“There is a compelling intimacy to the handling of skeletal remains,” said Ellen Hallingstad, a Western senior in the Honors Program who is hoping to do graduate work next year at England’s Sheffield University.
No, Ellen doesn’t plan to be a grave robber. Rather, she wants to earn a doctorate in Bioarcheology, which is the study of human remains in an archeological context.
“What is particularly interesting,” said Hallingstad about Sheffield, “is its use of 3D modeling, a technique belonging to the burgeoning field of digital archology.”
In particular, one can garner tremendous information about the distant past, from an individual’s diet to culture-wide burial practices. She said she is especially enthused about the University’s Rothwell Charnel Chapel Project, where English hobbyists work alongside scholars digging up bits of bone that have been untouched for hundreds of years.
Naturally, Hallingstad has prepared herself well for this next step in her career. Her internships have helped her to refine her pick axe skills and learn to identify and handle archeological ceramics, glass and bone. Already she has had three significant archeological experiences, the first being the Alberese (Italy) Archeological Project (2015), where she helped to excavate an ancient Roman settlement on the Tuscan Coast. She also studied remains of Native American culture at the Hudson-Meng Bison Kill Site in Nebraska, where she examined an extensive late Pleistocene bone bed (2016). And this year, as a research assistant, she is working with mammalian skeletal remains from Alaska.
How did it all start?
“My fascination with archeology dates back to a childhood digging up china and melted glass in our vegetable garden, where a house burned down during the Great Depression," she said. From that comes her profound interest in bones: “How dynamic they are. They grow, they heal, they react. The story of an individual’s strengths, injuries, and weaknesses can be read through their bones. If they were right-handed . . . if they broke their arm at some point . . . if they starved to death as a child.”
"Bones tell incredibly personal stories,” said Hallingstad, “and I can learn how to listen.”