Each second, the sun felt like it was growing larger and larger in the sky.
It loomed over Taylor Haacke, 19, in the open field, but the University at Albany student continued to dig away, her back turned to the sun’s rays.
She used a trowel as she picked at the dirt, hoping to discover bits and pieces of the past along the way.
“It’s a constant treasure hunt,” she said during a break, as she stood above the pit.
Haacke, along with other students, mostly from the University at Albany, were in the fourth week of their six weeks of field study at the Pethick Archaeological Site along Smith Road in Central Bridge, Schoharie County. The annual open house Wednesday and Thursday allowed people to visit the archaeological excavation site to either learn more about what the archaeologists are looking for or simply watch and see what the archeologists can find.
Excavations at the Pethick site started 10 years ago, and the open house tradition started nine years ago. The excavations are a collaborative project of the New York State Museum and the University at Albany. According to Mark A. Schaming, director of the New York State Museum, who visited the site Wednesday, more than 300,000 items found at the Pethick site are at the Museum.
State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher also visited the site and toured the different units where digging took place. Some of the items at the site date as far back as 2500 BC.
“We've got to know our history to plan our future,” she explained.
Sean Rafferty is a professor in anthropology at the University at Albany and has been part of the field studies since they first started. It’s the thrill of holding an item that was once held by another person hundreds if not thousands of years ago that brings him back year after year. In fact, when he was a student at Hartwick College, it was a field school like this one, where students went out to excavate at a site, that got him hooked.
“This is a great place to hone in your skills,” Konnie Dominguez, 20, said. She is one of the few who aren’t UAlbany students but who still chose to attend the eight-week course, two weeks of which is the classroom session.
Although she is a biology major at Wesleyan University, she wanted to do the field study and get the skills she would need in order to be an archaeologist. One of her dreams is to dig for Neanderthal bones in Spain, Germany and Russia. She is intrigued by how modern humans had wiped them off the map, and the reasons of why and how. “I love human evolution,” she beamed.
Katie Riggs, 20, and Peter Vesely, 20, are both University at Albany students. For Vesely, the experience has made him more interested in archaeology. For Riggs, the field study has been a way for her to decide whether she would like digging and excavating for a living.
Colleen Lowry held the hands of her two daughters, Anna, and Julie, aged 5 and 3, as they walked through the site, gazing at all of the ditches that were dug up. Lowry, who is from Delanson, saw the open house on the New York State Museum website and felt it would be a good place for her daughters to see for themselves and get an early foundation in science and history.
Haacke, while working in the pit she was in, explained to the two girls what she was doing as they looked on.
Soon, everyone headed indoors to avoid an oncoming downpour and started to pull tarps over the pits to protect the artifacts that are still lurking in the dirt.
Tarp in place, Haacke explained why she loved digging around for clues to the past.
“I like the idea that there were people here before,” she said. Much like her professor and classmates, being in a place that other people had been on has fueled her to continue searching. Excavating is a way to see how people lived and maybe even connect it to the modern world. For her, items found in excavations, “demonstrates the evolution of the human mind.”