by Nathan Stadnik
My STEP signature project was to study abroad in Trim, County Meath, Ireland at the Blackfriary Community Archaeological and Field School site. This trip was an introduction into archaeology field work with the oversight of Dr. Allison Beach, an OSU professor, and Finola O’Carroll, a respected archaeologist, to excavate the Blackfriary from the 1200s. Field trips to neighboring historical Irish friaries and monasteries were taken to learn more about the lives of the friars and the expansion of the monestaric religion into Ireland.
Being a pharmacy major, I was often asked “Why are you on an archaeology trip?” I always explained that I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone. I have never flown internationally alone before and I have never taken on such an ambitious opportunity as learning brand new skills that are so different from the pharmacy courses I’ve studied. I was going from very minimal labor in an air conditioned pharmacy to using pickaxes and trowels in the dead of the Irish summer sun to move huge amounts of dirt. To say the least, I was scared out of my mind. However, as the weeks went on, I learned that there was nothing to worry about. I started getting closer to the other students on the trip and ended up making 15 new friends. By taking such an adventurous trip, I learned that it’s very rewarding to go outside of your comfort zone, and to learn and experience new and unique skills. Before this trip, if I was offered to intern at a very challenging job, I would have probably declined it. After this trip, I would wholeheartedly accept it and would take on the challenge of going out of my comfort zone as I know great things can come from it.
When I researched and worked toward this study abroad trip, I had a pessimistic view that archaeology was just a simple science. Once I began working on site, I quickly learned I was completely wrong. I understand now that archaeology is an art to accomplish. The organization from the different sections and even layers of dirt need constant monitoring to ensure that no piece of information is lost. The sketching of the site and locations of artifacts found have to be accurate and the archaeologists have to have an artistic aptitude to keep accurate records. With each new piece of information found, old theories have to be updated to include these new findings, theories that might have been created when the site was first opened. Archaeologists have to ensure the community is accepting of the site, as they are the ones that would allow them to continue to work. To juggle all of these aspects requires an immense amount of skill and knowledge, not just about human history but also the history of the landscape. By taking this trip, I now know that archaeology is nowhere near a simple science and I am reconsidering my views on many of the fields that I once considered facile.
One of the events that made me realize how important archaeology can be was when our group toured the Quin Abbey in Quin, County Clare, Ireland. The Quin Abbey, built in the 1400s, was one of the few remaining Abbey’s that had an intact cloister, or a covered walkway surrounding a square lawn. Being there to experience the history and feel of what our friary would have looked like was breathtaking and was a highlight for the entire trip. In this covered area, there are still impressions of the hay straws that was used to hold the plaster to the ceiling, which was incredible to see as the site is over 600 years old. We not only got to see the physical beauty held in the Abbey, but we were shown the historical beauty by a local benedictine monk that specializes in the local history of friaries and monasteries. The wonder and fascination of the site showed me the importance of archaeology and how it can give insights to those lives 600 years ago.
I learned how artistic and skillful the field archaeology was when I was a part of cutting seven in the Blackfriary site and started to do fieldwork. This cutting was lead by Ian Kinch, a Senior Excavation Supervisor and Co-Director of the Blackfriary site. During this time, I learned what a feature was and how important they are for detailing the past. A feature is a singular event in time (i.e. building a wall, planting a tree) that can span many days or years but was planned and constructed. Each of these features are given a number based on the timing of their discovery, rather then by location, and so organization is key to each cutting, or exposed section, in the entire site. Ian described the meticulous process of not only sketching the features but examining the content of the soil found. The soil could contain animal bones, indicating either backfill from later dates or food waste, or gravel, that could be from stone paths or grout. All of this needs to be documented to determine whether the hypothesis on that section is correct, and if it is incorrect, what the new information could mean and the formation of a new hypothesis. Experiencing the field work, journal writing, and sketching gave me the appreciation to the imagination and skill each archaeologist must have to be effective in the field.
The people that really supported me and proved that going outside of my comfort zone was the group of Ohio State students that also went to Trim. The group that went on this archaeological trip were very unique. Out of the 16 students, I was one of two guys and one of eight people that were not an archaeology major. However, with all these differences we all were connected in many different ways. While many students make most of their friends solely within their major due to the number of classes together, I admit most of mine are pharmacy, I found the idea of meeting new people with completely different interests very intimidating. Once I got to know the other students, I learned how refreshing it can be to see communities with new views and experiences that make them unique and different from yourself. I ended up learning a few Japanese words from my roommate, a Japanese and business major, along with fascinating archaeology stories from another. I often feel anxious about how I represent myself around others, yet being with the students in the group, I learned that people still enjoy me for being me. By just being myself, I have gained 15 new and very close friends after spending a month with them abroad.
In my future profession, pharmacists have to see from a patient’s point of view and background to determine why they want one treatment over another. By going on this study abroad trip, I get to experience the point of view from not only those of archaeologists but the culture of those who live in Ireland as well. By having a profession in the medical field, new procedures and drugs with complex indications are brought about every day. By going to Ireland, I determined how quickly I can master a totally new concept or ideas and how to make it more streamlined to get the task done. I discovered that I am very flexible and that I became very proficient in anything the site director told me to do. I gained a whole new respect to those in the other sciences and other majors and even to the hard-working professions. As a pharmacist, I have to relate and connect to future patients and by going on this trip, I combined expert knowledge with physical labor to gain a whole new vantage point. By going on this trip, I challenged myself to learn and master new skills and I was able to relate to a new occupation and new culture. While on the surface, the trip looked like I would be just digging in the dirt for a whole month, it was much more than that. I learned to trust my judgements, I can be successful at unfamiliar tasks, and that I can open up to those around me without being criticized. I can say that after stepping out of my comfort zone to take this journey, I plan to venture out and experience brand new events and cultures more frequently in the future.