Archaeology student really digs ancient riches, relics

Woeckener learns through the past

Dec. 29, 2010

The decision to pursue a career in archaeology, said Elm Grove's Sara Woeckener, is akin to taking a vow of poverty, but she doesn't mind. As a student at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, she is already uncovering historical riches.

Woeckener is not an exchange student; she is majoring in ancient history and archaeology at the university and plans to complete all four years of her undergraduate work at St. Andrews. Now in her second year, she hopes to specialize in ancient Roman religion.

Last summer, Woeckener delved even further into ancient history with the ArchaeoSpain program, excavating pre-Roman conquest tombs in the Iron Age/Celtic necropolis at Pintia, Spain, in the town of Padilla de Duero. Nearly 200 cremation tombs, believed to be from the Vaccean culture, have already been discovered at Pintia. Woeckener was part of an international student team working in the area, supervised by professional archaeologists.

"I found a tomb there, but we think it's two tombs mixed together," she said.

When the Romans came to the region, they turned the necropolis into farmland, she explained. When the land was plowed, the graves were often disturbed and artifacts were mingled.

During excavation of the tomb, Woeckener found evidence that a man and a girl had been buried there. She unearthed seven small clay pendants, believed to have been given to girls when they reached the age of marriage.

"This girl was too young to reach adulthood, so they buried those with her," Woeckener said.

Marbles were found as well, indicating a child's tomb.

She also found a metal dagger and what may be part of a belt buckle.

"Any time there's metal present, that means it's a man's tomb," she said.

Woeckener also found evidence of a funerary urn and remnants of the feast likely held in honor of the deceased, including animal bones and pieces of a basin that was probably used to hold wine.

"We found over 100 individual pieces (of the basin) that had to be put together," she said.

Woeckener's dream is to work in the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey, which features the third largest library in the ancient world. The most exciting discovery, she imagines, would be ancient literature that would shed light on how cultures lived and developed.

"Archaeology is very interpretive, and we can get it completely wrong," Woeckener explained. If more ancient literature could be uncovered, scholars could get into their mindset and really know what they were thinking."

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