Anthropology Students Unearth Discoveries Abroad
Associate Professor and archaeobotanist Jennifer Ramsay, PhD, has been traveling with Brockport students to do archaeological fieldwork in the Middle East since 2010. This past summer, Anthropology students had their first opportunity to accompany Ramsay in Petra, Jordan, to participate in an excavation program called the Petra North Ridge Project, directed by Megan Perry, PhD, of East Carolina University and Tom Parker, PhD, of North Carolina State University.
Six students spent six weeks immersing themselves in the culture of the Bedouin population by living with a local family; taking an empirical glimpse into the lives of ancient Nabateans, who once inhabited the land, by exploring ancient texts, material culture, and skeletal evidence; and performing excavations that resulted in a 2,000-year-old unearthing.
Brockport students Michelle Heeman ’19, Sarah Luther ’17, Danielle Maerlender ’16, Dennis Paone Jr. ’17, Devin Pescara ’17, and Greg Reynolds ’17 belonged to a group of 65 researchers and excavators – including 20 Bedouin workers and students from North Carolina State and East Carolina University. Participants became acquainted with the local culture while exploring the city’s history through research and archaeological digs.
“Despite the extent of archaeological research within Petra, surprisingly little is known about the city's ancient inhabitants, especially the non-elite population,” explained Ramsay.
One of the project’s principle goals was to uncover tangible insight that would address these gaps in history. To do so, students excavated Nabataean tombs and Roman/Byzantine domestic structures along the North Ridge.
One afternoon while on-site, the students worked in an area that they presumed was once occupied by an ordinary home, but later learned could be described as a refined ‘urban villa.’ While digging, they discovered the remains of two marble statues of Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love, dating back to second century AD. All pieces were recovered and found intact, enabling plans for restoration.
Maerlender, whose participation in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program provided her the chance to work one-on-one with Ramsay as an archaeobotanical assistant during the trip, said that additional finds included a Roman sword, a metal frying pan, a hypocaust/Roman bathhouse, a key, jewelry, and other Roman-style artifacts. These discoveries reveal clues about the ancient population, and will perpetually serve to tell the story of the daily lives of the Nabateans who left them behind thousands of years ago.
All six Brockport students underscored the enlightened cultural and archaeological perspectives that they developed as a direct result of studying abroad.
“Immersing yourself in the culture, working with other archaeologists, and working on the site itself makes you feel connected to that part of the world, and with the greater professional community – so it became more than just an interest. [It was a] hugely important character- and career-building experience,” said Heeman, who plans to perform archaeological work in Israel this summer with Ramsay, and to enroll in a Near East/Roman studies archaeological master’s program after graduating in 2019.
Like Heeman, the others have plans to continue fieldwork in the U.S. or overseas, or to pursue graduate programs or job opportunities in their diverse realms of anthropological and archaeological interest.