Student view:

Autumn Painter: Still playing in the dirt

Jan. 9, 2019

Autumn Painter is a doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology in the College of Social Science. She is also the campus archaeologist in the Campus Archaeology Program.

As an elementary student in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I had the opportunity to attend the Youth Archaeology Workshop hosted by the Hiawatha National Forest and Illinois State University. This unique program provided me with rare hands-on archaeological experience as a small child that initiated my passion for the subject and has led me to pursue a career as an archaeologist.

Growing up in a Spartan household — both my parents received degrees from MSU — there was no question about where I wanted to attend college, especially because of the wonderful professors that were, and currently are, in the Department of Anthropology.

While I had a little experience doing archaeological excavation, the anthropology department gave me many opportunities to learn more about the discipline and what it is really like to be an archaeologist, including excavating real archaeological sites and working with collections.

If you want to be an archaeologist, you must attend an archaeological field school. Luckily, MSU’s anthropology department offers an archaeological field school almost every summer.

As an undergraduate student, one of my favorite experiences was attending Lynne Goldstein’s archaeological field school. The summer I attended, the field project took place in Wisconsin at a prehistoric archaeological site called Aztalan.

Not only did I learn how to excavate an archaeological site during the field school, but I also learned about how to do archival research, field surveys, mapping, artifact curation and so much more! For six weeks, I was fully immersed in life as an archaeologist.

After graduating from MSU with a bachelor's degree in anthropology and a museum studies specialization, I went on to receive my master’s degree in archaeology from Illinois State University. I am now back in the Department of Anthropology at MSU as a doctoral student. I am also currently working as the campus archaeologist.

After a number of summers spent conducting excavations, working outside in the field is still my favorite part of archaeological research. There is nothing like digging in the dirt, uncovering artifacts that haven’t been seen for hundreds or thousands of years and learning new things about a very distant past.

This summer, I will be working with Stacey Camp, the director of the Campus Archaeology Program, for this year’s archaeological field school. Students will not have to travel far, as the field school will be held right here on MSU’s campus. This is such a great opportunity for undergraduate students interested in becoming an archaeologist, as it is one of the few ways to get real archaeological experience as a student, and it will not require the time and money for travel or other expenses that can occur with out-of-town field schools. It is also useful for so many other disciplines, including geology, geography, soil sciences, museum studies, archives and many others!

This year we will be excavating a historic homestead located on the eastern portion of MSU’s campus, and I can’t wait to see what we uncover so we can learn more about the families that lived in this area during the founding of the university.