Two Eastern New Mexico University juniors recently returned from an archeological dig in Spain where they helped excavate the remains of an ancient pre-Roman civilization called the Vaccea.
Ethan Ortega, a 20-year-old anthropology major, said he began researching field opportunities on the Internet after university archeology professors encouraged him and other archeology students to get hands-on experience before reaching graduate school.
“I’d heard from a few professors that you need to explore different programs to see what culture or type of work you’re interested in,” Ortega said. “So we thought we’d try another country and see how we like it.”
Ortega signed up for the dig through a program called ArchaeoSpain then talked to fellow student Gustavo Rodriguez about joining him.
The two students spent the month of June in Padilla De Duero, Spain, a small village two hours from any major city, filling their days with excavating the graveyard of an ancient city, hearing lectures on pre-Roman cultures and touring historic sites in surrounding towns and cities.
“There’s a lot of history everywhere there,” Ortega said. “One of our tour guides in a monastery told us the floor we were standing on was older than our own country. That kind of puts things in a different perspective.”
Ortega said the part of the summer he looked most forward to was working with human remains and after spending his summer excavating an ancient graveyard, he got his wish.
He said the Vaccea people buried a deceased person’s most precious possessions with their remains.
“It was really cool to hold something that was special to someone else more than 2,000 years ago,” Ortega said. “We definitely had fun and I want to go back.”
ArchaeoSpain Director Mike Elkin, a U.S. native who has been an archeologist in Spain for the last nine years, said the program is not just geared towards teaching students about archeology but is also geared towards teaching them about culture and history.
“For students, it’s a very good experience, because it’s in a rural area, away from tourist distractions,” Elkin said. “They’re learning how to process artifacts and anything that’s associated with it. They are working with other Spanish students, so they’re learning about another culture and learning another language.”
Elkin said the program runs five archeological digs in Spain and about 12 international students participate each month for the two-month summer program, about 80 percent of those being U.S. college students.
“Archeologically speaking, there’s always something new and exciting coming from this site each year,” Elkin said. “There aren’t many of these sites being excavated right now.”
Elkin said the site Ortega and Rodriguez went to is currently one of the only sites for pre-Roman cultures and the only site for the Vaccea culture.
“It’s nice we got to try multiple things, not just excavating,” Ortega said. “It gave me a nice taste of what I’d like to try in the future.”