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2012 News Releases

Longwood's Archaeology Field School gives students hands-on experience

June 15, 2012

Students from all majors employ advanced research methods to uncover historical data and artifacts in the field

Dr. James Jordan established the Archaeology Field School (AFS) at Longwood in 1980 to offer students hands-on, practical training in archaeological field methods and techniques. More than 30 years later, the program is thriving, providing year-round opportunities for students to participate in ongoing research projects from Civil War battlefields in Charlotte County, Va., to the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.

Longwood's AFS  - and the anthropology program in general - makes a big impact. Just ask Dr. Brian Bates, a student of Dr. Jordan's and AFS alumnus who graduated from Longwood in 1992 and returned as a professor after earning a Ph.D. in archaeology from the University of London. Today he chairs the Longwood anthropology department and directs the AFS. His goal? Make the AFS as accessible as possible.

"We don't expect students to have any prior knowledge of archaeology or even the specific culture being studied," said Dr. Brian Bates. "We've had students from every major participate. The experiences they have are valuable to a person's academic and intellectual development regardless of their area of study."

In the field, students find a variety of artifacts from projectile points to various shell fragments.”

In the field, students find a variety of artifacts from projectile points to various shell fragments.

While participating in an AFS course, students live and work on site in the field. The specific tasks they undertake vary from traditional digging to research conducted using modern technologies. For example, students working at a site near Longwood's Hull Springs Farm in Westmoreland County, Va., are looking for a schoolhouse on the grounds of Nomini Hall, a family estate originally built in 1728. Ground-penetrating radar and magnetometry allow students to identify irregularities in the ground that are cultural rather than natural, pointing the way to where the schoolhouse might have been located. When the workday is done, students stay close to the site, often cooking together and gathering around a campfire.

"Being in the field is a different bond than what you can develop in the classroom, the archives or the library. You sit on the ground together, sweat together and take an afternoon off and float on inner tubes down the Staunton River together," said Dr. Jordan. "It's meaningful, it's the real world, and it's an actual difference we're making. There's a fundamental satisfaction in the whole thing."

AFS sites also provide valuable opportunities for classroom learning throughout the year. Students put together a research design for a site in the spring; during the summer, students working on site execute the plan. In the fall, classes will complete post-excavation processes to analyze and find meaning in the artifacts and data collected. Students get the opportunity to participate in each level of the experience and develop a deeper understanding of the process.

"We live in a time of instant gratification - if I want to know something, I Google it, and it's there. Longwood students have the opportunity to experience true academic learning through the AFS," said Dr. Bates. "It's a deliberative process that requires patience, skill, thought and planning. Having that perspective will serve any student well in life, regardless of their major."