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Blaine Burgess'20, Geology and Anthropology Major from Danville, Ill.

February 2018

Major: Geology and Anthropology
Danville, Ill.

  • Dr. Shannon Fie, Associate Professor of Anthropology
  • Dr. Charles Lewis, Professor of English and Director of the Writing Program
  • Dr. James Rougvie, Associate Professor of Geology

Blaine Burgess'20 

What are you involved with on campus?

I am an intern for the Roy Chapman Andrews Society, a member of the Beloit College Geology Club, and play for the Beloit Ultimate Frisbee team. 

How has your study abroad experience in Scotland informed your vision for the future of your career?

I used this study abroad experience as a way to gauge whether or not I had been correct in choosing to pursue Archaeology. Since I enjoyed it so much, I can easily see myself performing other archaeological tasks and even continuing my work back in Orkney. 

Can you reflect on your study abroad experience as an intern excavating at the Ness of Brodgar in Scotland? 

As part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as "The Heart of Neolithic Orkney", the Ness of Brodgar tells its own unique story of architecture, ceremony and how these acted hand in hand to produce spatial meaning and social complexity. The Archaeological work is consistantly yielding new information and insight into Neolithic activity throughout the Orkney Islands of Scotland. At the Ness of Brodgar, I began to unpack some of this significance as I excavated, was guided by trench supervisors, attended lectures, and travelled to other archaeological points of interest.

As an intern excavating at the Ness, my time especially focused on process and diversity of experience. Since a dig site is like a book with hundreds of authors writing at different times, having procedures and processes that are able to organize and record is important for constructing a meaningful archaeological story. This involved getting to site at 9am, acquiring the necessary tools, and then meeting with trench supervisors to start excavating. Although the trenches always generated surprises, processes like plan drawing and artifact collection procedures maintained the integrity and chronology of what is being uncovered. On top of this, cooperation in this environment was important for both safety and deciphering the continuity of what is being uncovered throughout the site. Besides excavation, I was also exposed to geophysical instrumentation, leveling stations, and floatation. All of these are important to the full functionality of a dig site.

The lectures I attended really complimented information at the Ness with other avenues of research, such as environmental studies and art. An example of this was a lecture on the Neolithic environment and what differences and similarities can be seen when compared to the present. This is important to understand how spatial perspectives are different today from those that existed over 5000 years ago. Another example was a lecture on the various incised and decorated stone slabs found at the Ness of Brodgar. This was important for gaining insight into possible ceremonial activities and routes of creativity.

Archaeology is prevalent throughout the Orkney Islands. Thankfully, I got to visit a good chunk of these. Some included sites known as Skara Brae, Maeshowe, Midhowe Broch, and the Tomb of the Eagles. All of these sites, and many others, are important for understanding both how past peoples utilized the landscape and why their remnants are so important to Orkney's modern inhabitants.

What inspired you to pursue a study abroad focused on excavation and archaeology?

I have always been interested in how past populations have utilized and thrived in various niches around the world. In the case of the Orkney Islands, this is expressed through the Neolithic stone architecture. This, along with how the architecture navigates through the attraction of tourism and the need for preservation, is what inspired my study abroad experience.

What role did your mentor Dr. Shannon Fie play in making your adventure to Scotland a reality?

My mentor, Shannon Fie, worked with me to both prepare for this experience abroad and to produce a quality International Symposium presentation upon my return. She showed real intrigue in what I wanted to pursue and worked to help me establish goals. Leading up to my presentation, Shannon was able to offer her own advice while leaving space for my information to show originality.