Camp Halsey gives anthropology students hands-on experience
Just a couple of days into her work at Camp Halsey, Emilee Burroughs made a stunning discovery, but it wasn’t the kind of eureka moment that you might have expected from an archaeological dig.
While Burroughs, a sophomore from Center Ridge, Arkansas, did not uncover any historical relics her first week, she did discover she wanted to learn more about her chosen field of study.
“I was actually surprised to be out there in the field, in the heat and the bugs, and thinking to myself, ‘I can do this every single day. I wish that it wouldn’t end in two weeks,’” she said. “It’s so fun. I love it a lot.”
Burroughs was one of 10 students to participate at this year’s Camp Halsey, an archaeological field school overseen by Duncan McKinnon, director of the Jamie C. Brandon Center for Archaeological Research at UCA and an associate professor of anthropology. Like her fellow students, Burroughs found the field work greatly enhanced what she learned in McKinnon’s classroom.
“The camp makes the subject matter so much more relevant,” she said. “There’s such a deeper understanding when you see it right in front of you, as you’re doing it. It puts everything together in such a wholesome way.”
Launched in 2018, the field school takes place on the site of a former soil conservation camp, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. Part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Depression-era economic recovery program, the CCC created terraces and managed landscapes to mitigate erosion, thereby conserving water and soil. While several similar camps were set up around the state for a variety of purposes, Camp Halsey, known as Soil Conservation Camp 1, was the first of its kind in Arkansas and accommodated up to 200 enrollees.
“It was only occupied for a very short period of time, but during its existence, enrollees in the camp built the earthen dam that today encompasses Lake Bennett at Woolly Hollow State Park,” McKinnon said. “They were doing it as a reservoir to control water erosion and make water available to local farmers. Ultimately, today it’s a place where people go to camp and swim and boat.”
Camp Halsey gets its name from the Halsey family, who leased the land to the federal government on which the camp was established and whose descendants still own it today. McKinnon said sporadic UCA field work had been allowed on the property in years past before the formal Camp Halsey project was introduced four years ago as an accredited UCA archaeology field school.
“The ability for us to go out and work at Camp Halsey grew out of a collaborative project that I worked on with the director of the Faulkner County Museum, Lynita Langley Ware,” he said. “We have, for several years, been mapping and documenting archaeological and historical sites within Faulkner County. We have other projects that we do where students get involved and they get exposed to other archaeological locations.”
The three weeks are divided into two weeks onsite and one in the lab on the UCA campus. Outdoors, students are taught the basics of the techniques, tools and technology used on a dig.
“The goal is to get students exposed to ‘doing archaeology,’” McKinnon said. “They learn how to do systematic excavation. They have an opportunity to learn how to do mapping. We have equipment that we can use to train students on how to map particular sites and locations.
“They also have the opportunity to work with remote sensing equipment. It’s essentially measuring subsurface anomalies, so we’re getting an idea of what’s under our feet before we put a shovel in the ground. We also have a drone that we use to get low-altitude aerial imagery so students can understand the role of that technology.”
Each new group is assigned a specific goal for the summer, excavating locations where the CCC buildings once stood. Artifact discoveries are relatively common and are the property of the Halsey family, who have made a practice of turning everything over to the Faulkner County Museum, but as McKinnon said, it’s the experience and hands-on learning opportunities that are most valuable for the students.
“There’s a variety of different components to the field school that are not just tied to digging,” he said. “That is what most people think of when they think of archaeology, and certainly there’s plenty of it. But there are a variety of other components that we use and in all of these, the goal is for students to take these applied skill sets and utilize them in their graduate work or to go straight into a cultural resource management firm that does contract archeology.”
Ashley Hanson of Bella Vista, Arkansas, a senior at UCA, attended Camp Halsey in the summer of 2021. She said the experience she gained is paying off in a number of practical ways.
“First of all, right after field school finished last summer, I began an internship that had an archaeology lab,” Hanson said. “I had just gained a bunch of experience in the field [at Camp Halsey] that I could apply to that lab. I had a background of experience where I knew where artifacts came from, I knew how they were acquired, I knew the process.
“Now, I’m working on a thesis project, a capstone paper which I’ll finish by May of 2023 about the archaeology of CCC camps in Arkansas,” Hanson added. “It’s less of a hands-on approach and more of a theoretical approach, but last summer’s experience has been useful in understanding all of the different perspectives from which we can look at the CCC camps. Having that foundation has been really helpful for me.”