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PFW students at an anthropology dig

Students share their enthusiasm for Archaeology at campus site

By Blake Sebring

September 20, 2023

While many college students focus their attention four or five years into the future, some Purdue University Fort Wayne students love digging a little deeper to get a glimpse of what was happening a few thousand years into the past.

Part of the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, approximately 10 PFW students presented a demonstration of their skills and inquisitiveness on Saturday. Camping out on the west side base of the Ron Venderly Family Bridge, students introduced their passion to more than 75 visitors.

“It’s a pretty cool experience to talk to the public and tell them we are archaeologists,” said junior Emily Doctor. “We’re here to engage the public in archaeology and hope they get a better appreciation of it.”

It helps that so many Johnny Appleseed Festival patrons were parking at PFW this weekend and then walking across the bridge, which took them directly past an active archaeology dig on the other side. Professors Jamie Cochran-Smith and Andrew Smith have used the site for three years to train students on digging and excavation before they tackle larger projects off campus.

Because of the location next to the St. Joseph River, the professors suspected an ancient settlement there, but students have proven it by finding flakes, tools, and points (arrowheads). Cochran-Smith said the site is between 1,000 and 4,000 years old, though they have not found walls or firepits to point to a permanent structure, yet. Only about one-third of the area has been excavated.

“Knowing somebody sat here thousands of years ago and used a stone tool is pretty cool,” Doctor said. “I’m the first person to touch some of this in several thousand years.”

Students shovel to remove the top soil until they see it change color and then scrape away 10-centimeter layers. The dirt is then sifted.

“I like outreach and talking in front of people,” said sophomore Julian Colon, who came back to school after substitute teaching. “It’s kind of in my wheelhouse, so when we got that opportunity to come out here and be that front line between the community and archaeology, I jumped on it immediately. It’s a special feeling to have that particular knowledge; nowhere near the expertise, but it’s just a glimpse of it—a glance.”

It’s even better when children get involved and ask questions, partly because they want to get dirty, too.

“When they are hungry for information about it, and you get to be that person who sates that, it’s a pretty cool feeling,” Colon said.