In Archaeological Field School, Students Discover Underground History of New Paltz

Archaeology Field School at Huguenot Street-5

The SUNY New Paltz Archaeological Field School, under the instruction of Associate Professor of Anthropology Joseph Diamond, has been a summer tradition at New Paltz’s Historic Huguenot Street district for nearly two decades.

On most clear weather days in July, students and community members donning old, dusty clothes, with shovels, brushes and magnifying glasses can be found on sites that afford opportunities to learn more about the European settlers who first came to the area in the 17th century, as well as the American Indian tribes who inhabited the region thousands of years prior to their arrival.

“The most informative way to find out about our ancestors is to investigate the places that they inhabited,” Diamond said. “The artifacts, in conjunction with house patterns, hearths, burials, and midden debris can be analyzed to determine time period, diet, social structure, technology, trade patterns and ultimately, how these elements of prehistoric and historic societies changed over time.”

Diamond, whose archaeological experience dates back more than 40 years, plans his class around lessons in excavation techniques and best practices in classification and analysis. He includes lab sessions that emphasize precision in cleaning, cataloguing and interpreting a day’s findings.

“It’s interesting going from the romantic concept of archaeology to the nitty-gritty, exacting process itself,” said Joe Bacci ’16 (Anthropology).

Many of the class’s man-made findings over the years are identifiable as household items most likely left behind by Huguenot settlers or contemporaneous Lenape tribes such as the Esopus and the Munsee. However, Diamond and his students have found a number of prehistoric pointed spearheads dating back as far as 5000 years, proof that there were people who called New Paltz home long before it bore that name.

Though the search for such a piece may take hours or days, the thrill of discovery motivates these groups of amateur archaeologists to keep working.

“It’s absolutely satisfying to make a find like this,” said Devin King ’15 (Anthropology), shortly after he extracted a shard of incised pottery measuring more than one inch across, which Diamond dated roughly to the early 16th century. “You may dig for a while without finding anything, start to feel your back and your knees hurt, but then you find something and get reinvigorated.”

Diamond has offered the class through New Paltz at Historic Huguenot Street since 1998, working primarily in a field across the street from Dubois Fort. In 2013, he secured permission to dig on the property of the Reformed Church of New Paltz, which itself is part of the history of the district, having been constructed in 1839.

The Archaeological Field School, which is open to all community members, provides a unique experience in practical research to students of anthropology. It also serves as a way for New Paltz residents to have fun learning about the Village’s history. More information is available online.

Evolutionary Studies Program Hosts Summer Institute

The Evolutionary Studies Program at the State University of New York at New Paltz will host a summer institute designed to help current and future teachers master the breadth of content needed to effectively teach evolution in a secondary-education curriculum. The institute will be held from July 20-24 on the New Paltz campus, and includes field trips to area nature sites.

Evolution and its many elements are now included in Common Core standards and are considered essential components of a science curriculum. The institute will provide students with a deep biological understanding of evolution across various disciplines, as well as content specific to the teaching of evolution. Graduates of the institute will be well prepared to teach evolution content in a way that integrates the many issues that surround evolution education.

The 45-hour version of the institute will include eight class periods. Morning and afternoon periods are 3.5 hours and high-impact and relevant films will be screened and discussed during lunch. It also includes an intensive field experience on teaching about evolution in the wilderness. The cost is $450 and includes lunch provided by the institute on four of the five days. Completion of the program leads to three 15-hour Continuing Education Units (CEUs), which are satisfactory for salary advancement in most districts.

The 34-hour institute (leading to two 15-hour CEUs) includes the same periods, but omits the 11-hour Friday field experience. The cost is $400 for four days.

Successful graduates will receive a certificate of completion and have the option to purchase SUNY New Paltz CEUs for $25 per credit.

Although the institute is primarily geared for teachers and/or graduate or undergraduate students who anticipate entering the teaching profession, anyone with a high school degree or equivalent can enroll.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, New Paltz’s Evolutionary Studies program includes more than 10 Ph.D.-level faculty who teach dozens of classes related to evolution across the curriculum. The faculty have published books and articles on evolution topics that have earned national and international acclaim.

For more information on the Evolutionary Studies Institute, click here.