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September 12, 2013

Sociology Professor Ben Alberti and four honors students endured heat, thirst, electric storms, and rattlesnakes in the pursuit of rock art and other signs of life during a three-week period over the summer.

The trip was the inaugural field season of the joint Gorge Archaeological Project conducted with Columbia University and under the co-direction of Dr. Alberti and Dr. Severin Fowles of Barnard College, Columbia University. Dr. Alberti’s team is focusing on the earliest, “Archaic” inhabitants of the area, who engraved glyphs into rocks and fashioned tools from stone.

The project was supported by CELTSS (Center for Excellence in Learning, Teaching, Scholarship and Service) and a generous grant from the Office of Academic Affairs for student-faculty collaboration, which covered much of the students’ costs. The students -- Alyssa Duprey, James McKeon, Olivia Harvey and Robert Rice -- were selected from a pool of interested students who had taken Dr. Alberti’s ANTH 172 Interpreting the Past: Archaeological Perspective in Spring 2013.

New Mexico proved no match for FSU’s students.

“It was a multitude of unique experiences, from discovering that the Rio Grande can be freezing to learning how to differentiate archaic rock art to lichen, all while living in a town that cared deeply about its own history and was always ready to share it,” said James McKeon.

Days were spent hiking through this harsh landscape, up to ten hours at a stretch, surveying areas within the Rio Grande Gorge in northern New Mexico and on its rim. Several rock art sites were recorded, and the finding of numerous lithic artifacts -- some 5,000 years old -- bear testament to the longevity of human activity in the area.

The two rock art areas studied most intensively were the Kissing Fish site and the Katsina Mask site. The archaic panels of animal prints and geometric patterns provide clues into how ancient foragers conceptualized and moved through the landscape.

“Going to Dixon for the field study was completely unexpected for me,” said Fashion Design major Olivia Harvey. “I was afraid that I would feel out of place. However, the other members of the Project and the community of Dixon created an environment that was both informative and welcoming. I also learned so much more than I had expected - from pottery of the 13th century to the history of Dixon. I would definitely recommend this program to anyone with a passion for adventure!”

Independent Studies by two students this semester will work on material from the project. There are plans to continue the project in summer 2014, pending funding.

“After spending three weeks in Dixon, I know that archaeology is what I want to do,” said student Bobby Rice.

About Framingham State University

Framingham State University was founded in 1839 as the nation’s first public university for the education of teachers. Since that time, it has evolved into a vibrant, comprehensive liberal arts institution offering small, personalized classes on a beautiful New England campus. Today, the University enrolls more than 6,400 students with 53 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in arts, humanities, sciences, social sciences and professional fields. As a public university, Framingham State prides itself on quality academic programs, affordability, and commitment to access for all qualified students.

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