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Morris Students 'Dig' Summer Break

Posted by Pengxeu Thao '15, Roseville on Monday, Aug. 12, 2013


Ashleigh Thompson ’13 and Alex Short ’14 participated in archaeological fieldwork at the Angel Mounds State Historic Site in Indiana this summer. The excavation, a National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), was offered by the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology at Indiana University-Bloomington. The experience helped stimulate the students’ academic interests.

The Angel Mounds excavation was one of the few archaeologically focused REU programs offered this summer. These programs support undergraduate research in fields such as engineering, behavioral sciences, and environmental research. Thompson and Short were two of 10 student researchers chosen from a pool of 80 applicants. They used this opportunity to garner valuable undergraduate field and research experience, helping guide their future career directions.

“Before this summer, I wasn’t sure if archaeology was a field I wanted to pursue in the future,” says Thompson. “Angel Mounds is the second summer in a row that I’ve worked on an excavation, and I’ve had such a good time that I’ve decided archaeology is something I want to do as a career.”


Ashleigh Thompson ’13 drawing the map profile of her unit on Mound F at the Angel Mounds State Historic Site.

Thompson and Short, along with the other NSF-sponsored student researchers, investigated two of the site’s 11 mounds, which were once home to a Middle Mississippian culture throughout the southeastern United States. They took part in a diverse series of hands-on projects ranging from examining soil biochemistry to recording historical changes in the mounds.

“Being part of this multidisciplinary program, I’ve had the opportunity to get a feel for archaeological fieldwork, geoarchaeology, and geophysics, specifically magnetometry,” says Short. “This research experience has helped me gauge what direction I want to take in the geosciences and in grad school.”

Following the excavation, students conducted their own independent research projects. Thompson focused on studying the topographic change of one mound over the past eight decades, while Short examined the origin of materials used to construct the mounds.

“At other well-known Mississippian sites, artificial lowlands have been identified as borrow areas where they quarried materials for mound construction,” says Short. “At Angel Mounds, we still don’t know where they may have had quarry areas, so I’ll be looking to put a dent in that question.”

As part of the program, both Thompson and Short will present their findings at the upcoming Annual Midwestern Archaeological Conference in Ohio. The conference will take place in late October.


Alex Short ’14 working with a geoprobe to extract core samples from Mound A at the Angel Mounds State Historic Site.