Posted by: signalhillarchaeology | July 1, 2009

…And so it begins

View of the summit, with Cabot Tower in the distance.

View of the summit of Signal Hill National Historic Site, with Cabot Tower in the distance.

This is the inaugural post of the 2009 Memorial University Archaeology Field School at Signal Hill National Historic Site, in St. John’s, Newfoundland!

My name is Amanda Crompton, and I’m the instructor for the Archaeology Field School this summer.  My job is to direct archaeological excavations at Signal Hill (with the skilled help of four field and lab assistants), and to teach a motley crew of 16 undergraduate students how to be real-life archaeologists. I hope that you’ll follow along with us during the course of the excavations, from July 2 to August 9.  With posts written by me, by the assistants, and by the students, we’ll try to provide different perspectives on the progress of the dig.

I ought to give some background about the project. It’s a joint project between Memorial University and Parks Canada.  Memorial University provides financial, administrative and logistical support, without which we could not run the project.  Just as importantly, it provides the elbow grease for the project, in the form of archaeology undergraduate students.  Memorial University’s  Archaeology Department holds an archaeology field school, which consists of a series of three classes that teaches students what field archaeology is all about.

It’s one thing to study archaeology– to read about it in textbooks, to watch slideshows of excavations from around the world in class, to looking at artifacts in a laboratory– but it’s another thing entirely to do archaeology. Students get out of the classroom to learn with their hands. They help to excavate, document, examine, record, and research an actual archaeological site.  This is not a mock exercise, or an artificial situation contrived for teaching purposes– students do actual field research on a real archaeological site.

This is a great way to learn about archaeology- instead of giving the students textbooks to read from, we give them trowels to dig with. They learn that archaeology can be a lot of things– it can be exciting and exhilarating to find and excavate archaeological sites, but it also can be tedious, hot, sweaty and dirty work.  And by the end of the summer, they’ll know if they really, really want to be an archaeologist.

But of course an archaeological excavation needs more than just a roomful of eager students. By necessity, there has to be a site to dig, and this is where Parks Canada comes in.  Parks Canada staff have graciously allowed us to conduct excavations at Signal Hill National Historic Site.   Signal Hill is a really important historic site that overlooks St. John’s, and has played an integral part in the defence of the St. John’s harbour since the seventeenth century. Fortifications and military structures have been erected here, battles have been fought here, and military garrisons have lived here– right up to and throughout World War II.

So Signal Hill is a really important archaeological and historic site, and it has local, provincial and national significance.  We’re lucky to be digging here… and we’re lucky to have the financial, administrative, and logistical support of Parks Canada staff.  They’ve not only provided us with a venue for the field school, but also have provided us with invaluable support that fuels the project.

So that’s who we are, where we are, and why we’re here. I hope that you will check back often, and see what we get up to.  Or, if you’re in St. John’s, visit us! From Monday to Friday, our students will be busily digging away at the top of Signal Hill, right beside Ladies’ Lookout, within sight of Cabot Tower.  We won’t be hard to miss- we’ll be the ones with the dirty hands, the (hopefully not too) sunburned faces, and the really big grins.

–Amanda Crompton (Instructor).


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