. I was having no luck finding something related to archaeology that was close enough for me to commute to each day. Because of this, I contacted the director of the program for which I interned last summer (The Lost Towns Project). She suggested that I look into programs sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), as she had participated in one such project when she was an undergraduate. She forwarded me to their website, which lists programs by field. This is where I found the project I later became a part of.
What was involved in applying? Was it difficult? Did you have help from UMBC?
Applying was fairly simple and quite easy. The application consisted of filling out a brief form which contained questions pertaining to education background, writing a short letter of intent, sending the program a transcript, and also sending a few letters of recommendation. My professors at UMBC provided some of the letters of recommendation, along with a good deal of help in editing my letter of intent. Getting accepted to the project wasn’t quite as easy however. Only nine spots were available and over sixty applications were submitted.
What was the project you worked on? What did you do? How long were you there?
The project I worked on was called the New Philadelphia NSF REU. New Philadelphia was once a small town in western Illinois’ Pike County. The town was only a few miles from the still existing town of Barry. The town was founded by a freed African slave, Frank McWorter or Free Frank. The town began in roughly 1840, had a small time of prosperity before the rail road bypassed it, and later came to be used as agricultural farm land. I was involved in this project for ten weeks. The first five weeks focused on archaeological field work. During this time, I stayed near the site in the town of Barry. Each day I would travel to the site where excavations were in progress. The main excavation while I was there was the bisection of a cellar feature, or in other words, the excavation of one half of the cellar of a house. From this cellar, I and the rest of the field crew excavated thousands of artifacts. For the second five weeks, I stayed in the graduate dorms of the University of Illinois Springfield. While there, each day I processed the artifacts we had recovered. We began by washing them. Next we cataloged them. After cataloging, we labeled each artifact. Finally, for the last week of the project, we researched various aspects of the artifacts and their relation to the site.
What did you already know about how to do this when you started? What did they teach you on the job?
I already knew a good deal about the type of work I would be doing and the environment I would be doing it in. I experienced these things in my previous internship with the Lost Towns. While I had the basics of field and lab work covered, this experience reinforced the good habits I had already formed and helped to eliminate the bad ones. I already knew that archaeology is done slightly differently from site to site and from crew to crew, and this was apparent during this experience. For this experience I was taught a different system to keeping track of artifacts and their provenience and a different system of cataloging. I also did a bit of work with the geo-sciences as they apply to archaeology, along with a couple days of learning how to do faunal analysis. Both of these experiences were completely new to me.
Who did you work with?
I worked with a wide array of people in differing areas. I worked with many archaeologists, most of whom specialized in historic archaeology and one who specialized in faunal analysis. I also had three crew leaders who are currently in graduate school. Two are focusing on historic archaeology and one on the geo-sciences. I also worked with eight other undergraduates who were accepted to the program.
Was it expensive to go there?
The program was funded by the NSF, so instead of paying for this field school like most others, participants in this field school actually received a sizable stipend. In addition, lodging was completely paid for along with food for the first half of the project. The only thing I had to pay for myself was travel expenses, half of my food, and a bunch of cool souvenirs from the awesome places we visited while there.
What was the most interesting thing about your time on this project? The most difficult?
The most interesting aspect for me was being able to leave the comfort zone of being near people and places that were familiar to me and immersing myself in a totally new environment. It was also really beneficial to learn how others approached different topics and problems and to get a feel for how a job or grad school will likely be.
Will you stay in touch with the project and people now that your summer program is over?
I will stay in touch with many of the people I met there. I made some new friends and did quite a bit of networking, which I am learning is crucial in this field, as it is in most others. I will see many of the people I worked with again in January, as one of the big conferences is being held in Baltimore.
How will the work you did this summer relate to your classes at UMBC? To your career plans?
All of my archaeology classes have prepared me for field work, lab work, and academic writing; in other words, they prepared me for everything I did while taking part in this project. My classes and this experience continue to prepare me for the future, as I plan to have a career doing the same type of work, either in an academic setting or a corporate setting.
What would you say to other UMBC students about finding such research opportunities?
If you can find an NSF REU that relates to your field of study, by all means apply. It is hard to find research positions that pay you to be a part, not to mention how good National Science Foundation looks on a resume.
Did you present your results at an end-of-summer symposium?
At the end of the program I presented some research that I had done on a handful of the artifacts we recovered. I used makers marks and other distinctive features to determine both the date and location of manufacturing. With this information, those working on the project later will be able to date the different levels of the excavation units we dug, as well as make connections between the site and the rest of the country and world.