Immersive Learning in Anthropology

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Anthropology students immersed themselves in local history this semester through field trips to a historical plantation, and an ancient Indian burial mound.
The first opportunity was a local field trip to Stagville Plantation in Durham, North Carolina, while the other was a two-hour trip to Town Creek Indian Mound in Mount Gilead, North Carolina. Both excursions took place on Saturdays, which shows the high interest of students taking these anthropology classes.
On Feb. 9, assistant professor of Anthropology, Xandra Daniels, planned a trip for her archaeology class to visit Stagville Plantation in Durham. Students learned about the importance of the history of slavery in Durham and how it’s relevant to Raleigh.
The class was introduced to Vera Cecelski, assistant site manager, who was the tour guide for the day. Cecelski provided students an overview of the plan for the tour and informed students on the main reason why Stagville Plantation presently remains preserved.
“Stagville was preserved because what we have here is a fraction of what used to be one of the largest plantations in the state of North Carolina,” said Cecelski. “By the time of the Civil War, this plantation covered about 47 square miles of land.”
Students learned that the plantation used to stretch from Durham to Raleigh. It was owned by two families, the Bennehan family, and the Cameron family, who moved to North Carolina to purchase the land to invest in a plantation and profit from slavery and agriculture.

Image courtesy of Caylan Harrison
House of the Bennehan and Cameron Families at Stagville Plantation

This experience was beneficial to students because they learned about the history of Cameron Village, Cameron Court, and Cameron Park. This section of land in Raleigh was initially constructed as a safe place for those who were freed from slavery.
“My favorite part about this trip was learning about the history of Cameron Village and seeing how developed the city is now compared to what it used to be during times of slavery,” said WPU senior Savannah Totten.
After this trip proved to be successful and beneficial for students, professor Daniels planned another field trip to a prehistoric archaeological site and opened it to all her students to attend.
On March 23, approximately 10 students taking different classes with professor Daniels met at Peace at 8 a.m. to ride two hours to Town Creek Indian Mound in Mount Gilead.
Students were first shown a video explaining the archaeological site, the importance of its preservation, and how experts determined all this history to be true. Archaeologists partially excavated remains artifacts and tools and were able to explain the past traditions and lifeways of the Mississippian culture who used to live there.
The entire site is approximately 50 acres big; however, only a partial amount of land was excavated for archaeological research. The locations that were excavated were done slowly and precisely to preserve as many remains and artifacts as possible.
Image courtesy of Caylan Harrison
Town Creek Indian Mound, Mount Gilead, NC

The study of the site has been continuous for almost the last hundred years, which shows the importance of this piece of land and all the history that is buried beneath the ground. Archaeologists are still uncovering more information about this site, and the authenticity of the site is still the focus of any restorations made to the structures.
As restorations are made to the site, it’s important that the authenticity of the structures is still present. There is current work being done to restore the walls surrounding the site to help maintain the accuracy of how the culture built it in the past.
“So far, they’re doing a good job making it look consistent and as accurate as they can so people like us can understand it and translate it,” said WPU freshman Ryan Steinberg.
Much of the history students learned on their trip directly related to course material and topics of discussions they were being taught throughout the semester. Everything they were learning in the classroom was shown to them in real life to support their prior knowledge.
Those who took advantage of the opportunity said they enjoyed a chance to get hands-on knowledge.
“It was an enjoyable learning experience. I feel like I learned some things, I even learned how to make pottery,” said Steinberg. “I learned about the Mississippian culture and how they lived their lives hundreds of years ago. I learned a lot this trip, and I highly recommend it.”
Any student interested in learning more about the history of humans and their past lifeways would enjoy studying anthropology. Professor Daniels teaches anthropology courses every semester and welcomes all students to enroll for learning opportunities like this one.
Interested in learning more about Town Creek Indian Mound? Follow this link to their Facebook page:

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