College Visits Science & Technology Series

A Summer in Indiana

A Journey in Modern-Day Archaeology:

A pig's jaw, uncovered at Notre Dame. Courtesy Sophie Muro
A pig’s jaw, uncovered at Notre Dame. Courtesy of Sophie Muro.

As all my peers basked in the glory that the first week of summer brings, I was boarding a plane, traveling to the beautiful and the exotic South Bend, Indiana. While for many, spending their summer vacation in the Midwest sounds less like a dream, to me, this was the opportunity of a lifetime.

In April of 2016, I was one of the 11 students selected to conduct archaeological research at the University of Notre Dame. I applied during winter break, almost as a dare from my parents, and expected nothing to come of the efforts. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I received the acceptance letter in the mail a few months later. 

Since my Freshman year of high school, archaeology has played a huge role in my life. After working and attending school at Fort Vancouver, the National Historic Site, my passion for this science has grown exponentially. Working in a professional archaeology lab and learning about the field has taught me much about the profession, and has also allowed me to acquire skills such as artifact identification and analysis, exhibit curation, and museumology and display techniques.

The archaeological site at the University of Notre Dame, overlooking Saint Mary’s lake. Courtesy Sophie Muro.

When I received the letter saying that I would be conducting archaeological research at Notre Dame, I didn’t know that they meant this in the most literal sense. When I arrived and was briefed on the dig, I learned that the actual excavation would be on the campus; I literally spent the summer tearing up the grounds of one of the most hallowed universities on the nation, and I loved every second of it.

The site was set right near the lake, under the building where students and religious leaders were simultaneously discerning the priesthood; this brought an interesting juxtaposition to the feel of the project. Commonly, I would interact and explain our research to men cloaked in black robes, as I used my trowel to rip apart their sacred ground. An ancient practice brought to light, compared to the modern relevance of discovering the past. As these men spent the summer searching for internal truth and clarity, I was discovering my own future, while also receiving dirty looks from the Notre Dame landscaping department and leading tours for prospective students.

A concrete wall that cut across a unit at Fort Vancouver, during their summer excavation. Courtesy of Sophie Muro
A concrete wall that cut across a unit at Fort Vancouver, during their summer excavation. Courtesy Sophie Muro.

As far as the site in itself is concerned; the area was originally a farm ground, and we were digging to recover the ice house that stood there when the University was first founded.

We uncovered many domestic items during this summer; ceramic plates, glass, more nails than I would like to admit, and animal bones; the most exciting of which was a pig’s jaw. After these discoveries, we took our treasures to the University’s lab and did analysis and write research based- thesis papers based an artifact of our choosing. It was while working on this assignment that I found myself on the 13th floor of Notre Dame’s library on the Fourth of July; watching fireworks from a skyscraper and sorting through a myriad of text about late 19th-century ceramic manufacturers.

When I came home, my archaeological adventures did not end, as I finished my summer by conducting more research on an excavation at Fort Vancouver with college students from Portland State University and Washington State University. In addition to this, I had an internship with the Assistant Curator at Fort Vancouver, and culminated my learnings here by curating my own exhibit for Fort Vancouver, which combines both the archaeological history of the Fort, as well as the history of the site; this will be installed and on display later this fall.

This summer proved to be an amazing opportunity for me to grow my passion and learn an immense amount about the field of archaeology as well as curator. Having the chance to work alongside professionals and gain a deeper understanding of the career I hope to pursue has made me even more excited to begin college next fall, where I will major in cultural anthropology and minor in archaeology.  

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