For the first time, students at the University of North Georgia (UNG) had the opportunity to participate in an international archaeological dig and gain invaluable experience to prepare them for careers in the field. The four-week summer program led by Dr. Bill Balco, assistant professor of anthropology at UNG, took students to Alcamo, Italy, to investigate the site of an ancient settlement on Monte Bonifato.
Balco, who joined UNG's faculty in 2015 to teach archaeology, has been excavating in western Sicily since 2003. The UNG project on Monte Bonifato was an archaeological survey to look for previously unknown sites and explore the chronology of existing archaeological sites in an area that is rich with opportunities for discovery. The now-forested mountaintop once held an Iron Age city that could be 2,800 years old and contains the ruins of a medieval castle built on top of the ancient city around 750-1200, Balco said.
"There's a lot of potential for that site," Balco said. "There have been some very limited Italian excavations that have been conducted up there, but they know more about the medieval city than about the older city. The medieval city was built directly atop the older one, so the construction disturbed and destroyed a lot of the older layers."
This summer, the UNG team also partnered with Andrews University faculty and students to conduct excavations at their site to gain additional hands-on experience. They also toured other historic and archaeological sites throughout the region such as the Grotta del Genovese, which contains rock art dating back to 11,000 to 12,000 years ago.
"There's only so far you can take a student when you're in the classroom and you're trying to explain archaeology as a process," Balco said. "But when you take them into the field and show them how to set up an excavation and how to conduct that process from start to finish, it really demonstrates the detail that archaeology requires. The UNG project prepares students for careers in archaeology because the first step to becoming a professional archaeologist is a field school – learning how to do the process."
Walter Stanish, a senior from Huntsville, Alabama, who is pursuing a major in history and minor in anthropology, said the UNG project offered the field school knowledge that he seeks as he plans a career in archaeology while also providing experience with another language and culture.
"What I learned from this study abroad can't truly be put into words due to the sheer amount of information and perspective I gained, as well as the hands-on experience in what I hope is my future profession, archaeology," Stanish said. "I also learned the deep and complex history of Sicily and the welcoming and friendly culture of the Sicilian people that has been influenced and shaped throughout history."
Like Stanish, Eli Bell of Athens, Georgia, is a senior majoring in history with a minor in anthropology who is interested in a career as an archaeologist.
"Under this program, I learned about the history of Sicily as well as field methods in both survey and excavation and would highly recommend others to participate as well, for the experience provided through this opportunity is truly priceless in the pursuit of a career in archaeology," Bell said.
Stanish's advice to students interested in archaeology?
"Go! In Sicily the archaeology you do there can't be redone by anyone else, for every dig is a unique experience that offers different challenges and rewards."