Costa Rica Field School Students Dig into the Past
UAlbany graduate student Sean Higgins sifting for artifacts on a recent field school in Belize. (Photo courtesy Robert Rosenswig)
In Rob Rosenswig's world, the digging that takes place at his archaeological field schools just scratches the surface of the learning that happens.
"For some of these students," said the assistant professor of anthropology, "it's their first time in the developing world. Possibly their first time outside the U.S."
It's a measure of his worldview that Rosenswig emphasizes personal growth as much as the practical experience students take away from these highly specialized study abroad programs.
Sarah Kraft, a sophomore from Averill Park, N.Y., attended last year's field school in Belize, and will be front and center in the upcoming spring program. "What I love about field school is being able to interact with the local people who live in the village. I'm excited to be able to experience all this again in Costa Rica, in a new setting and learning about another culture," said the anthropology major.
Las Mercedes, located in the central Caribbean region of Costa Rica, dates back to A.D. 1000, and was most likely the center of a powerful paramount chief's political territory. It's a village, but a major village of its time, with paved causeways linking its central monuments to outlying settlements nearly a mile away. The artifact-rich site has been excavated since Costa Rica's 19th-century colonial period and numerous stone sculptures and objects have been recovered.
While students from any major are allowed to participate in the field schools, for some it marks the emergence of a life's path. April Anne Maser, a senior anthropology major from Hunter, N.Y., first attended a Rosenswig archaeological field school in Belize.
UAlbany sophomore Sarah Kraft, left, explores the archaeological site in San Estevan, Belize. Kraft will head to Costa Rica for another field school in the spring. (Photo courtesy Robert Rosenswig)
"The field school that I attended taught me all of the fundamental skills that I will need to work on any excavation, and gave me a basis of what I need to know and do to succeed in this field," she said. "This experience also opened many doors for me -- the first being an excavation that I am going to be participating on with a graduate student from UAlbany in Chiapas, Mexico next semester, hopefully followed by acceptance to grad school to study Mesoamerican archaeology."
Kraft echoes similar sentiments. "Besides having to get up early everyday, I loved everything about being in the field. After just a few days I realized that this was something I could see myself doing with my life," she said.
Rosenswig emphasizes the practical as another goal of the field school. By the time the students leave the six-week Las Mercedes project, he said, "They will know the basics of how to excavate and responsibly document what they've found. They'll be qualified actually to get a starting job in archaeology anywhere in the world."