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Students discover evidence of prehistoric travelers in Bedford County

A small group of Juniata College students were camped along the Juniata River this week, digging for glimpses of the past.

EVERETT, Pa. (WJAC) -- A small group of Juniata College students were camped along the Juniata River this week, digging for glimpses of the past.

"I think archaeology is like digging up the pages of our past," sophomore Philip Harney said.

Harney is one of a handful of students with budding careers in the field.

Their professor, Dr. Jonathan Burns, called this excavation on the Sparks Farm basic training for archaeologists.

Burns said he and the group are spending 10 days along the river, just as many people used to do thousands of years ago.

The Sparks family donated the lot to the college, encouraging young people to get outdoors.

"Along with the farm came more than 500 artifacts that had been collected from these fields and off of the property, so we knew this would be an archaeologically active zone all along the riverside," Burns said.

"This is what people would be trading and bringing with them up the rivers in order to skin a deer, and actually anything you would do with a cutting edge, this is all they had for that," Burns said, holding a sharpened piece of stone the group uncovered.

Based on evidence from this dig and those that came before it, archaeologists know that prehistoric people traveled to the area and camped there at least 3,500 to 4,000 years ago.

Most of the finds have been small in size, including fragments of a bowl made of soapstone, but Burns said they're significant in the quest to understand those who left them behind.

"It gives you a sense of who these people were. There were really people here just living their lives," student Andrew MacDougall said.

"You start to think about the people who were camped out here and who were using the river to collect their resources, fish, build a campfire or make some stone tools," Burns said.

Burns noted many people think archaeologists only dig in other parts of the world, not realizing the history that lies beneath Pennsylvania's soil.

"It's really interesting because I didn't know Pennsylvania had such a deep history. I'm from California, and the history over there is a little bit different than here. I'm really excited that I get to travel all the way here and just jump in," student Melissa Weatherford said.

"You don't necessarily have to go abroad to find spectacular archaeology. It's right here in our backyard," Burns said.

He said the surrounding land is still uncharted territory, as far as what's buried there, and archaeologists plan to do dig even more in the future.

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