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Archaeology class seeks to uncover Philander Chase’s past

Archaeology class seeks to uncover Philander Chase’s past

Students in Archaeological Methods dig next to the Church of the Holy Spirit each Friday. | LIZ DEPROSPO

Every Friday, students enrolled in Archaeological Methods: Campus Archaeology (ANTH 491) excavate the lawn outside the Church of the Holy Spirit. They work in teams of two or three, digging in 1×1 meter plots, stopping when they reach 50 to 70 centimeters. They expect to find the foundations of an old dining hall, complete with a kitchen, in addition to Bishop Philander Chase’s cabin from 1824 — the year Chase first arrived at Kenyon. The class is taught by Associate Professor of Anthropology Claire Novotny and Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Latino/a Studies Tomás Gallareta Cervera as a way to apply real-world archaeological techniques to the campus dig. 

Both professors actively conduct research in Belize and used their prior experience to construct the parameters for the dig. Novotny and Gallareta made slight modifications to the methodology used in Belize for the sake of students’ learning.  While they often speed up some of their processes by using technology, Gallareta emphasized that he wanted students to become familiar with archeological processes without taking shortcuts. 

Oftentimes, hands-on experience with archeological digs comes solely in the form of summer opportunities which, as Novotny said, can be inaccessible due to financial or time constraints. With this dig, any upperclassmen is able to apply to enrich their knowledge of archaeology while earning course credit. 

“With campus archaeology you get two things: you get to learn more about the local history where you’re at, and you get to train students without having to have them travel long distances and take time out of a busy summer schedule,” Novotny said in an interview with the Collegian.

“[It is] important for us to have hands-on education,” Gallareta said. “It’s almost like a language you learn. You’re more engaged with the actual world.” 

Lucy Farnham ’26 and Sophia Procops ’26, who are both enrolled in the class, spoke about the methods they use to determine what is beneath the surface and how they are uncovering the foundations. According to Farnham and Procops, the main tool being used is Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR), which shows the depth of objects beneath the soil. However, sometimes the GPR detects a blockage that is not any foundational material, but rather a root from the nearby tree. “GPR doesn’t tell you exactly what’s under it, but it does say: This part is deeper than this or there’s a blockage here or there’s something closer to the surface,” Procops said. 

GPR and examination of old maps of Kenyon allowed the class to infer what should be beneath the lawn. However, analyzing maps and understanding GPR are not the only skills students are developing. “They’re learning excavation techniques transferable to other archeological work,” Novotny said. Additionally, students are learning the practice of taking field notes and documentating archaeological resources. 

Farnham explained that the tools used in this dig are generally small handhelds. To maintain control and avoid excessive damage to the animals within the soil, they mainly use small shovels, trowels and pickaxes. So far, Farnham and Procops said they have only found some older trash and pieces of ceramic dishes and glass.

The dig should be completed around the end of October or early November. After that, students will work to backfill the land, putting all the dirt and rocks back where they came from. During finals week, students in the class will conduct conference-style presentations that are open to the public to discuss the findings and process of the dig. 

The class also has a blog that is updated weekly, primarily containing background information on their project or updates on what they are finding. Students can access the blog via the QR code on signs in the lawn around the dig. In addition, a 13-chapter review of their findings and methods will be published in either PDF or printed form by the end of the semester.

“The students get to be active participants in how it starts, the recuperation, the discussion of the findings… it demystifies the creation of knowledge,” said Gallareta. 

“We are going to end the project with more questions than answers,” he added. Whether they find completed foundations from the 19th century or other oddities beneath the soil, all Kenyon students will be able to learn something from this excavation. 

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