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Anthropology course digs up knowledge in Concord

By Albert Reiss

Section: Features

October 9, 2015

Every Friday, 15 students and two professors drive out to Concord and unearth remnants of what is rumored to be a bunker of prisoners of war from World War II that traces to colonial time.

Taught by Travis Parna (ANTH) and Andrew Koh (CLAS), Archaeological Methods involves attending lectures as well as going to an actual archaeological dig site.

According to Megan McClory ’18, the purpose of the dig is to “see if […] oral reports have physical evidence. In this case, we’re trying to see if there really is [a] building where the locals report a German POW bunkhouse or an old barn that the kids used to play in.”

The majority of the class has no prior experience with archaeology. Such is the case with Emilia Ravn-Boess ’18 who makes up for her inexperience with an “interest in the topic and the willingness to learn what I can.”

So far the course has been a great success, with many students expressing their interest in the class, particularly because of the hands-on nature of the class.

“I really like the idea of experiential learning. It’s just really valuable to get out of the classroom and do the kind of work you might be doing if you choose to pursue archaeology after college. In a way, it’s a good test to see if I do want to do this kind of work,” Emma Gutman ’18 (Brandeis Hoot staff member) said.

Similarly, Ravn-Boess said, “I tremendously appreciate the fact that Brandeis is offering this experiential learning class. I have always wanted to pursue archaeology, and because of the class, I get the chance to test the field before tackling it outside of a classroom environment. The class supplies us all with a mental separation from the typical classroom environment and allows us to learn in a more hands-on and interactive way.”

Gutman also spoke about the spirit of archeology. “I’ve learned that there are so many different layers of dirt underneath us, and that though there is technology to help us predict … in many ways, archaeology is a guessing game of how deep you should dig and where exactly you should place your unit. Places you expect to find things could have nothing, and other random places could yield a treasure trove. Just think of all the things that could be lying under the ground we walk on every day.” Not only do students get to learn in the textbook, but they also enjoy the benefit of seeing their academic subject matter in action.

What also sets the class apart are the rave reviews garnered by Parno. Gutman described him as a patient and humorous professor. “This dig is as much his project as it is ours, if not more. He also gets excited about what we find.”

Likewise, McClory said of Parno: “He’s really helpful when we make a mistake digging in our units, and you can tell how experienced he is in this sort of stuff. Plus, he’s like a walking encyclopedia since we can’t exactly check every jerk rock—a rock that looks like it might be an artifact—against a book.”

Every day isn’t a dig, but for Gutman, her interest in the class lies in the fact that “for the most part, we learn history from textbooks. Here, we get to see and analyze history literally coming out of the ground beneath us. Also every discovery of an object, whether small, modern or probably insignificant, never really stops being exciting!”

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