Here’s one last dispatch from Fraser! — Kate
This question, posed by me to many of my colleagues over the course of our field school experience began as an attempt to gain insight into my own academic journey. Over the weeks that we all worked together, answering this ‘simple’ question led me to some profound insights. The students and facilitators of this field school have offered justifications for their interest in Archaeology, and their own unique pathway which led them to this work and to this exceptional experience. The diverse backgrounds and trajectories of the participants now become part of the story that archaeology can help tell us about those who walked before us, and our steps today echo their footprints in the past.
Concerns both intellectual and material motivated myself and my colleagues to learn fieldwork methodologies. Many are planning to attend graduate school in the coming years, where field experience will enhance their applications and prospective scholarship within the academy, and beyond. Others are participating in ongoing excavations at internationally significant archaeological sites, reinforcing existing relationships between scholars and institutions. Several students are looking to find employment in Ontario’s CRM (Cultural Resource Management) industry, often to support their future academic goals.
For at least one student struggling with trauma, this course served as the figurative aloe which soothes sun-burned necks and ears, and brought some peace to a troubled heart. Another individual knew on day one that field work was not their cup of tea- but they persisted none-the-less. These strands of experience and aspiration which permeate this crew of archaeologists underlay a most critical aspect of this field school experience: the value of teamwork. Teams are formed in many ways, but a common goal develops strong ties of interdependence, and methodically excavating an archaeological site is just such an endeavour. We are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain, and the whole team benefits by consistently working to lift one another up, no matter how challenging. We have successfully ‘imposed order’ on the physical structure of the sites in a most pleasing, and information-generating way. We have learned about ourselves, and each other. We have made lasting connections, and engaging friendships.
In addition to all of these profound benefits, I can now say I too have an answer to the question posed at the top. Archaeology is the answer to the questions that are central to numerous fields of enquiry. Why are we here? What came before us? Where are we going? These simple questions have impossibly complex and tangled answers, many facets of which may never be deciphered. But the search for answers leads us archaeologists to dig holes, to wonder about who and what was there centuries, or millennia prior.
The recovery and analysis of material culture from those who came before gives us insight into our shared histories, and can paint a more detailed, vibrant picture of what was, and what might be. The physical expression of a historic experience is an impactful statement of truth. Historical narratives and literary sources can have elite-biases, but the physical record is harder to obfuscate. Archaeology can reveal the lives and stories of those who were not written about. If history is an unfinished tapestry, then Archaeology can seek to reinforce and deepen its detail, its colours, its soul. Archaeology isn’t the question, it’s the answer. Why? Archaeology.
I have been greatly affected by this experience, and it will be with me for the rest of my days. I’m saddened that field school has come to an end, but I have made lasting friendships, and learned more than I thought possible, and not only about archaeology. Those countless acquired skills will serve me well in my future studies, I am certain. Thank you to the leaders, and especially my teammates who showed me the proper way to do things. I am forever grateful for your kindnesses and your generosities. No useless tools on this site, ever! (Thanks for showing me that, JMS).
— Fraser Williston