Digging Campus History

By Anthony Ayala

Over the summer James VanderVeen, associate professor of anthropology and chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, lead a dig on the campus of IU South Bend as part of the field study school. The dig took place between May 14 and June 21 and was located behind River Crossing Campus Housing.

This year’s field study school was partially supported by the IU Bicentennial course development grant. Indiana University is celebrating its bicentennial in 2020 and there are many initiatives to document the history of the university at each campus and involve the community. The grant paid for research to figure out where the group would dig and some background information on the site, as well as support the excavation itself through equipment.

In order to work in the field of archeology, an individual needs to have completed a six-week field school. VanderVeen described it as a sort of apprenticeship. Some participants in the field school were archeology majors and needed the training. However, other participants who volunteered were simply interested in archeology and the history of the campus. The field school had two goals. The first was to teach the proper archeological techniques, methods and theories. The second goal was to make connections within the local community.

VanderVeen said he was excited to host the dig at the IU South Bend campus and loves these field schools.

“On the years where I don’t run them I miss them. They are an incredible amount of work. They take a lot more prep time than a normal core course, but the pay off in my opinion at the end is worth it,” he said.

VanderVeen estimated that he spent over a year preparing for the field study, getting permission from many different offices in Bloomington including The Architects Office, Legal Affairs, IU South Bend facilities, Housing, Army U.S. Corps of Engineers and the Indiana Division on Historic preservation and archeology. VanderVeen had to write a proposal for them and receive approval for them and carry that letter with the team. In addition, he coordinated with campus security. After taking care of all the logistics, VanderVeen still had to recruit students and convince them that the field study was a good way to spend their summer.

“They showed up at nine and I let them go at four. They spent the entire day excavating the history and cleaning artifacts and writing reports. It was really intensive,” he said.

Students worked six to eight hours a day, four days a week outside during the field study. In this way VanderVeen believes the course is more in line with a study abroad class as opposed to a traditional course.

“We found trash, which is exactly what we were looking for. I was kind of surprised with the amount of trash we found. Now to an archeologist trash is data. And it is the objects that we are trying to find to give us a date and a use of the site,” he explained.

The field study unearthed a number of items, including broken pieces of glass and ceramics and a medicine bottle from the early 1900s from a local pharmacy or apothecary. They also unearthed a large railroad spike, a driving range golf ball, lids to local dairy bottles, stone tools Native Americans would have used, and obsidian—a piece of volcanic glass.

The Archeology Department conducts field studies every three years. However, this was the first and possible last time one is done on the IU South Bend campus.

The materials unearthed from the field study are able to be viewed upon request from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

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