Archaeology cancels fieldwork course

Starting next fall, a roughly 50-year-old archaeology course that sent students to excavate historic sites around New England will no longer be offered.

The course was required for both undergraduates and graduate students in archaeological studies, but professors said its time-intensiveness and difficulties finding archaeological sites close to campus made it increasingly hard to offer during the academic year. Instead, archaeology students will now have to take a summer course approved by Yale at a field school in the United States or abroad, said Roderick McIntosh, director of undergraduate studies for the major. Five students interviewed who have taken the class expressed surprise and disappointment at the change since they said it prepared them well for fieldwork abroad and served as a bonding experience in the major.

The discontinued course, “Archaeology Laboratory I,” has traditionally been offered in the fall along with a course in archaeological field techniques, followed by a course on methods of analyzing students’ own archaeological findings in the spring.

Starting next year, students will still take a course on methods for analyzing uncovered artifacts, but the fieldwork component will be moved to the summer, McIntosh said. He added that summer field school offerings are strong enough to provide a suitable alternative, especially since many archaeology students already choose to do excavations over the summer. Students will be able to apply for funding to cover the cost of summer field schools through the archaeological studies program’s existing fellowships.

Archaeological Studies Chair Richard Burger ’72 said the canceled course’s weekly excavation trips — which took place on Saturdays at sites such as the Eli Whitney gun factory in New Haven or an old house in Guilford, Conn. — could feel like a “sacrifice” to students given the weekend activities they would miss. The state also imposed more stringent requirements for reporting the results of excavations done on state-owned property than in the past, Burger said, which complicated the process of choosing a site. He added that the time commitment became an increasing burden as the class had to travel further from campus to find “important and interesting” sites since many good sites near New Haven have been destroyed by urban expansion.

Students said trips in recent years to a dye house in Bethlehem, Penn. ­— about a three hour drive from New Haven — required that they devote their entire weekends to the class.

“We would camp out in a 19th century granary for Friday and Saturday nights on weekends, but this was very difficult for students, particularly around exam time,” said McIntosh, who taught the course.

Frances Liu ’13 said she thinks a summer requirement will “save time” for students during the school year and might allow them to explore a wider range of courses through the archaeological studies program.

But Michael Coe, a professor emeritus of anthropology who created the course in the 1960s, said he felt having students do fieldwork during the academic year was preferable because they can analyze what they find as a class.

“What was good about having actual excavations going on during the fall semester here, in my day, is that the classroom would be a place for discussion for what had been found,” Coe said. “It would play back into the actual course material.”

He added that when he first started the course, few other universities or field schools in the United States offered rigorous field courses, so a summer requirement would not have been viable.

Another professor affiliated with the program, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid conflict with colleagues, expressed concern that replacing the course with a summer requirement “represents an outsourcing of the curriculum,” setting a “dangerous precedent.”

Sally Johnson ’12 said she wished future students in the major could take the course, but that she did not think having a fieldwork course through Yale was strictly necessary. The course served as a bonding experience for archaeological studies majors, she said, and prepared her for a summer fieldwork experience in Belize.

Ava Ghezelayagh ’15 said her class had to be very careful about recording the results of their excavations this year — reflecting the need to meet stricter state guidelines — but she added that despite the time commitment, she found the class “one of the most enjoyable” she has taken at Yale.

Archaeological studies is an interdisciplinary program drawing on courses and faculty from the departments of anthropology, history of art, history, geology and geophysics, classics and near eastern languages and civilizations.

Comments

  • IrishArchaeologyFieldSchool

    I’m very sorry to hear that such a valuable program that has been run so well for so long has had to be cancelled. Field experience and training is so important for students of archaoelogy, both in terms of career development and in terms of understanding their course work.

    There is a wonderful field school in the Medieval Town of Trim in Ireland (where the film Braveheart was filmed!), where the Chair of the Institue of Archaeologists of Ireland, Finola O’Carroll, is excavating the ruins of a 13th century Domican Friary, called the Blackfriary.

    The project has is very strongly based in the community, and has been widely recognised as a model for best practice in site preservation and community archaeology.

    For further information contact us (info@iafs.ie) or visit our website (www.iafs.ie)

    Regards,
    Steve

  • TheReader

    If it is inconvenient for students to take a class in fieldwork, which is fundamental to understanding and practicing archaeology, I suggest they study something else.

    Killing this class and leaving it to external sources is both a foolish and short-sighted decision. It damages Yale’s reputation and credibility in this discipline.