Digging in the past for her future
Kendell Porter ’16 spent much of the fall semester looking for clues about the landscape at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest.
A fragment of pottery told archaeologists at Poplar Forest that the boxwoods at the entrance to the home were not there during Jefferson’s time. So they ripped the boxwoods out and started excavating to find out what was underneath.
A biology major with minors in history and French from Lynchburg, Kendell said the experience was perfect for her dream job of becoming a paleontologist.
“I have always been fascinated by history, which is only natural considering my family history here in Virginia! Both sides of my family were in Jamestown at the same time and my ancestors (the family of John Irvin) founded Hat Creek (near Rustburg) and the Hat Creek church in about 1742,” Kendell said.
“Needless to say, I have a deep connection to Virginia and Virginian history. However, I also have a strong passion for the sciences and their analytical nature. I also have a (somewhat morbid) fascination with bones and skeletons. I'm currently working on collecting different animal skeletons to start my study collection.”
Kendell spent 11 weeks over the summer doing an archaeological field school at Poplar Forest to prepare for the excavation work in the fall.
“Although I still love archaeology, I have realized that I am more interested in topics much older than the field of archaeology usually covers,” she said. “I want to study the fossilized remains of mega-fauna (really big animals) that are now extinct and figure out why exactly their species died out, then compare them to the different species of animals we see today and make any possible connections between the two.”
While her work at Poplar Forest didn’t uncover any dinosaurs, she painstakingly sifted through lots of dirt to look for pins, beads, ceramics, and other items at the site.
Kendell said it appears that the entrance where the boxwoods had been was a cobblestone driveway, where wagons would have pulled up to the entrance of the house, which Jefferson used as a retreat from the busier Monticello.
Kendell said Dr. Brooke Haiar, assistant professor of environmental science and herself a paleontologist, has been a good mentor. “Dr. Haiar has been such a great help solidifying my interest in paleontology and just being there as someone to talk to on a regular basis,” Kendell said.