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The past in your hands

Who We Are, What We Do: Department of Archaeology

Teaching and Learning

By Janet Harron

Archaeologists and bioarchaeologists study past human cultures and behaviour through the material left behind: artifacts, bones, structures, plant remains, sediments, sites and their associated landscapes.

Memorial’s Department of Archaeology is one of the largest archaeology departments in North America. Here, students are trained to become active stewards of our shared archaeological past by faculty members who make strong connections with their students.

Faculty-student connection

“One of the greatest things about the archaeology department is the faculty,” said fourth-year student Anna Sparrow.

Dr. Lisa Rankin, an associate professor in the department who received the prestigious Geoffrey Marshall Mentoring Award from the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools recently, is just one example. The award recognizes outstanding mentoring support of graduate students, from course completion through research and placement.

Ms. Sparrow’s first introductory course with Dr. Oscar Moro completely changed the trajectory of her undergraduate degree (her original plan was to major in English). Soon after, she was hired by Dr. Barry Gaulton, current department head, as a student field assistant at Ferryland’s Colony of Avalon archaeological dig.

Dr. Meghan Burchell
Dr. Meghan Burchell

For assistant professor Dr. Meghan Burchell, its opportunities such as these that are significant factors in the department’s success.

“Both our graduate and undergraduate students have the opportunity to direct their own projects and the scale of these is really outstanding,” said Dr. Burchell, who developed two new undergraduate courses since coming to Memorial in 2015: The Archaeology of Death and Coastal Archaeology. “Graduate students direct their own excavations and have the opportunity to engage in intensive field or lab-based projects. All our current first-year master’s students have external funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council—which is pretty incredible—I’m so proud!”

Real opportunities

Undergraduates like Ms. Sparrow are also being funded for independent research. She is currently working with Dr. Burchell on a study of shell midden sites in southern British Columbia. Ms. Sparrow’s summer research is being funded by one of Memorial’s 10 University Student Summer Internships (USSIP).

“Removing labels about ‘who’ can do archaeology and ‘how’ we become archaeologists is really important.” — Dr. Meghan Burchell

“We’re also exploring the cultural significance of shells and the traditions surround them,” said Ms. Sparrow. “By integrating biological and chemical analysis alongside Indigenous knowledge and tradition, we can begin to refine archaeological understanding of past shellfish use and the continuing of shellfish harvesting over the Holocene period—the current geological epoch.”

This summer Ms. Sparrow will travel to British Columbia to visit both Simon Fraser University and the Royal British Columbia Museum to sample archaeological material from archives there and to collect water samples and shells for calibration studies.

“As an undergrad, having the opportunity to attend and present at national and international conferences, as well as having the chance to excavate, has greatly enriched my academic learning experience,” she said.

Who We Are, What We Do

Teacher and student appear together in Who We Are, What We Do: Archaeology—the latest in a series of teaser videos produced by the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and created by multihyphenate writer/videographer/rapper/producer and recent Memorial graduate Timo Sargent.

The video was filmed in the Memorial Applied Archaeological Sciences Lab in Queen’s College, an appropriate location as Dr. Burchell’s research takes place primarily in the lab.

“A lot of people think archaeology is about being ‘hard core’ in the field, digging and finding things, but there’s so much more to it. We also look after archaeological collections and explore how we can work with others on how to better understand the past,” said Dr. Burchell. “Removing labels about ‘who’ can do archaeology and ‘how’ we become archaeologists is really important.”

For more information, please see the archaeology degree map, visit the department’s website, follow the undergraduate student society MUNArch or like the Facebook page for the Memorial Applied Archaeological Sciences Lab.

Who We Are, What We Do is a summer series from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences featuring faculty and students discussing their discipline. The next installment, Who We Are, What We Do: Classics, featuring Dr. Luke Roman and undergraduate student Morgan Locke, launches June 13.

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