Faculty in the Field: Chris Rodning
From left to right: Michelle Pigott (PhD candidate in anthropology), Lauren Duncan (SLA Class of 2025), and Professor Chris Rodning at the Berry site in western North Carolina.
Tuesday, September 13, 2023
This excerpt was written by Anthropology Professor Chris Rodning, who teaches courses on North American archaeology, culture contact and colonialism, and the archaeology of cultural landscapes.
There is an archaeology proverb from David Hurst Thomas that says: “it’s not what you find, it’s what you find out” about what life was like for people in the past.
As I have done in most summers since 2001, I codirected excavations at the Berry site in the Catawba River Valley of North Carolina. The site is the location of an ancestral Catawba town known as Joara and a Spanish colonial town (Cuenca) and fort (Fort San Juan) that dates from 1566 to 1568. This project concentrates on the interactions between Native American groups and early Spanish colonists during a period that predates the English colonization of Virginia and the French colonization of Louisiane.
This summer I was joined by two School of Liberal Arts students—PhD candidate Michelle Pigott and junior Lauren Duncan, a triple major in Anthropology, History, and English.
Michelle, whose dissertation research focuses on the Indigenous cultural landscape in which Joara and Cuenca were situated, was particularly focused on excavating a trench to determine the placement and dimensions of earth-and-wood structures associated with the Native American occupation of the site in an area outside of and near the archaeological footprint of the Spanish fort.
Lauren, participating in archaeological fieldwork for the very first time, was involved in excavating a trench within a structure to expose floors and the hearth (fireplace) at its center. This involved lots of dirt and required careful measurement of its volume, screening it with water to recover small materials, and preparing vertical (stratigraphic) profiles and horizontal (planview) surfaces in order to record findings through photography and drawings.
With these students and others who are also studying archaeological sites not far from Tulane’s campus, we are finding out what we can about the cultural heritage of the Native American South
“Being part of the Berry site excavation team was a phenomenal experience, and I learned a lot from being involved in such a dynamic dig. I went into the field school hoping to learn what the process of archaeological fieldwork is like. I came out of it with ideas about plans and possibilities for attending conferences, pursuing internships, thinking about graduate school, and getting involved in research activities on campus at Tulane.”Lauren Duncan, SLA '2025
“This summer, I had the privilege of leading a group of undergraduate students who were extremely enthusiastic about learning archaeological field and lab methods. Every year I’m surprised by all that I learn at a dig—sometimes what we thought we knew at the start of a field season is completely turned on its head by the end. While working at Berry and other sites nearby every summer, I get to spend time with some of the smartest and most motivated archaeologists in the world, reminding myself once again that archaeology is a practice of cooperation, collaboration, curiosity, and a lot of sweat!”Michelle Pigott, PhD candidate in anthropology
PhD candidate Michelle Pigott (left) drawing maps and stratigraphic profiles of an excavation trench, along with McKenna Connell (front right) and Rachel Briggs (back right). Left of Michelle is a hearth at the center of a Native American structure at the Berry site in western North Carolina. Rachel is a faculty member at the University of North Carolina and a project codirector. McKenna is a field school student from the University of Michigan.
Lauren Duncan (left) shows off an excavation trench she helped dig and map during the 2023 summer field season.