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Students unearth history at archaeological digs around the world

St. Olaf student Anna Lund ’16 (right) with a member of the Turkish team that uncovered a Medusa head at the Antiochia ad Cragum dig site this summer. The St. Olaf team uncovered many coins and pieces of pottery at the site.

This summer, three St. Olaf College students unearthed history one inch at a time at archaeological digs around the world.

From Bulgaria to Turkey to the Straits of Mackinac, these students put the skills they learned in St. Olaf courses to work as teaching assistants, archaeologists, and tour guides.

Anna Lund ’16 and Lizzy Bews ’15 spent the summer at dig sites in Bulgaria and Turkey, while Ryan Mathison ’16 worked on a dig in Michigan.

Lund and Bews are veterans of the Archaeological Methods course, a St. Olaf study-abroad program led by Associate Professor of History Tim Howe that provides students with a hands-on learning experience at a dig site in Antiochia ad Cragum.

Mathison is a veteran of the College Year in Athens program, which focuses on Greece and the Mediterranean region through courses ranging from Art and Archeology to Ancient Greek, Latin, and Modern Greek.

What these three have in common is not only their love of culture and discovery, but their experiences with study-abroad programs and courses that have opened up job and internship opportunities around the globe.

Bews and Lund spent the first half of this summer working on excavating a basilica at a dig run by the American Research Center in Sofia.

Lizzy Bews ’15 holds a loom weight and a coin that she discovered at the Parthicopolis archaeological site in Bulgaria this summer.

The archaeologists there excavated the site to a level that existed in the Bronze Age to collect information about the basilica and the influence of Christianity on the area. The site is opening soon to tourists and will be restored to what it would have looked like in the 6th century.

The material that has been collected during the dig has been invaluable to piecing together the history of the site. The team found coins, iron tools, jewelry, and hellenistic pottery that was thought not to have existed in this area in antiquity.

“The most rewarding part of my experience was putting together the puzzle of our site,” says Bews. “For example, we located a wall in our trench that helped us understand where the exterior of the basilica was and what kind of interior decoration was common during that period in history.”

This is the second summer Bews has spent in Bulgaria, and the first Lund has.

After their time in Bulgaria, both Lund and Bews traveled to Turkey to return as teaching assistants at the dig site in Antiochia ad Cragum.

Lund has spent a significant amount of time in the Mediterranean during her St. Olaf career. In addition to a semester on the college’s Term in the Middle East program (now the Mediterranean Semester), she also spent last summer in Turkey as a student in Howe’s Archaeological Methods field course. When she was asked to return to Turkey this summer as a TA for the course, she could hardly wait.

“Archeology is something that is usually best learned through experience,” says Lund. “I learned so much over the course of those five weeks. The chance to come back and continue learning, and to learn as I taught others, was one I could not refuse.”

At Antiochia ad Cragum, a Turkish team working on site uncovered a Medusa head, while the St. Olaf team uncovered many coins and pieces of pottery.

These artifacts were documented with reflectance transformance imaging (RTI) technology. RTI takes pictures to create a 3D image of the artifacts, which makes scripts, symbols, and smaller details visible to the human eye.

“We are the first people to see these items in several thousand years; it is a sense of closeness to past events that other people can’t share,” says Lund.

Ryan Mathison ’16 spent part of his summer helping excavate Colonial Michilimackinac, an 18th century fort and fur trading village in Michigan.

Colonial Michilimackinac
While Bews and Lund spent the summer in the Mediterranean, Mathison was on a dig site on the other side of the world. He spent two weeks in Michigan’s Mackinac State Historic Park and was stationed at Colonial Michilimackinac, an 18th century fort and fur trading village that is one of the six historic sites located in the park.

This site has been excavated for the last 50 years, and the team is hoping to build a reconstruction of the original fort in the same location using the information found by archaeologists.

To do this, archaeologists at this particular site practiced a precise form of archeology by digging down 1/10th of a foot at a time and documenting the soil and rock types. The second part of their work involved sifting through the dirt with screens to find artifacts.

Mathison found three things that are considered relatively rare: a blue wampum bead, a sewing needle, and a clay pipe stem with geometric designs on it. All of the artifacts shed light on the culture and past of the fort.

“As rewarding as all of this work was, it was rather difficult,” says Mathison. “This experience taught me very much about this precise form of archaeology, and even after two weeks I had improved immensely.”

Unlike the other dig sites that are closed to the public, there was nothing but a small rope that separated Mathison from onlookers. So this site is not only about discovering cultural markings from the 18th century, but also educating the public on who, what, and why the dig site is there.

“I was able to explain to the people exactly what we were doing and why it mattered, and was able to talk with kids who suddenly wanted to become archaeologists when they grew up,” says Mathison. “These experiences were wonderful and made my time at the fort even more enjoyable.”