It was the last days of the field school dig and Megan Victor is backfilling, shoveling dirt back into one end of a pit while students in the archaeological field school continue extracting artifacts and working features.
Victor is a teaching assistant on the dig, a position equivalent to crew chief on a professional site, but in addition to “making sure that the site runs like a well-oiled machine,” her duties also include teaching the undergraduate students who have enrolled in ANTH 225, which is how William & Mary’s registrar views the field school.
Backfilling is the least-skilled job on the dig and Victor could assign it to someone else, but she grabs the shovel herself. She’s worked over the summer to make sure the undergrads learn archaeological extraction techniques and she wants the students to have the maximum time to practice what they’ve learned.
Victor says that she works to develop both physical and visual skills in the students. “You need to learn how to use a trowel,” she says. “You hold the edge of the trowel parallel to the ground at all times and scrape off a thin layer.”
Trowel work also contains a visual element, as it’s important to keep your work level and keep an eye out for changes in the soil that mark the beginning of a new layer. Another important skill is mapping, she says.
“Archaeology destroys as it goes,” Victor says, so it’s necessary that important features of the dig be accurately measured and sketched out as the work proceeds.
And yes, there is a test. Each field school ends with a final exam with a practical component in which students are asked to identify several types of ceramics and glass.