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Senior History Major Unearths
Fragments of the Past During
MAILED: Jan. 5, 1998|
Tiffany O'Bryan has always loved history.
The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire senior believes reading a history book is like paging through a fantasy novel or epic adventure, only the characters and events are real rather than fictional.
This past summer O'Bryan experienced an epic adventure of her own when she participated in an archaeological dig in the Central American country of Belize, where she had an opportunity to further explore her fascination with ancient myth and physical evidence.
"Archaeology brings historical tales closer to reality by allowing us to actually examine the physical remains of the past," she said. "Scientifically collected evidence also helps us to sort fact from fiction, especially when dealing with events in the distant past."
Project for Belize is an ongoing archaeological research program and field school available to interested students. O'Bryan, a history major, anthropology minor and National Merit Scholar, was one of more than 80 students from around the United States to participate in the project during the month of June.
The UW-La Crosse summer field school program didn't require its participants to have any previous archaeology experience, O'Bryan said.
"Opportunities like this exist everywhere, you just have to look for them," she said. "UW-Eau Claire offers excellent resources and connections to help students locate these opportunities and take advantage of them."
At an ancient Mayan dig site, O'Bryan studied the agricultural practices and water management of the Mayas by examining structures, burial sites, agricultural features, food and water storage sites, and tools.
"Being able to directly participate in a professional archaeology dig was something that I really enjoyed," she said. "It's not all amazing discoveries I spent many hours in the lab washing and cataloging small pieces of pottery, but there's nothing quite like unearthing fragments of a past culture and being able to handle artifacts firsthand."
When she wasn't working diligently under the sweltering sun and in stifling humidity, O'Bryan managed to get out and enjoy the environment and wildlife of the surrounding region. Along with snorkeling in the ocean and camping in the jungle, she was able to do some hiking and sightseeing.
During one group hike through the jungle, however, she had an unusual experience with the local spider monkey population. While the group was hiking up to a site named Max'na, which means "monkey house," a gang of the primates started to defend their territory by following the group, jumping from tree to tree and throwing fruit at them.
Describing the field school program as four of the most intense and incredible weeks of her life, O'Bryan, who plans to attend graduate school and obtain her doctorate after graduating in spring 1999, said she came back from Belize a much stronger person.
"Hard work during the day was offset by sitting out on the road at night looking at the stars," she said. "Hearing howler monkeys as you fall asleep at night is something not to be forgotten. Small luxuries, like a cold bottle of soda from the cooler or a special treat with supper, are never taken for granted there, and everything gains new perspective."
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Jan. 12, 1999