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Anthropology Students Don't Have to Go Far Afield

December 2, 2013
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The school, held during alternate summers and the subsequent autumn semesters, allows third-year anthropology students at UTM to apply their classroom lessons in the field. In past years, it was held at historical sites throughout Ontario, but this year the faculty decided that the campus itself had the potential to be a learning laboratory.

In August, students who had registered for Anthropology 318 practiced their skills in the woods near Lislehurst and in so doing expanded the body of knowledge about their own campus.

“I didn’t expect so much history 50 meters to the right of Lislehurst,” said Francis Tran, a fourth-year anthropology student from Mississauga, Ontario. “It’s right next to the trail I walk on all the time. Now, I wonder, ‘how can I have missed this?”’

Prof. Michael Brand, the historical archaeologist who ran this year’s field school and teaches the accompanying course, said he suspected that the wooded area was once the site of Mount Woodham, one of three homes built by the Canadian artist Charlotte Schreiber and her husband for themselves and his adult sons on property now owned by the university.

Mount Woodham, where Charlotte lived and worked, was torn down in 1928 when the Schreiber family sold the property. The new owner used the materials to renovate Lislehurst.

“Part of the fun of this exercise is building up information slowly and learning how this end of campus has been used by different people over time,” Professor Brand said.

With the help of his students, the professor and his colleagues hope to determine whether the wooded area is actually the site of Mount Woodham. The project will also offer a window into the ways in which the Schreibers altered the original landscape, importing plants and trees familiar to them from their native England.

In August, students spent two weeks at the site, undertaking a pedestrian survey, mapping the site and conducting subsurface tests of carefully chosen spots.

The students marked off a 25-foot-square grid, then dug down 4 inches at a time in the designated spots, using a screen to sieve the soil in search of artifacts. They documented the work done in each layer and carefully labeled their finds.

“The days are long and the work is hard, but it’s rewarding,” said Rachel Wedekind, a third-year student from Toronto. “When you find something, it’s like all the hard work paid off.”

Alexandra Wheatcroft, a third-year student from Brampton, Ontario, said that until the field school began, she had no idea how much planning went into an excavation.

“The digging, by contrast, is so easy,” she said, recounting the tale of how she had uncovered a shotgun shell: “It’s cool to be part of history.”

Under Professor Brand’s direction, the students also set up a permanent datum, or starting point, at the site so that students and archaeologists in future years can replicate their grid using the measurements taken this summer. It paves the way for future field schools to build upon the 2013 results.

As the autumn semester began, the field school veterans headed into the lab to put their discoveries into context. Armed with toothbrushes and basins of water, they washed and cleaned the artifacts found at the site, then prepared to label them according to where they had been unearthed and to theorize about what the discoveries might mean.

“It’s interesting to think that people lived here 100 years ago and we are here walking into our past,” said Ms. Wedekind: “We’re so lucky to have this all on campus.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/02/world/americas/anthropology-students-dont-have-to-go-far-afield.html

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