Unearthing a Passion for Archaeology

Article excerpt

Jennifer Kielhofer's childhood hikes on her father's 40-acre cattle ranch in Truckee, Calif., part of the ancient home of the Native American Washoe tribe, were one reason the University of Nevada-Reno junior spent six weeks this past summer on a dig on Roatan Island, off the eastern coast of Honduras.

"Digging and uncovering a bygone past intrigued me" as a child, said Kielhofer. Indeed, on these regular outings with her dad, they occasionally found small artifacts that further reflected the 9,000 years of history that experts conclude the Washoe tribe has had in the region. Little did she know then that these amateur forays would become the foundation for her passion for archaeology.

Her summer expedition to Roatan Island, a trip partly financed by a Phi Kappa Phi Study Abroad grant, was folded into a University of South Florida program to determine which ancient ethnic groups had occupied the land from 900 to 1500, a span of important eras in Honduran history. Researchers believe that Mayan, Pech, and Tolupan civilizations may have used the island as a ceremonial location.

"Archaeology is often the only way to uncover a people's past and cultural heritage. When sites are destroyed, the avenue to this unique heritage is lost forever," said Kielhofer, who majors in anthropology and minors in archeology and Spanish. The dig uncovered evidence that helped preserve the history of the ancient populations. A greater understanding of what led to their unique development will provide the people of Honduras with an important method to help advance their future, she said.

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By excavating existing sites, surveying for new sites, and analyzing artifacts in the lab, Kielhofer received a crash course in archaeological fieldwork, she explained. At an ongoing excavation, she discovered the first remnants of architecture at the site--small, crude pieces of ceramic that are believed to have been part of a ceremonial structure--providing a new perspective on how ancient people lived on the island.

Surveying for new sites meant a week, a full 40 hours, of going on grueling hikes, chopping back thick brush and dodging thorns. In the lab, Kielhofer learned how to determine whether uncovered pieces of ceramic belonged to a jar or a bowl and how to classify those pieces.

"Overall, this experience confirmed my love for archaeology," concluded the 20-year-old. "Now I feel confident that I could set up an excavation grid anywhere and have success conducting my own grid."

Surely her dad would be thrilled; they still hike together, and those early days digging at the family ranch uncovered much more than they ever could have imagined.

Phi Kappa Phi Study Abroad Grants help undergraduates as they seek knowledge and experience in their academic fields by venturing afield. This year, more than 200 applicants competed for 50 $1,000 grants. Including 2009, 318 students have earned Study Abroad Grants totaling $318,000 since the program began in 2001.

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