Students are warned: it’s hot, dusty, and dirty. Sometimes also muddy, rainy, and windy. It’s tedious work, digging for hours for something that might not be there.
Nevertheless, the two weeks-long archaeology field school in Utah offered in the summer by the anthropology department at PCC is a rare opportunity that students like to jump on.
“I can’t say it is all glamorous,” anthropology professor Mari Pritchard-Parker said. “But it’s all an adventure. Adventures are not always fun, but you’ll have stories to tell.”
Many four-year schools either do not have such a program or they charge from $500 up to $6,000 depending on where you go. PCC charges for two units and gives students the opportunity to work in the field and figure out if they like it or not.
If they do, the hands-on experience will help them find a job as an archaeological field technician.
“You can take all the classes you want, but you are never going to be hired if you didn’t go to the field and know what it is like,” Pritchard-Parker said.
According to Pritchard-Parker, people spend time and money studying anthropology, going all the way to a doctoral degree without ever going to the field once. And when they get a job they find out they hate it.
“It takes a certain kind of personality,” Pritchard-Parker said.
There are a few aspects to consider before signing up. It’s physical work; field technicians handle shovels, rakes and axes and walk long distances to make surveys of the site. It’s outdoors, no matter the weather, and it’s a job that, especially at the beginning, will make you move around.
“Professionally you can be out 10 days, two weeks, a month,” Pritchard-Parker said. “You can be staying in a hotel or you can be dropped off in the middle of a forest somewhere.”
Marshall Lewis, a Lancer that participated twice in Pritchard-Parker’s field school—in 2013 and 2014—likes every aspect of it. He defines himself as a wanderer and finds the desert comforting.
“There’s something about being in the middle of nowhere, without noises or drama,” Lewis said.
He spent eight years in the Marine Corps, going from freezing cold to 120 degrees doesn’t bother him.
“I don’t enjoy that,” Lewis said. “But I don’t care that much. And digging, I did a lot of digging in the military.”
Lewis came PCC to study computer engineering but took an archaeology class to fill a requirement. He went on his first archaeological field school because “it was a cool thing to do for the summer.”
From then on, he was hooked. He’s now at USC studying towards a doctoral degree in archaeology and he’s getting ready to travel to Guatemala in the summer to dig out an entire temple.
“Every kid thinks Indiana Jones is cool,” Lewis said. “Obviously it isn’t like that, but there is always an attracting side to it.”
The appeal for him is picking up the pieces of history.
“Who knows, you can dig for forty years and don’t find anything,” Lewis said. “But the one day you dig something up and realize that’s something someone held up 700 years ago, it’s an altering experience.”
Leilani Hurtado is a 20-year-old student working on her archaeological fieldwork certificate at PCC, an occupational skill program that trains students for field excavation techniques. She’s going to the excavation site in Utah with PCC for the second time this summer.
“I don’t even need the credit,” Hurtado said. “I just go as a volunteer because I enjoyed it so much.”
Life at the field school is not luxurious, but she doesn’t mind. Her plan is to get her certificate, work for a while, and then go back to school to continue her studies in physical anthropology.
“There are jobs,” Pritchard-Parker said. “Good jobs, hard jobs, and my students are getting them.”
Every summer, Pritchard-Parker takes about 15 students to her excavation site. They carpool together the 500 miles to Milford, a very small town in Utah where Pritchard-Parker was born and where she bought a piece of land—an archaeological site for the Fremont people.
They pitch their tents and take possession of the camp site. There is a wooden cabin—used as an office during the day and as a shelter for Pritchard-Parker during the night—a cooking area, a sun shower area. There’s no running water so they haul it themselves.
Students get up early and work on the site from 7 a.m. to noon before it gets too hot and in the afternoon they go on field trips.
“By the fourth day, some students get a little bit homesick,” Pritchard-Parker said. “But they usually work it out and by the end of the two weeks they are fine.”
Lewis confirms it.
“When you try to settle in you’re like ‘What did I do, why am I so miserable?’ But then you go see beautiful sites and you start understanding where people lived,” Lewis said. “And it gets really exciting.”
“As an archeologist you have to know the topography, the rocks and the plants you are seeing and know when something doesn’t look right,” Pritchard-Parker. “That’s how you identify human behavior.”
Although she can’t say what she’s looking for exactly when she’s surveying a site, there is one thing that she would really like to find together with the students on her excavation site at Milford—walls.
The Fremont people didn’t build with rocks but with adobe, which melts overtime. So far they found what should be a living room floor and debris from small arrows.
“We are sure we’re in the right area, there must be walls,” Pritchard-Parker said. “It’s not the students fault and I don’t understand why we can’t find them. We know they are there.”