Local Girl “Digs” Archaeology

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By Claire Walla

Somewhere in between “firefighter” and “astronaut,” many ambitious young kids will focus their professional aspirations on a career path modeled after a man many that age believe to be America’s greatest adventurer: Indiana Jones.

Usually, at some point, reality will set in — even Indy had a day job — and kids move on.

But for a select few, reality is little deterrent. Sixteen-year-old Sag Harbor resident Rose Bishop remembers going to museums as a small kid, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, and gazing at fossils and artifacts. “Archeology has always been really fascinating for me,” she said recently, “and history has always been my favorite subject.

As for “Indy,” she let out a light laugh and confirmed, “archeology isn’t really like that.”

And she would know. The incoming Pierson High School junior — who admitted to watching “Indiana Jones” as a kid — spent the better part of the summer on the island of Mallorca in Spain, working on an actual archeological dig site.

She was one of nearly a dozen high school students who participated in a program called ArcheoSpain, which brought Bishop to the dig in the Mediterranean for an entire month. Along with nearly a dozen other high schoolers and roughly 30 college archeology students, Bishop worked five- to six-hour days in the hot sun, breaking only for lunch in the afternoon before attending classes and lectures later in the day.

Again, she reiterated major differences between the work she did and the high-flying adventures captured on the silver screen. (Archeology involves a lot of down time and unmet expectations.) But, “it’s worth it in the end,” Bishop added. “Even the little things I found were cool.”

She and other archeologists this summer spent their days unearthing a site known as Pollentia, an ancient city which experts believe dates back to 100 B.C. “The city had a pretty good location,” Bishop explained, noting that it was situated in a valley surrounded by mountains, which offered protection and a natural ring of look-out perches.

“The city was also a big trade center,” she added. “It was in a good position, being right on the Mediterranean.”

For her part, Bishop spent much of her time excavating one of the city’s shops, which Bishop said dates to around 200 or 250 A.D. Using a pick ax and a shovel to dig, and a smaller brush to dust-off fragile objects, Bishop herself uncovered pieces of pottery and Spanish coins.

Not having studied a great deal of Spanish history, she said each discovery brought something new to the table, and provided more fodder for the afternoon lecture.

“On the top layer of soil we found a lot of artifacts from Franco[‘s time],” Bishop exclaimed. Until this summer, she said she didn’t know much about the Spanish dictator who ruled from 1936 to 1975.

“We didn’t think we were going to find that stuff, but after we did we had a big lecture about Franco,” she explained.

She added that another group working at another site found artifacts from the Muslim invasion of Spain more than 500 years ago. “So, we learned a little bit about that, too.”

Bishop continued on to say that another group of high school students unknowingly dug-up a Medieval grave. In fact, “two of my friends found it,” Bishop noted. “You couldn’t even tell it was a skeleton, it was all deteriorated. It looked more like pieces of bird’s bones, or couch [stuffing].” But, the lead archeologists who flocked to the site quickly identified human ribs and teeth.

Bishop said she was rather pleased not to have made that discovery herself. “It kind of freaked me out, knowing that there were dead bodies under where we were digging.”

Even so, the high school junior is poised to make a future of archeology. Bishop has already visited the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon in Mexico. And just last year, she took part in an archeological dig at a Pueblo Indian site in Colorado. Eventually, she’d like to travel to Central America to learn about the Mayans and the Aztecs, and to Greece to learn more about ancient civilizations there. “I’ve also always wanted to see what underwater archeology would be like,” she said of embarking on missions closer to home.

Regardless of where she ends up, Bishop said her summer experience has given her more insight into the road that might lie ahead.

“It’s not just fun and games. You don’t find a life-changing discovery everyday,” she said. “I enjoy it a lot, but it definitely gives you a different perspective than the one you have growing up, watching ‘Indiana Jones.’”

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