Halfway through his summer archaeology field school in Maryland, Luke Wyatt ’25 had a bit of an epiphany. “I was not expecting to enjoy the actual field work and excavation as much as I have,” the liberal studies major said in June.
Before arriving at Cremona Farm, a former tobacco plantation located along the Patuxent River, Wyatt had planned to focus his graduate degree and career on linguistic anthropology. After a few weeks, however, he started thinking he might shake things up.
Wyatt, who has minors in classical studies, archaeology, and museum studies, said the experience has led him to seriously consider adding archaeology to his grad school plan. “It would be a dream come true to have a career, possibly in academia, which involved all four of my disciplines: linguistics, archaeology, classical studies, and museum studies,” he said.
Wyatt was one of four University of Lynchburg students who participated in archaeological field schools this summer. Abby Gonshorowski ’24 and Haley Sabolcik ’23, both history majors, were with Wyatt at Cremona Farm, a field school associated with St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
They learned about the school from Dr. Christie Vogler, an assistant professor of history at Lynchburg who travels to Sicily on a regular basis for archaeology digs. “She emphasized how great of an opportunity this would be to those of us who wished to seriously pursue archaeology,” Sabolcik said.
Students at Cremona Farm also were paid — a big plus. “It’s an amazing opportunity because it’s a paid program,” Wyatt said, “whereas many field schools actually require students to pay in order to participate.”
History major Emma Coffey ’23 spent much of her break at the Summer Field School in Historical Archeology at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest. The historic site is in Forest, Virginia, not far from the University of Lynchburg.
At Poplar Forest, she and other researchers looked for evidence of the estate’s stables. Within the first couple of weeks they had found nails, ceramics, glass, silverware remains, bricks, and other items.
“I think a part of me has always been fascinated by the process of archaeology, especially being able to take certain parts of history and make them come alive through physical remains,” Coffey said.
“I specifically decided that I wanted to make a career out of archaeology when I attended an Archaeology Day at Historic Sandusky in November 2019. I remember working in the field and feeling incredibly excited by the things we were finding.
“That was when I knew that I wanted to do something like this for the rest of my life.”
Sandusky’s longtime director, Greg Starbuck ’14 MA, ’19 MA, said all of the students who went to archaeological field schools this past summer have participated in digs at Historic Sandusky.
The historic property, known for its role in the Civil War Battle of Lynchburg, is owned by the University of Lynchburg. Recently, students have been helping excavate the sites of the old kitchen house and smokehouse.
“I didn’t discover my passion for archaeology until I started working at Historic Sandusky,” Sabolcik said, adding that the lab director there “offered me a position as a lab assistant and that’s where I was really exposed to the field of archaeology and what all it entails.”
At Cremona, Wyatt, Gonshorowski, and Sabolcik helped excavate the former site of an 18th-century home. More specifically, they explored the home’s trash heap, or midden, which dates from the 1730s to ’50s. In the midden, the budding archaeologists found musket balls, ceramics, bones, coins, nails, oyster shells, and other discarded items.
“The coolest things that I personally excavated was a boar tusk that was as big as my hand and a pair of scissors that were completely intact,” Sabolcik said. “The most interesting thing found by our entire group was a piece of fabric.
“It’s exceedingly rare to find fabric in trash middens because fabric tends to be one of the first things to deteriorate in soil and what could survive is very fragile and easy to lose in shovels or screens. We were able to find and extract four pieces of fabric about the size of a quarter that were purple and embroidered with threads of silver and gold.”
Wyatt found what he first described as a “piece of costume jewelry, embellished with a green glass ‘jewel.’” After further analysis, however, it was determined to be an early 1700s “sleeve button,” a precursor to the cufflink.
“Although cufflinks are typically worn by men today, sleeve buttons were worn by people of all genders and ages, usually on the sleeves but sometimes on shirt collars,” Wyatt said. “They were made of a wide variety of materials and were a relatively cheap way to add adornment to any outfit, making them accessible even to the poor, enslaved people, and indentured servants.”
In addition to the scissors, fabric, and sleeve button, the group also found straight pins and a brass fragment that could have been from a buckle. All of these finds support the theory that there was garment production at Cremona.
“[They] are especially interesting because there is documentation of a haberdashery — a men’s clothing store known for selling hats specifically — on the estate, which is totally unheard of at early Colonial sites, other than Cremona,” Wyatt said.
Those at Cremona Farm also gained experience in collections management, conservation, and chemical analysis. They washed, sorted, and processed artifacts and used equipment, like X-radiographic fluorescence, to analyze artifacts, including the sleeve button, which was found to be made of tableware crystal cased in pewter.
“Overall, field schools are a great opportunity for students like myself to get a feel of the field and determine if this kind of work is actually of interest or if I’d be better suited to a job in museums, conservation, lab work, collections, etc.,” Wyatt said.
“This program is perfect … because we have the opportunity to try out stuff in all these fields.”
Coffey, who helped research artifacts uncovered at Poplar Forest, came to a similar conclusion.
“I really wanted to attend a field school because I knew the experience would be worthwhile,” she said midway through the program. “It would be a fantastic training opportunity for me to learn more about field and lab protocols, along with a better understanding of how archaeology works.
“I hope to gain the skills I will need to pursue a career in this field, such as being able to work and possibly run a lab in the future.”