Katie Strickland discovered her love for the outdoors at a very young age. Growing up in a small, rural Alabama town without the many distractions facing today’s young people, The University of Alabama senior learned how to occupy her time finding trails in the woods.
“You learn so much about yourself when it’s just you and nature,” said Strickland, a Tuscaloosa resident majoring in environmental sciences. “I fell in love with the woods and being outdoors, and I want to help others, especially kids, discover their own love of nature.”
Strickland had an opportunity to enhance her educational skills and share her passion for the outdoors as a team leader during the 39th annual Museum Expedition.
For three weeks every summer, students and community members are able to learn excavation techniques, laboratory procedures and artifact identification through a hands-on field experience at various sites throughout the state.
“This is the only camp I know where you come, stay at a dig site and really get your hands dirty,” she said.
More importantly, expedition participants develop a better understanding about the importance of connecting with their past. This year as part of the state’s bicentennial, participants worked alongside professional archaeologists from the Alabama Historical Commission performing excavations at Old Cahawba in an effort to uncover the original foundation of Alabama’s first Capitol, said Todd Hester, expedition leader and museum naturalist.
Cahawba, now a historic property of AHC, was created as Alabama’s first state capital by legislative act Nov. 21, 1818 and by congressional act March 2, 1819. It was carved out of the wilderness on the American frontier practically overnight for this purpose, and it is unique among state capitals because of its unique and imaginative design. William Wyatt Bibb, Alabama’s first governor, reused relic 16th-century Indian earthworks as the centerpiece of his town plan.
The exact location of the statehouse, however, is unknown, said Linda Derry, site director of Old Cahawba. There are no photographs of the building because it collapsed in 1833, and no drawing or painting of the statehouse produced by someone who actually saw it has yet to be found. That was the goal of this year’s expedition — to begin piecing together a picture of the Capitol.
Expedition participants found numerous artifacts, including brick, mortar, several types of nails, and glass from bottle panels or window panes, as well as other structural components. Alabama Historical Commission senior archaeologist Eric Sipes said participants found what they think to be a wall/builder’s trench and a possible drip line. The wall trench contains diagnostic artifacts that all date to the early 19th century, which strongly suggests that these features are related to the first state Capitol.
Some pieces actually raised more questions than provided answers, but that is all part of a field experience, Hester said.
“What we’re finding tells the story outside of the history books,” he said. “And that’s what Expedition is about.”
It also engages students and the community and gives them an opportunity to dive deeper into Alabama’s history by actually touching the artifacts.
“The kids were so excited over every single piece,” Strickland said. “Every time they found something, they would bring it over and ask if it was important. It also gives me experience in educational outreach, which is a big part of what I hope to do after college. That’s why I love being a part of this. If you start teaching kids at a young age, that’s when they figure out if they love it or hate it, and many of these kids are discovering they love it.”
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.