Jul 28, 2014
09:29 AM

Be Indiana Jones for a Week in Connecticut, Dig Up a ‘Holy Grail’

Be Indiana Jones for a Week in Connecticut, Dig Up a ‘Holy Grail’

Sure, Indiana Jones has always made archaeology look exciting, but the actual work behind it is often more compelling, especially for fans of history.

Now you can grab a trowel and find out for yourself Aug. 4 to 8 as part of the Adult Archaeology Field School, conducted by the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History and the Connecticut Archaeology Center. Participants will have the opportunity to participate in a dig as part of the official state archaeology team. The intensive week-long program also covers cultural aspects of archaeology as well as field techniques and data management.

The field school is led by recently retired official state archaeologist Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni, who talked to us about archaeology and his experiences, which included the discovery of the Jewett City "vampires" (Colonial-era tuberculosis victims believed at the time to rise from the grave and feed upon the living) and examining a skull fragment that was believed to have been Adolph Hitler's. He also discussed his love of working in the field, and the challenges that come with it.

From our interview:

Have you ever discovered something during an excavation and been like, “Uh oh. This is a problem”?

Not so much “This is a problem,” as much as “This is not what I expected.” I think when you go into the field at a site, you’ve done the background research, the time period you’re going to be investigating, the cultural traditions . . . every site you go into with the theoretical and other expectations. Sometimes however, you get what you get, as we say. Sometimes the archaeological record can throw you a curve ball and that’s kind of cool. Like with the “vampire.” Here we are rescuing the cemetery that was affected by the mining operation, to move remains in a professional, respectful way, and do some analysis and have them buried in a new cemetery, and we were in the process of this when all of a sudden we were thrown this curve ball with this one burial which was not what we expected. So it leads you into further analysis. And that’s just got to be fun all the time. Like anything else, when you get the unexpected, now you have a new problem to solve and it keeps you on your toes and it’s great.


A few summers ago we also had the good fortune of joining Dr. Kenneth Feder, professor of archaeology at Central Connecticut State University, on an archaeological excavation at the site of the Barkhamsted Lighthouse, a small Colonial settlement in what is now the People's State Forest that was home to Narragansett Indian James Chaugham and white Colonist Molly Barber, an interracial couple who had been ostracized for their union. During that experience, Feder quoted the opening of H.P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between: “The past is a foreign country.”

To which he added: “I want to explore that foreign country. [This work is] something visceral, a connection to the past. I can intellectualize it—James Chaugham lived in a place called The Lighthouse over 200 years ago. But then we can come out here and see where the foundation to his home was, we can dig up and hold a piece of a plate that he owned. To me, that’s pretty cool.”

If that sounds cool, then the Adult Archaeology Field School may be for you.

The Adult Archaeology Field School program is $400 ($300 for members of the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History), and only open to ages 16 and up. For more information, call (860) 486-4460 or visit the Connecticut Archeology Center.


Be Indiana Jones for a Week in Connecticut, Dig Up a ‘Holy Grail’

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