Students contribute to archaeological studies


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UI alums Kayla Resnick and Clayton Schuneman leaned over microscopes, peering into petri dishes of soil collected from an excavation site. Using tweezers, they sifted through the samples searching for small remnants of manmade artifacts.

Now archaeology technicians, both started their work in the Office of the State Archaeologist as UI students. Resnick said working in the office builds versatility.

“It’s been very beneficial,” said Resnick, who got the job as a junior in 2007 through a UI Career Fair. “You have to be able to do anything.”

The Office of the State Archaeologist is celebrating its 50-year anniversary this year, and it has used UI students since its creation. It holds more than 4 million artifacts from approximately 10,000 excavation sites in Iowa ranging from human and animal remains to handmade tools.

In the repository room containing the bulk of the artifacts, John Doershuk spun a handle, rolling a massive shelf holding more than 1,000 pounds of artifacts by with ease.

For Doershuk, the state archaeologist of Iowa, the artifacts and materials at the office are much more than just old things.

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“[Iowa’s artifacts] open up a window to the past,” he said, and artifacts and their locations describe ancient people and their origins.

And the students who work with him share the sentiment.

Kurtis Kettler, a UI senior doing work-study in the office, is helping to restore photos in the archives for a digital database. The database takes all of the images, some more than 100 years old, and categorizes them so excavations can be searched by date or location. So far, the archives have more than 47,000 photos.

Officials are also working to transfer all paper copies of maps into digital form. The Geographic Information Services process began in 1999 and utilizes I-Sites, an online master inventory of archaeological sites in Iowa.

Kettler said working at the office is helpful for students interested in archaeology.

“It’s a great foot in the door,” he said. “[Students] get experience with archaeology and, hopefully, broaden horizons for careers.”

Stephen Lensink, the associate director of the office, who has been involved with the organization since the 1960s, said students gain one-on-one time with faculty and receive “undivided attention” during research and projects.

“Students receive 100 percent of our time,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for them.”

The office’s current location, 700 Clinton Street Building, is also in its 50th year and has held a range of businesses from a grocery store to a mail facility.

The oldest artifact in the office record was discovered in 1863 and dates back several hundred years earlier. Around half of the artifacts at the office were discovered during excavations, with the rest donated by the general public, Doershuk said.

In the office’s first years, students mainly helped with summer field excavations, Lensink said. While summer projects have lessened in numbers, the organization has remained true to its purpose, he said.

“The main thing students get is practical field experience and cultural resource management skills,” Lensink said.

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