SUNY Oswego recently received a $75,000 grant to upgrade and maintain its archeology collection while providing students hands-on experience.
The grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Parks Service will mostly pay students to work with prehistorical material — about 100 storage boxes’ worth — in the college’s collection, said Doug Pippin of Oswego’s anthropology faculty.
The archives include “items representing the first occupants of Central New York up through the Iroquois and first European contact,” he noted.
“We’re looking at items relevant to what people ate, the kinds of tools they made, the pots they cooked in, a very a broad sense of understanding the people who lived here,” Pippin explained. “We want to make sure anything we have is properly recorded in our collection to try to get a broader picture of these sites.”
The project, which just began and will run through fall 2009, employs two students per semester, including both summers. The grant also covers student travel to National Parks Service conferences for additional training.
Senior anthropology major Lenda Ryan said work on the funded project includes “identification, cataloging, too much data entry,” sorting by factors like mass and length, and mapping sites to envision what they may have looked like and where the objects were located.
“It’s very practical, hands-on experience for our students that could potentially help them with their career goals,” Pippin said.
Ashley Barnes, a SUNY Oswego alumna gaining experience before entering graduate school, agreed. “No matter how much you learn about theory, actually doing it and gaining experience is so much more than you can get from a book,” she said.
Pippin said only about a quarter of archeologists have jobs in academics or museums, with archeology graduates more likely to work in “cultural resources management,” such as exploring if construction sites have historic or cultural value. Site digs, the popular impression of what archeologists do, represent a small portion of work.
The grant also supports tagging the items via a Geographic Information System, mapping sites spatially to provide better context.
Updated methods and technology improve the process, Ryan said. “What we’re taught is so different from what they original excavators were taught,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to make sure we’re properly taking care of it. We can make it a lot more organized and accessible to those who want to use it in the future.”
Ultimately, it’s also about connecting the past directly to the present. “I think what’s interesting is the anthropology of articles you find locally. They’re from places near where I grew up, and it really hits home,” said Brian Andrukat, a senior anthropology major doing an independent study with the collection.
“Everything represents a culture that belongs to people,” Barnes added. “It’s important for us to represent that to see what their lives were like and how that applies to ourselves today.”