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Social Science

Dismal Swamp Beckons Aspiring Archeologists

By Adrienne Frank

Forget the bugs and humidity, Dismal Swamp offers students a great learning dig. (Photo: Shutterpoint/Kelly Davis)

 The Great Dismal Swamp is a hotbed of insects—not tourists.

But this summer, 15 students will make the swamp, which straddles the Virginia–North Carolina border, their classroom, searching for clues about the people who inhabited the remote area hundreds of years ago.

Led by Daniel Sayers, professor of anthropology, the intensive seven-week program, which runs from May 13 to June 25, will help students hone a variety of skills, including photography, mapping, and soil sampling. The aspiring archeologists will also participate in excavations, gathering information on the “resistance communities” that lived in the area from 1630 to 1860.

The national wildlife refuge was first inhabited by Native Americans. Later, thousands of people fled to the swamp to escape the inequalities and brutalities of colonialism, indentured servitude, and slavery.

Despite the heat and humidity and the rigorous schedule—participants will work four to five days a week in the swamp—Sayers said students “can expect to have a lot of fun.”

“Most of that fun will come from the camaraderie that students and faculty develop as we learn about archeology and these important swamp communities of the pre–Civil War era,” he said.

The program is open to both undergrads and grad students. Applications are due to Sayers by April 30. For more information, contact 885-1833 or