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Student Archaeologist Digs Her Field of Study

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Alyson Harding conducting fieldwork at a cemetery in Palau.

Alyson Harding ‘13 has spent the last few summers digging in cemeteries, examining skeletal remains in museums, and excavating trenches. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Park Scholar from Strongsville, Ohio, is pursuing a double major in anthropology and chemistry with a concentration in bioarchaeology. “Anthropology is an interdisciplinary field, and chemistry and chemical methods are allowing archaeologists to gain a better understanding of how individuals lived in the past,” she explains. Harding plans to combine these areas and pursue a Ph.D. in anthropology after she graduates next spring.

Harding recently returned from Micronesia where she participated in the Island Archaeology Program. While in Palau, she worked with a team to conduct an archaeological dig at a cemetery on the Rock Islands. The site, known as Chelechol ra Orrak, is approximately 3,000 years old and is one of the oldest known cemeteries in the Pacific Islands. Harding’s daily responsibilities included organizing the lab, wet screening in the field, and excavating trenches. Information gathered from Chelechol ra Orrak is fundamental to understanding the lives of the Pacific Islands’ earliest residents.

During the summer of 2011, she interned at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. She assisted the late Don Ortner, a biological anthropologist in the Smithsonian’s Department of Anthropology, on a project entitled Aging Effects of Cortical Bone. This project involved the examination of human femoral cross sections using scanning electron microscopy and computed tomography to observe age-related changes in bone. “My experience at the Smithsonian confirmed my passion for human skeletal remains and the stories they tell,” she says.

In 2010, Harding took part in an archaeological field school on Nevis in the West Indies. The Nevis team participated in an archaeological dig and learned about Caribbean archaeology techniques and local culture.

Harding makes time to pursue other passions, too. She currently serves as co-president of the NC State chapter of Habitat for Humanity. She received a Park Enrichment Grant this past spring to support a trip with her chapter to work with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami and learn about affordable housing issues in Florida. Harding was also co-chair of the 2012 Krispy Kreme Challenge and played a key role in raising over $120,000 for the North Carolina Children’s Hospital.

A version of this article appeared first in The Park Scholarships Newsletter.

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