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Skidmore Archeological Dig in Colorado

Posted: 08/24/2009

This is the seventh summer that Professor of Anthropology Sue Bender has taken Skidmore students to South Park, Colo., a grassy basin in the Rocky Mountains, to conduct archeological fieldwork on early- Native American, hunter-gatherer domestic sites.

This year's excavation site (24 square meters) is at least 3,000 years old, according to Bender, but an accurate date for its older levels will need to come from carbon 14 testing of charcoal, which, happily, they found at the site (results take several months). The other major goal, which the students accomplished, was to reconstruct the shape and extent of one floor from a former dwelling.

Students, all of whom took a lab course with Bender at Skidmore, split time between the excavation site and a lab. Among other things, they took careful notes of their observations, mapped the site, trowelled, sifted, and measured, and collected and inventoried artifacts. Students were divided into teams of two responsible for specific portions (or units) of the excavation site.

Says Bender, "It's incredible training. Students can say that they worked on a very tricky, intricate archeological site." It's slow, painstaking work, but with patience the students begin to get answers to their questions. Chuckles Bender, "It's more fun than any sane person could imagine."

Along the way, students connect with local members of the South Park community through their joint exploration of the archeological landscape. In so doing, they discover, as Bender puts it, that "archeology is not only a technical process but also a profoundly social one."

For a more in-depth look at the experience, you can view Sarah Burns' '09 compelling and beautiful 50-minute documentary film, enhanced by the voiceover work of Francesca Fanelli '09 and the music of Josh Cipolla '09. The video is divided into three parts. There is also a five-minute trailer for those seeking an overview.

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