NWU Student Returns From Prestigious Dig Experience at Thomas Jefferson Plantation

Kaitlin Zardetto-Smith spent her summer playing in the dirt.

In fact, she was among 14 students from across the country selected to do so.

The senior history and vocal performance major from Omaha was selected for the prestigious Monticello Archaeological Field School in Virgina, a six-week course which includes firsthand archaeological experience at excavation sites, guest lectures on field techniques and methods, and onsite instruction on Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello plantation.

When she first learned of the opportunity, Zardetto-Smith was excited to apply, but concerned that her lack of experience in archaeology and anthropology would set her back from the 75 other applicants.

Turns out she didn’t need to worry.

“I worked hard on relating in my cover letter to Monticello Archaeology Field School that even though I lacked the experience in the fields of archaeology and anthropology, I would more than make up for it in my enthusiasm and academic rigor,” said Zardetto-Smith.

Her cover letter combined with letters of recommendation from her history and music professors helped her to become one of just 14 undergraduate and graduate students selected to spend their summer in Virginia.

Students spent 40 hours each week attending classes and digging in the field. The hours were long, often starting with classes at 8:30 a.m. The lectures were followed by fieldwork, which involved digging in five-by five-sections, and completing lots of paperwork.

“About 60 percent of archaeology is actually the paperwork,” explained Zardetto-Smith. “The very nature of archaeology is a completely destructive and irreversible process, so it is necessary for us as archaeologists to fully record each detail found.”

Those details included root intrusions, rock inclusions, artifacts found, and flooding from rain.

She spent her evenings doing homework, but even that was gratifying, she said. Zardetto-Smith was responsible for several of the finds made during the six weeks, including a half copper belt buckle, a button with a shell inlay decoration, and ceramics which helped date the site.

“The best story of a find from this year's field school was when a group of kids from the Monticello Mystery Camp came down to the site to see the archaeology experience and screen some dirt with us,” she said. “As soon as the kids arrived, I took a group of four or five girls over to my screen. I pick up what looked like a ball of mud, which most likely contained rocks, so I was breaking it apart in my hands to show them that we frequently find unimportant rocks, and as I broke the mud apart I found a fully intact iron buckle.”

Throughout the entire process, Zardetto-Smith found that her lack of experience in archaeology and anthropology wasn’t an issue, easily keeping up with the other students who were working on degrees in those fields.

Zardetto-Smith returned to Nebraska Wesleyan University this fall with an appreciation for the efforts that go into working an archeological site, and for the application of her dual degree.

“As a vocal performance and history double major, I have always believed in never limiting myself to any academic or extracurricular pursuits that were outside of either field,” she said. “The Nebraska Wesleyan core value of diversity has always strongly appealed to me, given that your professors, your peers, and everything about NWU encourages you to seek out whatever goals or dreams you wish and that is exactly what I did.”

Post new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
Kaitlin Zardetto-Smith begins her first excavation at the Monticello Archaeological Field School in Virginia.
Students began their days with guest lectures followed by hours of fieldwork.
Despite little archeology experience, Kaitlin says she believes in never limiting herself.
Kaitlin is a senior history and vocal performance double major.