PROVO — Dust clouds rose as students carefully excavated the small, once-grassy hills, searching for archeological treasures and obtaining necessary experience for their desired career.
BYU and Utah Valley University students are collaborating in the excavation of an archeological site, known as the Hinckley Mounds, as part of their summer field school under the direction of professors Micheal Searcy from BYU and David Yoder from UVU.
"It's one thing for students to read in a textbook or sit in a lecture and learn about archaeology and the process of discovery," Searcy said. "To be out here in nature on a real archaeological exploration is where they get the hands-on experience they need to be effective archeologists on the job."
UVU student Laurie Fisher knows all too well the importance of receiving hands-on experience. Fisher is trying to advance her career as an archeology technician to a higher-level position with a state agency.
"Field school is part of that next level of employment," Fisher said.
For many students, the field school at the Hinckley Mounds is the first time they have been able to dig, screen dirt, and handle artifacts as part of a "real" excavation project, Searcy said.
"Luckily, we have people who have uncovered structures and have had a lot of experience with that," Fisher said, adding that the group determines what qualifies as an archeological find.
One of those people with experience is Jaclyn Eckersley, a first-year graduate student at BYU. Eckersley has been hired as a crew chief for the project and is helping supervise students while furthering her archeological education.
"I was super excited to learn not only how to do archaeology, but how to direct and teach other archaeologists," she said. "That's a big part of the profession — leadership and working as a team."
The Hinckley Mounds are located at approximately 900 S. 3110 West, and may be the last two or three of their kind, Searcy said. The mounds originally served as homes for the Fremont people nearly 1,000 years ago when the Provo River was a delta — where a river joins another body of water through several channels and the exposed land between the water channels is made of sediment.
During the 1930s, about 120 to 130 mounds were discovered. Many have been destroyed because of urban sprawl, or they're now under water, Searcy said.
The mounds were preserved by the Hinckley family, who owns the land and continues to farm around the mounds. Additionally, John Hinckley Sr. gave the students permission to excavate the land, Searcy said.
So far at the site, students have found fragments of adobe walls, fragments of pottery, arrowheads and a small cone harpoon, according to students.
"Generally for archaeology, I'm excited about the digging and the finding and piecing together," Eckersley said, "not only the materials we find, but what those materials are saying about those people."
The fragments of history they have found suggest that the Fremont people had a trade relationship with other tribes, Searcy said, because some of the pottery pieces feature characteristics from other tribe sites near Richfield. Students even found a piece of pottery that may have been created in California.
"When we figured out this was a wall, it was pretty exciting because we had been finding bits of pottery and stone tools," said Xauntal Brightman, a BYU undergraduate student. "But to find something that they had built and is still here after a thousand years was really awesome."
Also, knife blades that have been found come from stone that is not native to the area, Searcy noted, meaning the residents would hike into the mountains to find stone that would be better suited for hunting tools.
Residents and schoolchildren will be able to tour the sites as the students continue to work on the site this summer as part of an effort to better educate the community about archeology.