St. Mary’s College of Maryland is uniquely placed for archaeology research. Not only that, but the programs cultivated to give students the experience they need are exceptionally well curated. Dr. Gijanto, assistant professor of anthropology, is teaching a field school this summer. Anthropology is a field that can only “truly be learned through doing,” Gijanto explained.
Not every field school is like the one offered at SMCM. “Students in our field school learn every phase of archaeological research. We are especially training them to be successful in the public sector,” Gijanto reported. “This process is unique to our program at SMCM.” Field schools are requirements of Cultural Resource Management (CRM) companies.
The class is taking place from June 6 to July 15 at the Cremona Estate, a 17th and 18th century plantation, field school in Mechanicsville, St. Mary’s County. SMCM students are working at the excavation site West Ashcomb.
“Our excavations are concentrated on the former great house while survey work is being done with shovel testing, surface collection, and drones to try and find outbuildings such as barns, the dairy, and kitchen that we know were on the property from wills and probate records.”
For the past three weeks, students have been working in the Great House. They’ve begun survey work. They’ve found many unique artifacts, but the largest has been the Great House’s brick foundation.
“This has overall been an incredibly positive experience,” Peri Kelsey, a student at the field school, said. The field school not only makes available to students an “abundance of knowledge” on the trade of anthropology, but also on the history of Southern Maryland. Kelsey is a rising senior with a major in anthropology and a minor in museum studies.
The students are learning how to excavate artifacts and “what significance those artifacts have in time and space.” The field school, Kelsey explained, involves a lot more than what might be seen on the surface. Which location should be chosen, and how is a decision arrived at? How are units set up for excavation? How do you preserve what’s been found? All of these things, Kelsey went on, is part of the curriculum. The artifacts found at the chosen sites are then identified and labeled. How were the artifacts used, and what is the history of their origin?
Kelsey explained that, at first, they thought they were excavating the manor house of the Ashcomb family. That theory was then replaced when they discovered bits of ceramic pieces, North Devonware, which she explained is typically used in a dairy building. Was the building a dairy, after all? Not quite. The next week, the considerable amount of bone that was coming up around the brick wall led them to a different theory, as this level of bone would not be found in a dairy setting. “With every day, every location, every uncovered artifact, you’re always finding something new about Southern Maryland’s history, and the ways in which we, today, go about discovering it.”
Last year, Dr. Gijanto was awarded a grant from the Heritage Fund, a program sponsored jointly by Preservation Maryland and the Maryland Historical Trust. Her project was titled, “Cremona Collections Curation and National Register Preparation.” The funding was used in part to prepare for this class by determining where to dig this summer.
Gijanto has been supervising archaeological work at the Estate since 2012 while teaching students excavation techniques and lab analysis.
“This project and Dr. Gijanto’s commitment are fine examples of how our teacher-scholars provide valuable experiential learning opportunities for our students,” said Sabine Dillingham, director of research and sponsored programs.
Kelsey believes the field school is extremely valuable even to students from outside the major. The school has imparted upon her a greater value and appreciation of the community she lives in. To do well, students need the work ethic, enthusiasm, and the drive to succeed. “A couple days in it is not hard to find these motivations. With every artifact you uncover, there’s excitement and a desire to find more.”
The class meets ELAW and Museum Studies internship requirements. And better yet, there are opportunities for immediate employment in St. Mary’s College of Maryland archaeological projects for outstanding students following class completion.
SMCM students are going to dig up some great experience this summer!
To see pictures of the work-in-progress, visit the SMCM Archaeology Instagram page.