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CCU Atheneum: Carolyn Dillian, assistant professor of archaeology, excavating a field site in northern Kenya, located near Lake Turkana and only a few miles from the Ethiopian border.
Carolyn Dillian, assistant professor of archaeology, excavating a field site in northern Kenya, located near Lake Turkana and only a few miles from the Ethiopian border.

Digging up the past, searching for stone tools

by Mona Prufer
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Carolyn D. Dillian has only been at Coastal Carolina University a couple of months and already she’s co-directed an archaeological field school and traveled to Kenya to dig for 4,000-year-old stone tools. To say it’s been a busy summer would be understating the case.

Dillian is an assistant professor of archaeology who has joined the faculty to help get the new Center for Archaeology and Anthropology off the ground with director Cheryl Ward and Sharon Moses, an ethno-archaeologist.

The field school in June, a first for CCU, was co-directed by Dillian and Ward, who led a team of seven students to several historic and prehistoric sites from Conway to the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge. It was an opportunity for students to gain hands-on dig experience, design field surveys, catalog and analyze artifacts. There was also a public presentation day where community residents were treated to a show-and-tell of the students’ findings.

“My experience with the field school has shown me that Coastal students can be very enthusiastic with something that keenly interests them,” says Dillian, who is still adjusting to the heat and humidity of a South Carolina summer.

Of course, a trip to dig in Kenya in July where temperatures can soar to 110 degrees during the day was not exactly a cool walk in the park. The month-long stay was part of an ongoing project, her fifth year (and fourth trip to Kenya) of working at the Koobi Fora Field School, a collaborative effort between Rutgers University and the National Museums of Kenya.

Dillian’s expertise concerns ancient stone tools and the use of geological and geochemical techniques to determine where people obtained those tools. Since her first trip to Kenya in 2006, she has gone back every summer with colleagues, undergraduates and graduate students. “It’s a well known and prestigious program,” she says. “I would love to be able to take some Coastal students with me next summer.”

Before coming to CCU, Dillian served as a postdoctoral lecturer in the interdisciplinary writing program and as an associate faculty member of the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology with a minor in American civilization and a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania. She earned a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley.

Dillian’s research interests include prehistoric archaeology, environmental change and cultural adaptation, archaeological geochemistry, stone tools, trade and exchange, and cultural resource management (CRM).

“I have a longtime interest in people and their past,” says Dillian, who grew up in Pennsylvania, where as a young child she would dig up bits of ceramics and old pottery, even cataloguing her findings. By age 13, through John Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth (CTY), she was able to participate in a Native American excavation in Lancaster County, and that was it. “I knew what I wanted to do.”

She worked in museums such as the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, she did contract archaeology, and she taught archaeology during a five-year postdoctoral position at Princeton University.

Dillian also co-edited a book, “Trade and Exchange: Archaeological Studies from History and Prehistory,” with Carolyn L. White that was just published last December. The book is a collection of 13 case studies from around the world that gives perspective on material culture studies.

In addition to getting the word out on the University’s new archaeological program – she’ll be teaching “Primates, People and Prehistory” and Native American Prehistory and maybe a laboratory analysis course during the Fall II semester – she’s also trying to get a grant to buy a $50,000 piece of equipment for conducting geochemical analysis of artifacts.

“These are fun courses as we’re trying to build student interest in this new program,” says Dillian. “Don’t be surprised if you see us out knuckle-walking on Prince Lawn to explore how hominins came to walk upright.”

Along with Ward and Moses, Dillian will also be involved in community outreach lectures and projects, as well as working with the local chapter of the Archaeological Society of South Carolina. “The local residents seem excited to have archaeologists they can call on,” she says.

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