Queen's University

Students hone skills and gain international experience on excavation

This year's Humayma excavation project team, including 17 Queen's students, pose for a picture.

Working on an excavation project in Jordan is not the relaxing backpacking vacation many students take during the summer.

“The third day I was very ill, and I wasn’t the only person to get sick,” says Fraser Reed, a fourth-year classics student. “We adjusted fairly quickly, though, because we had to.”

This year 16 Queen’s students participated in the demanding six-week excavation. One student returned for another season to serve as a field supervisor. Six days a week from 7 am to 1 pm, the students trowelled and swept their area under the blazing Hisma desert sun. Then they processed their findings through the afternoon and into the evening.

“For eight months the students sit in the classroom. Then you take them out, it’s really dirty and hot, and they just love it,” says Barbara Reeves, who began inviting Queen’s students to the excavation when she joined the Queen’s Classics Department in 2003. Dr. Reeves has been the project director since 2008.

Despite the grueling conditions, the students were thrilled to uncover ruins at the Humayma site, also known as ancient Hawara. Two students excavate an area under the guidance of a supervisor who helps them interpret the context of what they uncover.

A small Nabataean settlement centre was founded at Hawara in the first century BC. The Romans built a fort there after annexing the area in AD 106. This year’s excavation showed that the Roman bathhouse, built over a Nabataean structure, was much larger than originally thought.

“It’s very much about the students getting the hands-on experience and supervising them as we go along,” Dr. Reeves says.

Queen's students Sarah McCutheon, Rachel Rabey and Fraser Reed (left to right) excavate the Roman bathhouse.

Students apply for a position on the excavation trip. They don’t need previous excavation experience, but they must be interested in the ancient Mediterranean cultures, archaeology, or the Near East region.

Students considering archaeology as a future career choice find the trip invaluable. Many of them learn excavation principles in the full-year introduction to archaeology course offered at Queen’s. One student told Dr. Reeves that the excavation is equal to biology students looking through the microscope in the lab. The experience convinced Mr. Reed to pursue archaeology after he graduates.

“I learned a lot of applicable skills. I used new tools and learned the process and paperwork as well,” he says.

The trip also exposes students to the Middle East, an area of the world many of them haven’t explored.

Queen's students excavate and record their findings.

“It’s important that students integrate with different aspects of the culture,” Dr. Reeves says. “They learn about the life of Bedouin villagers by camping with them and becoming friends.”

Queen’s students will play an integral role in future excavation seasons as Dr. Reeves continues to determine the full plan of the bathhouse and to learn more about the Nabataean structures at its perimeter.

“I see this as an opportunity for the Queen’s students to complement their education on archaeology in the ancient world,” she says.

To learn more about the student experience, you can visit Mr. Reed’s blog.

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Last updated at 2:16 pm EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
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