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Recognizing that being in the field is one of the best ways to understand history, each summer Clarion University offers a hands-on, real-life archaeological experience for students as part of its field school.  Dr. Susan Prezzano, a professor of anthropology at Clarion, has been bringing her expertise and passion to the school since 1997.

"It's a win-win for our students and partners: Students get valuable training and research experience, and our partners gain knowledge about the history of their regions," Prezzano said. "If I were teaching this at Harvard, I wouldn't change a thing. Students are actually uncovering the past where the past occurred." 

This summer, 13 students - eight female and five male, all but one from Clarion University - are enrolled in the five-credit course, a partnership with Allegheny National Forest, Elk County, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Clarion River Municipal Partnership, and the Stackpole-Hall Foundation, which is committed to improving the quality of life for residents of Elk County.  Most of the students are anthropology or history majors.

Millstone, the site of a late 1800s to early 1900s lumber mill along the Clarion River, has been the primary site for the school since 2008.  It is a multi-component site, meaning it has been occupied many times in the past, allowing students to uncover artifacts from various eras.  Prezzano also taught the course for university students at Millstone in 2008 and 2009.  She offered a workshop for high school teachers last year. 

Field School 2011 Partners Day
Front row: Susan Prezzano, Karen Whitney and Peggy Apple. Back row: William Conrad (Stackpole-Hall Foundation), Eric Patton (Millstone Township), Linda White (Marienville District), Jason Nedlo (Marienville District), Jordan Gentile (student), Amanda Glaz (Marienville District) and Sarah Kriebel (student).

In addition to being the site of a lumber mill, Millstone is the location of two Native American occupations:  a Middle Woodland component dating to 200-300 A.D., when agriculture was just being developed; and a Late Archaic Brewerton phase (2,980-1,723 B.C. ), a pre-pottery, hunter-and-gatherer era. 

The Middle Woodland occupation was identified through radiocarbon dating and the style of pottery found.  The students also found a Brewerton-phase spearhead, a cluster of roughstone tools and fire-cracked rock (rock that has been altered and split by deliberate heating).

"This is the closest thing these students will get to being in a time machine.  The deeper we dig, the further back in time we go," Prezzano said.  "I tell students, they are the first people to see these items since they were lost up to thousands of years ago."

This summer the students hope to dig 10 to 12 feet, which is the equivalent of going back 10,000 years.

Participating this summer are: Jessica Bierly of Elysburg, Pa.; Kyle Caggeso of Ridgeway, Pa.; Jordan Gentile of Hopatcong, N.J.; Angela Goreczny of Oil City, Pa.; Amy Knizner of Irwin, Pa.; Sarah Kriebel of Hatfield, Pa.; Christopher Orvis of Knox, Pa.; Dana Rice of Clarion, Pa.; Christopher Rizer of Clarion, Pa.; Frank Rossman of Brookville, Pa.; Tawnya Waggle of Bradenville, Pa.; and Morgan Walker of Pleasant Gap, Pa.

Clarion University President Karen Whitney and the school's partners visited the site on "Partners Day," June 23, and saw the students in action, unearthing multiple levels of human and natural activity.

"As an engaged public university, this field school is really what Clarion University is all about: real learning for the real world," said Whitney.  "This is a partnership led by our faculty with our students, working with local, regional and national partners.  That's Eagletastic!"

Why does Prezzano commit to this project each year?  "I like to push the envelope of what I know.  This is very challenging work, physically and intellectually.  I love uncovering data from the history of northwestern Pennsylvania," she said.

She also enjoys introducing students to this experience. 

"Of all the courses I teach, this is one that has the greatest impact on my students.   They get the thrill of experiencing an archaeological dig while integrating what they learned in class with math, interpretation and problem-solving skills," Prezzano said.

From day to day, the students don't know what they will find, so they must rely on their own judgment and interpretation skills that will later be proved or disproved.

"I also value the opportunity to work with our partners," Prezzano said. "Without their support, Clarion University would not be able to offer this rich experience."

Prezzano specifically acknowledged the work of Robert Fallon, Marienville District ranger, Eric Patton, Millstone Township supervisor, and Amanda Glaz, an archaeologist in the Marienville District, who wrote the partnership agreement and provided necessary personnel and logistical items. 

When Prezzano says she is committed to providing this opportunity to students, it isn't just lip service. 

"I'm preparing to go on sabbatical, but I didn't want to do so until after the field school. Taking this summer off would have prevented a group of students from gaining this experience," she said. "There are very few field experiences available to students in northwestern Pennsylvania. This is one of them."

7/1/2011 9:00 AM

Students dig up northwestern Pennsylvania history at Clarion University field school