Penn State Archaeological Field School students dig Pennsylvania history

August 13, 2013

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A cooking feature, copper charm and British gun flint were among the discoveries students made this summer at Fort Shirley in Huntingdon County. They dug up these Colonial-era artifacts while learning the scientific methods for excavating an archaeological site during Penn State’s Archaeological Field School.

“The Field School gets students up to speed on the basic and technical skills required to operate at an archaeological site,” said Penn State archaeologist Jonathan Burns. “We make sure students are prepared for graduate school by the time they finish the Field School.”

That’s why Penn State anthropology student Bethany Greene enrolled. When she graduates in December, she plans to join the Peace Corps master’s degree program, which will enable her to earn her anthropology master’s degree while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer. Then she will continue on to earn a doctorate in archaeology. “The biggest benefit of Field School is the hands-on experience,” said Greene of Uniontown, Pa., who discovered a British gun flint at Fort Shirley. “It was the most exciting thing I found.”

For the past four years, Field School participants have explored the frontier stockade built in 1755 during the French and Indian War. This summer, 11 Penn State and other college students focused on defining the southwest corner of the fort and finding other walls of the fort’s defenses and perimeters.

“It’s a phenomenal site,” said Burns, who, along with two field assistants, guides students in laying out excavation grids and conducting preliminary laboratory work. “Students found a remarkable cooking feature with the remains of pigs, sheep, turtles and fish, and also dug up prehistoric-era projectile points and pottery artifacts.”

Claire Milner, curator and director of exhibits, Matson Museum of Anthropology at Penn State, said, “There is nothing that can replace the hands-on experience provided by a field school. This experience brings home to students both the excitement of discovery of the past, but also the careful science that underlies archaeology. Archaeology is a field that involves many other areas of knowledge — geology, botany, surveying, zoology, computer science — along with a love of the outdoors. Work in the field drives this message home in a way that books cannot.”

Penn State’s Department of Anthropology offers the Archaeological Field School through Penn State Continuing Education for Penn State and other college students. For information, visit

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    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Students dig up Colonial-era cooking feature at Fort Shirley.

    Students participating in Penn State’s 2013 Archaeological Field School uncovered a cooking feature at Fort Shirley, a Colonial-era stockade. The cook site included remains of pigs, sheep, turtles and fish, indicating the diverse diet of the fort’s settlers and Native Americans.

    IMAGE: Jonathan Burns
  • Students dig up Colonial-era copper charm at Fort Shirley.

    A copper charm was among artifacts students dug up during the 2013 Archaeological Field School. Archaeologist Jonathan Burns suggests the charm could have been worn by a Native American or could have been a trade good, since the Fort Shirley site previously served as a Colonial frontier trading post.

    IMAGE: Jonathan Burns
  • Students learn the methods for excavating archeological sites at Colonial-era Fort Shirley.

    Students in the Archaeological Field School learn the scientific methods to properly excavate an archaeological site at Fort Shirley in Huntingdon County.

    IMAGE: Jonathan Burns
  • Archaeological Field School 2013 students and staff pose for a photo.

    Members of the 2013 Archaeological Field School include, from left: Jared Smith (teaching assistant), Jonathan Burns (instructor), Timothy Carn (teaching assistant) and students Stephanie Gruver, Bethany Greene, Claire Lewis, Matthew Bjorkman, Britney Elsbury-Orris, Alex Buda, Alysa Hemcher, Adam Seitz, Matthew Stultz, Dongha Lim and Taylor Helsel.

    IMAGE: Jonathan Burns
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Last Updated August 29, 2013