Anthropology + Chemistry + Spanish = Career in Archaeology

Paige Phillips ’12 shares her culmination of interdisciplinary research and its impact on her postgraduate career

Three years ago, Paige Phillips ’12 shared in the 60-second video, below, how her study of anthropology, chemistry, and Spanish led to several interdisciplinary research projects. We followed up with Phillips to learn how those experiences impacted her postgraduate career.

Learn more about Phillips’s undergraduate work by watching the video below:

Paige majored in Anthropology and minored in Chemistry and Spanish.

In culmination of her research as an undergraduate student, Phillips attended graduate school, traveled back to Mexico where she studied abroad as a Gettysburg student, and started working at the Florida Department of State as an archaeological data analyst.

Paige Phillips '12 at Chichen Itza Phillips’s interest in archaeology started in middle school when her family visited Chichén Itzá, the center of Maya civilization in Southern Mexico.“I knew since that trip I wanted to become an archaeologist,” she said. Phillips came to Gettysburg knowing she was interested in archaeology, but it wasn’t until taking several classes that she would learn how interdisciplinary the field was.

“In my sophomore year I was taking general chemistry along with Anthropology Prof. Julia Hendon’s Mesoamerican archaeology class, and we read an article about how chemical analysis can be used to determine the migration patterns of people going into the city of Teotihuacán,” recalled Phillips. “I asked Prof. Hendon after class if this was something that people do—if they used chemistry and archaeology together—and she told me they did, and that the research was growing rapidly. I became fascinated and fell in love.”

Phillips immersed herself in projects to explore the intersection of those disciplines, studying abroad in Mexico and working on an excavation in Mystic, Connecticut, to learn more about the Pequot War.


Graduate school

In graduate school at the University of South Florida, Phillips further pursued her interest in archaeology and completed a master’s in Applied Anthropology as part of the archaeology track, with a concentration in Forensic and Archaeological Sciences.  For her thesis, she traveled back to Mexico, just outside of Mexico City, to learn about Tlalancaleca, Puebla from 800 BC-100 AD.

Using both chemistry and anthropology applications, Phillips said she and other scientists were able to learn everything from where people came together as a community to where they farmed and disposed of their trash. 

“You can test for soil phosphorus, and when you find it, it indicates that a lot of live and organic matter was put there,” she said. “You can learn a distinct pattern from that—people tend to put trash in specific places and use certain areas for latrines and animal corrals.”

Pursuing a career in archaeology

In graduate school, Phillips learned she wanted to pursue a career in either cultural resource management or government archaeology. She ultimately chose the latter and today works at the Florida Department of State where she helps to maintain the state’s database of cultural resources (Florida Master Site File) and inform the public about how to interpret archaeological information.

Although her official job title is archaeology data analyst, Phillips is a public archaeologist—someone who presents archaeological data and interpretations of that data.  The work, in harmony with the interdisciplinary nature of her work up until this point, requires both scientific knowledge and the ability to communicate with the general public.

For Phillips, this intersection is where she thrives:

“I went from the eighth grader who wanted to become an archaeologist—to the surprise and somewhat dismay of my parents—to someone who has not just a career, but also the skills to use archaeological software, a chemistry background I can use for anything, and the ability to relate and translate what archaeology is to the public.” 

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Carina Sitkus, senior assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803

Posted: Tue, 22 Dec 2015

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