Excavating an Education
Students Unearth Ancient History in Italy
When junior History major Ginger Buchanan traveled to the beautiful Tuscany region of Italy this summer, she wasn’t expecting to fall in love. But that’s just what happened. Ginger Buchanan was swept off her feet by archaeology.
Buchanan and five other UNC Asheville students--Rachel Applefield, Katherine Culatta, Jeremy Duncan, Courtney Galatioto and Courtney Miller--worked at the Cetamura del Chianti excavation site from May 15-June 17. Led by Laurel Taylor, lecturer in the Art and Classics departments, the group worked alongside students from New York University and Florida State University.
The trip was at the heart of Taylor’s Archaeological Field Methods course. “Working at an excavation site allows students to really understand the process of historical reconstruction and how we know what we know about ancient cultures,” Taylor said. “It’s very different from the traditional way that students typically learn about history in a classroom.”
That’s precisely what appealed to the students. “It was awesome to learn history with my hands in the dirt instead of from a textbook,” Buchanan said.
Buchanan admits she’s a dyed-in-the-wool history buff. “I think my dad left the History Channel on too much when I was little,” she laughs. But archaeology had never crossed her mind. All that changed after her first few days in Italy. In fact, Buchanan is now planning to attend graduate school in history and hopes to one day teach at a college and lead excavations in the summer.
“I just cannot imagine not doing archaeology after this experience,” she said.
Students got a taste of the hard work that comes along with the more romanticized aspects of archaeology. They battled rain, unusually cold weather and poisonous vipers while taking on the physically demanding labor of moving soil, carrying equipment and stooping over a tiny patch of dirt for hours at a time.
But with that hard work came massive payoffs: every student found at least one artifact during the dig. Buchanan was especially lucky. On the second day of work, she found a perfectly preserved jade piece from an ancient game dating back to 400 B.C.E. “Words simply cannot describe what it feels like to find something like that,” she said.
Taylor said that such experiences are rarely offered to students at smaller institutions like UNC Asheville. “These opportunities are usually associated with large research universities,” Taylor said, who has co-directed digs at other excavation sites in Italy for a number of years.
The students took advantage of the opportunity. They worked and studied diligently said Taylor.
“They labored in the field from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, which entails a really tedious process of pulling back dirt centimeter by centimeter and sifting through it hoping to find something,” Taylor said. “After dinner together, the students worked into the night recording what they had found.”
Buchanan said she felt confident in speaking for all six students in the innovative course, when she summed up her experience. “It was just an all-around great learning opportunity. It definitely exceeded all my expectations.”