For my practicum I volunteered in Dr. Brighton's Archeology lab in Woods hall, aiding in the cleaning and cataloging of artifacts from the University of Maryland's dig in Texas, Maryland. Since there is relatively little information known about the Irish in Maryland in the mid 19th century, the Texas field school was set up to study the archeology of the Irish Diaspora in Maryland. The Department of Anthropology at Maryland has been working in conjunction with The Friends of Texas, Maryland and the Ballykilcline Society since the summer of 2009. The two groups share the objective of acquiring knowledge about the daily lives of the Irish in Maryland with the aim at better understanding the Irish influence upon present day Maryland.
I found my site through my friend Jennifer Gloede who did the same site in the Fall 2009. I had already taken ANTH240 with Dr. Brighton and liked him as a professor, so that, combined with Jen's positive evaluation of the site and people involved with it spurred me to contact Dr. Brighton. At the lab I performed such tasks as artifact cleaning, identification, cataloguing and organization on the material culture excavated from last summer's field school in Texas, Maryland. The material culture that I was specifically working on was excavated from the privy behind the old local tavern.
I learned many artifact handling lab skills such as cleaning, logging, and cataloguing that can also be applied to labs in unrelated academic environments. The ability to correctly record your data is absolutely vital to any research. Probably an even more import skill to my future in research is the practical experience I gained by working in a lab, under a lab supervisor, and by being accountable to a faculty member; a skills set that will be invaluable for as long as I remain in school. Almost equally import to being accountable to a lab supervisor is keeping the lab supervisor accountable to you, the student. Most professors are VERY busy people and I have learned from experience that it is vital to keep on top of any lab supervisor when it comes to paperwork, otherwise it could simply be forgotten. Fortunately nothing too awful or inconvenient happened to me, however I still became very aware of this facet of "lab life".
One of the main things that I learned outside of my knowledge of the field and site was how closely science and society are intertwined. For the Archeology of Texas Maryland dig it was as equally important to gain the support of the Texas community as it was to dig up material culture. Dr. Brighton, in order to get approval to dig, had to work in close conjunction with two local groups. Additionally, the local's stories, legends, and old family dairies are vital to making sense out of the massive amounts of material culture dug up by the field school. If the local community is not cooperative with researchers who have to physically go out to a site to collect their data (geologists, naturalists, archeologists, statisticians) it makes the researchers job exceedingly difficult. It is vital for scientists to build up support within the local community and society in order to maintain efficiency and productivity in their research.
This site did not affect my future career plans aside from debunking my romanticized notion of "Indiana Jones" archeology. I now have a much greater respect for the work and knowledge that goes into an archeological dig. By the end of an excavation, the researchers are literally THE experts in that very precise area of the field. Their passion has contributed a wealth of historical knowledge that helps humans to connect with their pasts. I still am going to major in Aerospace and hopefully go to flight school, but perhaps later in life I will do a field school.