LSU students dig up the past

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POSTED: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 - 6:26pm

UPDATED: Friday, July 15, 2011 - 8:07pm

History has always been a fascination for Myrna Arroyo. “It’s just that feeling of being part of something bigger,” she explains. “It kind of just puts your life in context.”

Arroyo is a Baton Rouge attorney, but recently, she’s been able to take her passion to the pits. Dirt pits, that is.

Arroyo took a leisure class with Louisiana archeologist, Rob Mann, where she got to try her hand at digging in the dirt. “I saw it in the paper one day and the ad said, ‘Ever want to be an archeologist?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I do!’”

She enjoyed it so much, that she enrolled as a part-time grad student to continue studying archeology.

“There are stories in all these holes,” she says, gesturing at several one-by-one meter pits in the front yard of an Ascension Parish home.

The area that Arroyo is digging up used to be a Spanish colony called Galveztown. The colonial village was built in 1779 and abandoned, years later, in 1825.

Archeologist and LSU professor, Rob Mann, says several different factors led to that decline, including disease, flooding, and hurricanes. He says many of the people who lived in Galveztown actually moved to another area close by. Spanishtown in Baton Rouge was set aside specifically for refugees from the abandoned colony.

Arroyo is doing her entire thesis on this site. She says Mann was the first to start digging into its rich history, and the more she learned, the more interested she became. She says the people who lived in Galveztown didn’t write their own documents, so there’s not a whole lot of written history about this particular area. She says finding artifacts in the ground will help her piece together what life may have been like for the people who lived there so long ago.

“We can compare them to historical records and see if anything is missing,” she says.

Arroyo and the rest of the group are part of an archeological field class at LSU. The program is six-weeks, giving students hands-on experience. They been getting down and dirty at this site for about a week and a half, braving the elements to find out what life was like during Spanish colonial times.

“It’s very hot. It’s very sweaty, and yes, we have ants, but that’s okay,” says aspiring archeologist Barry Arceneaux “We can deal with that because the payoff is really cool. I really feel like I’m doing what I should be doing.”

Already the group has found a variety of artifacts; everything from clay pots and plates to bottles, bricks, and beads.

“A lot of the stuff that we're pulling out is basically stuff that they discarded. It wasn't really things they wanted to keep. Its garbage, broken glass and whatnot,” says Arceneaux. “I'm sure if they were here they might laugh at us, like ‘What are you doing man? I just threw that away.’”

“You never know what the next shovel of dirt is going to hold,” says Mann.

Students say they were surprised to find out that dig sites, like Galveztown, existed so close to their homes. “People think of archaeology as far off lands and things they'll never see, but we're finding stuff all over,” says Arceneaux.

For these students, it’s exciting. And they’re grateful for the chance to piece together a whole new world, just inches below the surface.

“It’s not just about you. It’s about all the people before you who walked on this floor, on this dirt,” says Arroyo.

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Exciting find; you will never know your future if you don't understand your past.
-E.J. Mocklin-

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