Dig It: Student’s Passion Leads to Month-Long Excavation Trip in Belize

By Colby Gallagher

Published on August 6, 2019

Victoria Pobok Bio'20, HumSci'20, on an archaeolgical dig in BelizeVictoria Pobok Bio’20, HumSci’20 has always loved learning about ancient cultures and this summer she was able to indulge that curiosity during a month-long archaeological dig in Northern Belize studying the ancient Maya.

The trip will now become part of her research at USciences, as she will complete a capstone course, an optional self-directed study for students interested in specific fields not typically taught at the University. USciences also supported Pobok and her dig partner Andrew Campbell PHB’19, financially, granting her funds from the Center for Undergraduate Research to help afford the experience.

“We both could not be more grateful for the help we received, and it was reassuring to know that even though we seemed to stray from the norm, USciences still had our backs and helped us to succeed,” said Pobok. As a result of this experience, Pobok said has a better idea of her career path and hopes to continue her education, studying biological anthropology.

Pobok found the experience after she pursued summer classes in cultural anthropology at the Community College of Philadelphia in 2018. The instructor, Stan Walling PhD, discussed his experience and findings in archeology with the class and Pobok was so enthralled, she met with him during several after-class meetings to discuss his experience. 

2019 Belize Archaeological Dig

“He soon learned I had more than just a surface interest in his field,” she said. “Then in December 2018, he offered me a spot on his research team. The next thing I knew, I was packing my bags for a month in the jungle!”

During the excursion, Pobok and Campbell lived without modern luxuries; the tents had no air conditioning, cell phone service, or internet.

“In the Belizean jungle, we lived among the trees and the animals in a 1200-year-old unmapped rainforest: a place that can be quite scary if you do not know what you are doing,” Pobok said. “In the jungle we came across tarantulas, vampire bats, venomous caterpillars, and the occasional hostile spider monkey.”

On top of learning how to navigate a different lifestyle, Pobok was also learning how to firsthand participate at excavation sites. She received her own unit and was taught how to identify, handle, and log artifacts.

“Overall, the biggest thing I learned on this trip was that I am more adaptable and capable than I ever gave myself credit for. When we departed, Drew and I were able to identify not only ancient structures, but also lithics (stone tools, which often just look like rocks), ceramics, and other artifacts,” said Pobok. “The most amazing thing we learned from the field school was how to identify and handle ancient artifacts to assist in the better understanding of an entire civilization. How cool is that?”

Leading into the trip, she had a certain idea of what she’d like to study as she continues her academic career, but Pobok realized that hands-on experience is the best way to truly decide your path.

“Surprisingly, I learned that archaeology itself may not be the best field for me; however, I learned that academic research is where I belong. I will use my field school experience to apply for PhD programs for Biological Anthropology in the fall,” she said. “I hope to study humans and uncover more about how modern humans and culture came to be, and how they can possibly be linked to genetics and human biology.”

Pobok said the experience has given her more than just memories. The dig will serve as her undergraduate thesis and a resume builder.

“For future employers, my experiences are memorable! Instead of simply expressing an interest in archaeology from what I learned in class, I can tell them about how I used what I learned and found a very rare piece of incised pottery in a cow pasture! Not only do I get to tell a special and super cool story about what I did, but I also get to show my passion and the full extent of my interests.”

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