The Real Thing

By Daney Daniel Kepple


Photo: Student grafitti
A bit of student grafitti on the paper that covers the artifact table

The students who participated in Rhodes’ first-ever archaeological field school found it to be a “totally awesome” experience.

“When somebody asks you what you did over the summer, how many people get to say they participated in an archaeological dig?” says Jay Jordan ’07, a graduate history student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on a full-ride fellowship. He’s aiming for a Ph.D. and a career modeled after that of his mentor, Dr. Russ Wigginton ’88, a former history professor and now vice president for College Relations at Rhodes. “I would love nothing better than to give back to the place that gave me so much,” Jordan says.

History major Ethan McClelland ’09 says, “I expected to have great opportunities in college and this was definitely one of them.”

Avery Pribila ’09, who grew up in Colorado, confesses that she was nervous on the front end. “I didn’t know if I could survive a Tennessee summer and I didn’t know how hard the physical part would be. The first day we cleared the site, and that was the hardest part. Then we started digging and almost instantly started finding things. It was so exciting!”

Dustin Sump ’09, an economics major who’s enrolled in an intensive language program in Beijing this fall, recalls, “When I got to the part in the Holcombe diary where the wife mentions burying a child there, the whole thing became more loaded.”

All four cite three memorable facets of the experience.

Relationships with the faculty: “It was neat to sit down at dinner and hear their take on what happened that day,” Sump says. “It was almost like we were their colleagues even though they have loads more experience. One night Professor Byrne went on a tangent on ancient languages and wrote out the entire transition from Greek to Latin to Hebrew. It was great! And Professor Moreland would bring his kids out there. We got to see them in a much more human light.”

Nature of the “entertainment:” “There was no TV, no Internet, no cell phones,” McClelland recalls. “Actually, I had cell service but I turned off my phone. We found out there are other ways to entertain ourselves. We had an awesome game of capture the flag, we played croquet, climbed trees, sat around a campfire and ate s’mores. It was like being on vacation it was so relaxing, plus I got credit for it and learned a lot.”

Quality of the learning environment: “We got knee-deep and hands-on,” says Jordan. “We weren’t just reading about it, we were seeing it, touching it, digging it up,” Pribila says.

“It was the real thing,” McClelland confirms. “The equipment was awesome and it was great to learn how to use it. I got to use things most real archaeologists don’t and people have already talked to me about going to work for them.”

And he adds one other element. “It was a thrill to be at a site that was untouched. Rhodes was the first to recognize the history and archaeology of the place. Rhodes is leading the way, doing really cool, important things. It’s impressive.”

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