Archaeology department sees four-fold increase in majors

Eric Cline’s life doesn’t much resemble that of Indiana Jones’. He doesn’t carry a bullwhip, and the only deathtraps he has to avoid are the Metro train’s fast-closing doors.

But as the chair of GW’s classics department and a practicing old-world archaeologist, Cline manages to keep just as busy as America’s favorite fictional archaeologist.

Under Cline, GW’s classics department has seen a four-fold increase in archaeology majors and established several dig sites in countries around the world. With enrollment up from eight students in 2001 to 33 majors this year, Cline said the department has more opportunities to help GW’s budding archaeologists get their hands dirty at actual excavation sites.

“The fellow who used to teach Anthropology 3 told me when I took over (in 2001), ‘You’ll never get more than 25 people in this class.’ My goal is to get 10 times that, and we’re about halfway there,” Cline said.

Under GW’s archaeology department, students have the opportunity to dig up ancient artifacts in Israel, Central America, China and Africa, while partnerships with foreign countries allow GW’s amateur diggers to get academic credit for their work abroad. Cline said it’s the sense of adventure that draws students to spend hours digging in the ground under a hot sun.

“It’s an experience of a lifetime,” said junior Michael Saltzman, who went on a dig with Cline in Meggido, Israel. “If I had enough money, I would be digging all year round.”

In addition to the dig programs offered through GW, students can apply to be part of different archaeology programs around the world. In the past, students have dug in Italy, Greece, Ireland, England, Spain, Germany, Cyprus and the American southwest.

“Archaeology and anthropology are becoming more popular across the country because students see them as solid liberal arts majors,” said Jeffrey Blomster, assistant professor of anthropology.

GW graduate Alexandra Ratzlaff said she chose to study archaeology at GW for the opportunity to work in one of D.C.’s museums. She said GW’s program offers students a wide variety of classics subjects to study.

“The field is diverse enough for anyone interested in the basic principles to go out there and find something unique,” said Ratzlaff, who’s been on multiple foreign digs with GW’s archeology program, and served as a supervisor under Cline at a dig in Tel Kabri, Israel.

Sophomore Kristine Merriman said she never considered a major in archaeology until she took an introductory course with Cline. After digging in Israel for a summer with fellow GW students, Merriman said she decided to pursue archaeology as her second major. Asked if she would go on another dig, Merriman replied, “In a second.”

And while archaeology can be a demanding field that requires painstaking patience, broad knowledge and a good pair of knees, Cline said students bring a passion to the field that makes all the effort worthwhile.

“In 20 years of digging, I’ve only found one thing that’s gone into a museum,” he said. “Some of us never left the kindergarten sand pit.”

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