It's seven weeks' hard labor under a scorching sun, so count on sweating and getting dirty. Soil will find its way up and down your body, under hair and inside shoes. You will wield a shovel, pickaxe and trowel for hours at a time. Your consolation: the opportunity to uncover the past, one scoop of soil at a time.
Every other summer, the anthropology department conducts an Archaeology Field School, allowing students the chance to excavate historical sites around Charleston in conjunction with the Charleston Museum. In the last few years, students have helped uncover remnants of plantation houses, old riverside settlements and downtown Charleston homes.
"Every site is different," says anthropology professor Barbara Borg, explaining that students must analyze each project with fresh eyes, answering some basic questions about the scope of work: "How are you going to approach this site? How long will this take? How much will this cost?"
Within just two days, students began an excavation of a portion of Charleston's colonial-era wall, finding one of its redans, or points, buried among a jumble of bricks from an old market floor and a building that collapsed in the 1886 earthquake. In the late 17th century, Charleston's settlers had walled their 62-acre city, creating a brick barricade along the marshy edge of the Cooper River. While some students tossed the dirt covering up the buried wall up into a wheelbarrow on high ground, others sifted through the dislodged soil.
Jake Wilkerson, a sophomore, said he found musket balls and marbles during the field school. On one hot day in June, he used a screen to sift soil shoveled by senior Ashley Resh. She kept Wilkerson on his toes with the dirt and objects she flung with her shovel.
"I hit him with a brick the other day," said Resh, dismissing Wilkerson's griping about the incident. "He's all right. Nothing bled. He still has all his toes."
The student crew also found plenty of ceramic sherds and bones - remnants of the animals bought and sold near the market - enough artifacts to fill half a truck load. The ceramic fragments indicated porcelain remains from China, England, Germany and Holland. And the students in the field school should have little problem identifying most of them owing to a midterm exam they take on ceramics identification.
Many students who attend the Archaeological Field School graduate with an anthropology major and an archaeology minor. Others choose to minor in archaeology and tie in their studies in historical preservation, geology or Classics. The field school is excellent preparation for finding a job as an archaeological technician, says Professor Borg, or for going to graduate school. Through the labor in the hot sun and interaction with artifacts, students in the field school know exactly what they're getting into when considering their plans after graduation.
"Here, it's hands on, it's doing it," says Borg. "It's really pretty intense."