The Smith Creek Archaeological Project is a new Penn Museum research project, conducting its first season in the field during the late spring of 2015. The Penn Museum’s Social Media Coordinator, Tom Stanley, is blogging about the project.
Excavation is underway at Smith Creek, and we have a stellar team of students, both graduate and undergraduate, working hard in the field to make this year’s field season a successful one. They each bring their own interests, strengths, and levels of expertise to the project. Here’s a brief introduction for each of our intrepid excavators.
The project is directed by Dr. Megan Kassabaum, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and Weingarten Assistant Curator in the Penn Museum’s American Section. Originally from the St. Louis, Missouri area, Meg earned her undergraduate degree from Beloit College and her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This is the first excavation carried out under her direction.
Our field supervisors:
David Cranford is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at UNC Chapel Hill, originally hailing from Wake Forest, North Carolina. David has worked with Meg in the past, for two seasons at the Feltus mound site not far from Smith Creek, and again on the Mississippi Mound Trail project in 2013. This year, he’s hoping to help Meg have a successful field school, and scout out potential post-dissertation research projects in the Natchez bluffs of Mississippi. David plays the banjo, brews his own beer, and has hiked the Appalachian Trail.
Stacey O. Espenlaub, who grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania, is a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at Penn. She’s also a staff member at the Penn Museum; she’s served as the Museum’s NAGPRA Coordinator since 2002, and a Collections Assistant in the American Section before that. Stacey had Meg as an instructor during this past semester, getting a great sense of how archaeologists work once they’re back in the lab. She’s looking forward to helping Meg in the field, learning more about the Museum’s current Southeast collections, picking up some excavating experience… and, of course, getting out of the office.
Susannah G. Fishman, a Philadelphia native, is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at Penn, with a focus on Near Eastern Archaeology. Susannah looks at ceramic technology using a variety of techniques, including petrography, neutron activation analysis, scanning electron microscopy, and x-ray diffraction to figure out how things were made, where they were made, and how technological change and political change relate to each other. She’s excavated in Jordan and Azerbaijan, but this is her first large-scale excavation in North America.
Kyle G. Olson of Columbus, Ohio, is also a Ph.D. candidate at Penn, focusing on Near Eastern Prehistoric Archaeology. Kyle has dug in Azerbaijan, Oman, Hungary, and numerous sites in the United States; he’s also done one Critical Language Scholarship program in Russia, with plans to do another in Tajikistan later this summer. While we’re in Mississippi, Kyle hopes to hone his excavation skills and learn more about Mississippi Valley archaeology in the Woodland period.
And our excavators:
Zhenia Bemko, of Cranford, New Jersey, is a junior Anthropology major at Penn with a focus in Native American Studies. She’s excited for the opportunity to study prehistoric Native American culture from a perspective that she’s never encountered; she’s also interested in conducting a minor ethnographic study on the local Native Americans in the area. She is interested in untangling issues surrounding identity formation, self-determination, and recognition. Since some members of the local Mississippi Nations embody multi-ethnicity, and blood quantum and federal recognition play key roles in identity formation among Native Americans, she would like to uncover what, if any, obstacles ‘blackness’ adds to these issues.
Chandler Burchfield, from Atlanta, Georgia, graduated this past semester from the University of Alabama with a degree in Anthropology, focusing on Southeastern Archaeology with a minor in Geography. Chandler is looking forward to learning how to better profile, excavate, and recover artifacts this season; ultimately, he wants to learn more about the Native people who inhabited this land long before Europeans arrived. He’s a huge sports fan.
Monica Fenton, from the Baltimore/Annapolis, Maryland area, graduated from Penn this past semester with a B.A. in Anthropology, focusing on Archaeology. She served as a student curator in a current exhibition at the Penn Museum, titled “Corn: From Ancient Crop to Soda Pop.” Monica wants to learn the full suite of archaeological excavation techniques so that she can apply them to future projects. She’s also writing a novel about a haunted archaeological site.
Ally Mitchem is a senior at Penn; she’s an Anthropology major with a concentration on Archaeology and a Cognitive Science minor, hailing from Richmond, Virginia. Ally is also looking forward to gaining field experience, and having been taught by Meg during this past semester, she’s looking forward to helping Meg with her research. Ally has Type 1 Diabetes, but so far that hasn’t stopped her!
Jordi Rivera Prince comes to us from Holland, Michigan, a senior Anthropology major at Penn with a focus on Biological Anthropology, and a minor in Psychoanalysis. Jordi has experience in lab analysis of museum materials and spends her days surrounded by skulls in the Penn Museum’s Physical Anthropology Section, but she knows the importance of having training in all four fields of anthropology. She’s hoping to learn more about archaeological field sites and the digging/excavation process, to heighten her appreciation for how we discover and interpret the materials that have the potential to make their way in to museums and other institutions for study.
Ben Reynolds is a senior General Anthropology major at Penn, hailing from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Ben is joining the project with the hopes of getting dig experience, and the opportunity to travel, meet new people, and learn about how they live their lives. He’s been a guitar player for 15 years, playing heavy metal, grunge, and some good ol’ blues.
Sheridan Small, of Chicago, Illinois, is a rising sophomore in Penn’s College of Arts and Sciences; she’s considering an Anthropology major going forward. She’s excited to gain hands-on experience with archaeological excavation, and to learn more about how anthropological data is collected. She’s also a member of the Penn Museum’s Clio Society, a group of Museum-loving students who lead original tours, facilitate engagement with the Museum, and take trips to other museums in Philadelphia.
Ashley Terry is a senior Anthropology major at Penn, originally hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, and currently living near Cleveland, Ohio. She’s hoping to find some cool animal bones this season; she even has her own personalized trowel to use on the excavation. She’s also hoping to discourage her Southern accent from coming back (we’ll see how that goes).
This is quite the team. They’ve all made it to the dig site in Mississippi, and I’ve just joined them in the field. Look for plenty more from us in the coming weeks!
All photos courtesy of the participants and the Smith Creek Archaeological Project.