Throughout the summer I have had countless people ask me what I am doing. When I tell them that I am participating in an archaeological field school that takes place on campus the most common response that I get is “So are you actually finding anything”? This question has always struck me as odd. Of course we find artifacts; MSU has been around since 1855. That’s 160 years of cultural history left in the ground. But as I think about it, that is the reason we need archaeology. To show people that there is something almost anywhere. Once I explain this to them, people usually understand what CAP is doing. Usually.
Another common comment from people is that they can’t believe we are finding actual artifacts from the past. They think that the faculty and staff just put stuff in the ground for us to dig up at a later time so we can learn the archaeological process of digging up the past. This strikes me as even more odd than whether or not we are actually finding artifacts. Of course we are digging up actual artifacts. That’s the only way to learn. You don’t put a 16 year old in a simulator to see if they can simulate how to drive; you put them out there in the real world with real situations so they can learn how to really react.
And that is most certainly what the CAP field school has taught me. Your unit isn’t always this perfect little 2 meter by 2 meter square abundantly filled with artifacts that you find at every level. The unit is an actual part of the real world filled with roots and piping; it even floods when it rains. These real obstacles have taught those of us attending the field school how to react when certain situations arise. Just in case you were wondering, the usual reaction is just to dig around the obstacle, carefully. But we just can’t go plowing through the ground blindly looking for artifacts.
There is a steady, gradual process in place to allow us to accurately and carefully do our job. That is where the learning aspect of the field school comes into play. We have learned the proper shoveling methods and the proper way to hold a trowel. Out in the real world. Would it be nice to have an artificial pit with no real world obstacles to deal with? Of course it would. But that’s not the point of learning how to properly conduct yourself at a dig. The field school has been a class just like any other at MSU. We come in, we are taught, and we learn.
Out in the real world, and to quote Robert Frost “that has made all the difference”.