This story is featured in the Fall 2016 edition of Showcase: The Experiential Learning Issue. View the complete publication.
Pottery and figurines, coins and stone tools – just a few of the treasures unearthed from ancient civilizations in Crete, Greece by Trent undergraduate students this past summer.
“The joy of unearthing the remains of ancient civilizations, of holding their products in your hands, of being the first person in thousands of years to see this material. That’s an experience that’s hard to top,” says Dr. Rodney Fitzsimons, associate professor in Anthropology, who has led Trent students on seven successful archaeological field school to Greece over the past dozen years.
Bones, seeds and pottery – discovering ancient treasures
As part of most recent field schools in the ancient city of Azoria, on the island of Crete, and with the support of Trent funding, students spend half their time assisting in the excavation and processing of archaeological materials in the field, by digging, cleaning, and record keeping. The rest of the summer they spend in the study centre, where, as Prof. Fitzsimons describes, “they wash and arrange bone and pottery, and sift through soil samples looking for animal bones, seeds, and other tiny, yet incredibly important material.”
Through the summer field course, students are exposed to a variety of ways of thinking, a variety of ways of looking at the world, and a variety of cultures – not only through the participation of other students and faculty from across Europe and North America in the field school, but through the very act of living in a small, Greek village in the mountains where students are forced and encouraged to interact with, and to learn from, local community members.
Every day on site is an educational experience in Prof. Fitzsimons’ eyes, saying, “Students are able to witness academic discussions between senior project members as they grapple with new discoveries, tackle how to interpret them, and unfold this intellectual process right in front of the students.”
Digging into Greece’s history
Profound. Life-altering. Long-lasting. Three words Prof. Fitzsimons uses to describe the field study experience available to Trent undergraduate students.
“Students participating in archaeological field schools have the opportunity to engage in and learn directly about the very activity they wish to study, and in doing so, they learn so much more about the methods, the time-consuming and meticulous nature of research, and the range and limitations of the data produced, than they can by simply reading a textbook,” he explains.
“I loved my experience, and it was one that not a lot of people get to have during their undergraduate experience,” says Brendan Bell-Earle, a third-year Archaeology major who travelled to Crete with Prof. Fitzsimons this past summer for credit towards his degree. “I was able to work on top of one of the many beautiful mountains of Crete, and discover many structures that we did not previously know existed. I got to learn the techniques of excavating and handling plant, animal, pottery, and even human remains.”
Investing in student travel
For students interested in taking their learning across oceans, Trent offers numerous scholarships and bursaries to make this unique archaeological research experience possible. A generous fund from Gilbert and Stewart Bagnani, whose contribution and support for Trent University is wide-spread, is reserved for archaeological research and provides funds to help students finance their participation in Trent archaeological field schools.