Friday, August 15, 2014

Summer Internship in Archaeology

This week our blog will focus on one of two summer interns in the Section of Archaeology, State Museum of Pennsylvania. Hannah Wagner is a rising senior at Dickinson College who participated in the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission Keystone Internship program.  Interns provide valuable assistance to the curatorial activities including identification, analysis and research or artifacts as well as collections management.  We wish Hannah the best as she completes her program at Dickinson and prepares for graduate studies.

rehousing Ephrata Cloister (36La981) artifact collection (photo courtesy of Carl Sander Socolow, Dickinson College)

I have been interested in archaeology for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, I had a particular interest in ancient Egypt, and I remember getting all kinds of books and learning materials about mummies for my tenth birthday. Looking back, this was probably not so normal for a ten year old! But as I grew older my interests developed, and I realized that I could actually turn this fascination into a career. And so, this fall I will be starting my senior year at Dickinson College where I study archaeology and art history. I am very excited to have had this opportunity to intern in the Section of Archaeology at Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) as a Keystone Summer Intern. 

mending reconstructed red earthenware vessel from Ephrata Cloister (photo courtesy of Carl Sander Socolow, Dickinson College)

My experience working in the Section of Archaeology has opened my eyes to so many new opportunities.  It is amazing how much I have learned over the course of the summer. My main project has been rehousing the artifacts from the excavations at Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster County. The archaeological field school at Ephrata ran from 1994 to 2003, under the direction of former Senior Curator, Steve Warfel. The collections were inventoried and housed on open shelving, organized within their year of excavation. My rehousing project included removing the artifacts from their boxes and into acid-free boxes and bags and prior to placing them in drawers for curation. As the artifacts are being moved I am also creating a drawer inventory of each catalog number, a general artifact class and the new location. This inventory is then recorded in an electronic database maintained by the Section to be used for quick reference in the search for artifacts in the collection. Detailed inventories prepared after each field season are available for researchers who may be searching for a specific artifact type or class. Freeing up this shelf space is important; this then opens up space for more artifacts, increasing the size of our collections and the number of artifacts available for research. This project has definitely given me a lot of insight into tasks like proper curation practices, conservation, organization, and the duties of a curator.  

2014 Keystone Interns at the Pennsylvania Rail Road Museum

As part of the internship, PHMC took us on some great field trips. We visited a few PHMC properties and I was able to learn all about Pennsylvania heritage. My favorite trip was our day trip to Ephrata Cloister, Oregon Dairy, and The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. In addition to these field trips, I was able to tag along on a PennDOT sponsored field trip to McCormick Taylor, a consulting engineering firm specializing in design, land use planning, and environmental studies for transportation-related projects. Before this I hadn’t had much exposure to the world of Cultural Resource Management (CRM) archaeology, but visiting their office gave me a different understanding of CRM and opened it up as a possible career path for the future.

This summer I also had the opportunity to spend four weeks excavating at an archaeological field school in Trim, Ireland. The site was a Late Medieval Dominican Friary from the 13th century. There I learned basic excavation techniques like taking levels and coordinates, recording features, and how to properly excavate, document, and process human remains (the grounds of the friary also contained medieval burials). This experience, coupled with my internship, gave me a more complete understanding of the many aspects of archaeological research, including excavation, lab procedure and analysis, and preservation and curation. 

This internship has also given me the opportunity to diversify my knowledge base and to learn more about Pennsylvania and Native American archaeology as well as Cultural Resource Management and Historic Preservation. This summer I was able to acquire hands-on skills that cannot be taught in the classroom, and being able to apply my theoretical knowledge to the real world was the most valuable experience I had during the internship.  In the near future, I hope to attend a graduate program in Archaeology and Bioarchaeology, and then find a job in the field or in a museum. I have thoroughly enjoyed my summer working at PHMC, and I would highly recommend this internship to anyone else interested in archaeology.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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