Five Minutes - Coastal Carolina University
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Five minutes with – Carolyn Dillian

Carolyn Dillian at podium

Carolyn Dillian joined CCU nearly a decade ago, beginning as an assistant professor of anthropology in 2010. In 2016, Dillian and her colleagues established the Department of Anthropology and Geography, with a new major in the same subject. She serves as the department’s founding chair. Dillian teaches courses in prehistory, human evolution, archaeological methods, and cultural resource management. Her research includes North American prehistory, hunter-gatherers in East Africa, geochemical characterization of archaeological materials, and trade/exchange.

Most recently, Dillian earned the 2020 HTC Distinguished Teacher-Scholar Lecturer Award in recognition of her student mentoring, passionate and dedicated teaching practices, and intensive local, national, and international scholarly research. She also is the co-director of the Baruch Institute for South Carolina Studies at Hobcaw Barony.

What does it mean for you to receive CCU’s 2020 HTC Distinguished Teacher-Scholar Lecturer Award?

I was very honored to receive this year’s award. I am very flattered that my colleagues, my students, my peers, and my administrators recognized the work that I have done as a scholar, as a teacher, as department chair of anthropology and geography, and as a contributor to the Coastal community. I want to thank HTC and all of my colleagues at Coastal. I am very touched! 

What challenges and/or rewards have you experienced while teaching this semester?

This semester has been extremely challenging. As a faculty member working with students, I see that students are facing a whole range of challenges trying to succeed in their courses. I have had personal conversations with some of them, which show that not all of them are in the best learning environment right now. However, I also know that all faculty at Coastal are working very hard to give students the best possible experience they can, given the current circumstances. My heart aches for those students who are not getting to experience a typical freshman year on campus, or their senior year, but we are all pulling together. We are all working together to try to give students and our colleagues the best we can. We will get through it together.

Tell us about CCU’s Prehistoric Archeological Field School, which provides students with hands-on experiential learning in archeological excavation and analysis.

The Prehistoric Archeological Field School at CCU is Anthropology 395, which is a course that I have taught every other year during Maymester for about 10 years. We go to the Little River area at Waties Island on the Anne Tilghman Boyce Coastal Reserve. We are excavating an ancestral Native American site that dates back about 1,000 years. This site was occupied by ancestors of the Waccamaw Indian People of Horry County, S.C., who are still here today. We are excavating a shell midden, which is basically a trash pile. It is the shell that is left over from harvesting and processing shellfish. It gives us a lot of information about how peopled lived, what people ate, and what kinds of resources they used.

Explain your work with the Koobi Fora Field School, where you excavate prehistoric sites along Kenya’s Lake Turkana.

For a number of years, I worked with the Koobi Fora Field School, a partnership between George Washington University and the National Museums of Kenya. This research area is on the Northeastern shore of Lake Turkana in Kenya, near the Ethiopian border. While I was there, I was looking at the use of stone tool material called obsidian. I was trying to figure out where people about 4,000 to 6,000 thousand years ago were getting the stone tool material that they used and how they might have been trading it around the landscape. This was a wonderful opportunity, but more recently, I have been applying a lot of these same methods and research focus to my work in South Carolina. Looking at stone tools and ceramics and trying to figure out where people got their stone tool material in South Carolina and how they might have traded that around the region as well.        

Give us some insight into one of your hobbies: flintknapping.

One of my hobbies is flintknapping. Flintknapping is the process of making stone tools. There is actually a scientific reason why I do it. By making stone tools myself, it gives me a better understanding of the challenges prehistoric people would have faced when they tried to make a stone tool. If I hit the stone this way, does it break the way I want? If I hit it that way, does it break the way I want? What are the steps I have to go through to make a stone tool like an arrowpoint, for example? So, I do it because it helps me to understand prehistoric processes, but I also do it because it’s kind of fun.