On a recent Friday morning, Rutgers University–Camden students were hard at work, fully engaged in the project presented to them by their instructor, Ms. Kimberlee Moran, a part-time lecturer with the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice.  The students, however, were neither in a classroom nor lab, nor holding a textbook or laptop; rather, they were at Site 7 of the Whispering Woods archaeological excavation site, located in an open field in Pilesgrove, New Jersey, clutching trowels and sieves.

Zach Ellin
Zachary Ellin, a student in the engineering transfer program, sifts through soil at the Whispering Woods archaeological site.

Moran, a forensic archaeologist and the current director of the Center for Forensic Science Research and Education in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, developed the course “Doing Archaeology in South Jersey” after a conversation with the owner of the Whispering Woods site.  The owner, Joseph Vizzoni, has been trying to develop the property for housing, but found that the site required a Phase I archaeological survey because it was near a tributary and known archaeological sites. A local Cultural Resource Management (CRM) firm performed the work and uncovered enough prehistoric (Native American) and historic artifacts that the State of New Jersey now requires a Phase II survey to better understand the site and to see if it’s eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. When Mr. Vizzoni learned that a second dig was needed, he contacted Moran to see if college students would be interested in getting involved.

Once the course was approved and added to the Schedule of Classes, six students signed up for the class, which is offered both as an anthropology course and as a public history internship.  For history major Arthur Murphy, the subject matter fascinated him, and the decision to take this class was obvious.  Jessica Cieslewicz, a fellow history major who also has a double minor in anthropology and museum studies and hopes to eventually work in museum archives, agrees.  “This course was a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I couldn’t pass up on something like this.”

Jessica Cieslewicz
Jessica Cieslewicz carefully labels and stores pieces of glass found while conducting a dig for the class “Doing Archaeology in South Jersey.”

On a recent visit to the site, it was clear that regardless of major, all the students were deeply involved in their work, making shovel test pits, in which they would dig a two feet hole every twenty feet and screen for artifacts such as quartz flakes and stone fragments, which are evidence of arrowhead production, and pottery and glass.  Every item found was carefully labeled and stored, and then later in the semester the students will take their discoveries to the lab for further processing, and for reference for their final report, which will be sent to the State of New Jersey, who will then decide if a third phase of excavation is necessary.   As of now, no items have caused alarm or excitement, but there’s no telling what they may find in the coming weeks.  “You dig expecting the unexpected,” Ms. Moran says with a laugh.

On Saturday, November 8th, the public will have a chance to do a little digging themselves.  “Open Archaeology Day,” an event co-sponsored by Rutgers University-Camden and the Fredric Rieders Family Renaissance Foundation, will give members of the public a chance to learn about prehistoric South Jersey and to dig like an archaeologist.  This free event begins at 10 a.m. at the Pilesgrove site, and is a perfect outing for families.  Registration for the event is required.

For Moran, offering this course has been a way to satisfy her goal of teaching archaeology through doing archaeology.  “As an undergraduate archaeology major in the late 90s, I spent four years memorizing slides of temples and statues, dates, and sites, [but] never actually put a spade into the ground,” she says. “This is the ultimate hands-on educational experience.”   

For students interested in this course, “Doing Archaeology in South Jersey” will be offered in the Spring 2015 semester under course number 50:070:385. Students are encouraged to enroll immediately, as space is limited.

To follow the course’s progress, follow them on https://rudigging.camden.rutgers.edu/, Twitter (@RUdigging) and Instagram (rudigging).


Written By Julie Roncinske