Centre professors and students team to study archaeological artifacts in Peru, Israel
As a a national leader in international education, Centre College encourages both students and professors to expand their educational boundaries to destinations far beyond the classroom. This summer, Assistant Professor of Anthropology Robyn Cutright and her students are taking advantage of such opportunities by traveling across the world to experience global adventure and discover artifacts from ancient civilizations.
Cutright is currently acting as the expert on staff for a Smithsonian Institute tourism trip to Machu Pichu, Peru. Prior to her trip, Cutright worked with Jordan Hale ’18 and Zoe Doubles ’18 to digitize and analyze data from her ongoing research project in Ventanillas.
“Since this work takes place in Peru, we can’t bring any of the artifacts back—just the photos, drawings, measurements and descriptions that we make,” Cutright says. “This creates a lot of data to sift through to look for patterns.”
The group organized data into spreadsheets and traced hand drawings to answer their questions about what happened between 1000 and 1400 A.D. in the area.
“By entering in and analyzing the data regarding the size, design and many other features of sherds (fragments of pottery), we could begin to explain what daily life at Ventanillas would have looked like almost one thousand years ago,” Hale explains.
Both Hale and Doubles contributed their findings to a co-authored poster that Cutright will present this fall at the Society for Andean and Amazonian Studies meeting at Louisiana State University.
“Although we had more than enough help from Dr. Cutright, she allowed us to create our own questions and explore our own hypotheses,” Hale says. “We were given the freedom to conduct our own research on aspects of the data we found interesting, which gave us the invaluable experience of having both personalized instruction and individual exploration.”
Two of Cutright’s other students prepared to go to archeological field school abroad. Aubrey Russak-Pribble ’16 traveled to Peru for bioarchaeology field school while Matt Hughes ’16 attended archaeological field school in Israel.
Hughes, who worked on the school’s dig as part of his summer Brown Fellows project, first found out about this opportunity through Professor of Religion Tom McCollough. The two worked on a collaborative study during the spring semester before Hughes joined Samford University’s Shikhin village excavation project.
Days spent on the Shikhin excavation site were “fun but hard,” according to Hughes. After a 3:45 a.m. wake-up call, the team would spend their mornings excavating the dig site and the afternoons and evenings supporting this work with academic study and lectures.
Among the things the Shikhin excavation team discovered during their time in the field were: coins, brooches, glass, full jugs, marble, a key and painted plaster.
“Excavating is not the fun and glamor of ‘Indiana Jones,’” Hughes explains. “It’s a lot of pick axing, scooping dirt, sifting and drawing—very tiring but rewarding work. A nice artifact, like glass, a coin or an oil lamp mold, made all the hard work worth it.”
Cutright hopes that all of the experiences her students have had this summer will help them to “see how archaeologists learn about the past and make the connection between big ideas and theories and the actual data.”
“Mostly, in classes, students learn about the findings of archaeology, but doing research actually involves students in generating new knowledge and new findings,” she explains. “I hope they come to feel part of the actual process of research—from asking questions, to devising strategies to answer them, to collecting and analyzing data, to presenting the results and asking new questions.”
Spending their summer doing archaeological research has helped both Hughes and Hale determine if they would like to pursue work in the field after graduation. But, of all the things they learned this summer, they agreed that working closely with experts in the field was a highlight of their experiences.
“Being able to form relationships with professors has been the key to my successes at Centre,” Hughes says. “From the anthropology, history, religion and classics departments, professors have always been there to guide me, offer suggestions, introduce me to colleagues or help me in any way possible.”
Learn more about study abroad at Centre College.
by Hayley Hoffman ‘16
August 4, 2015
Pictured above: Assistant Professor of Anthropology Robyn Cutright (left) and Jordan Hale ’18 (right) at the University of Kentucky’s archaeological field school at Fox Farm, one of the largest Fort Ancient villages in the world.