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NKU anthropology student Larkyn Randolph spent her summer digging in dirt at Ireland archeology site

By J. Atley Smedley
NKU Alumni Magazine

When you think of archeologists, what do you think of? Indiana Jones rolling under a stone wall maybe, or Lara Croft double-fisting pistols to save the world from deadly artifacts? Junior anthropology major Larkyn Randolph thinks archeology is exciting, but she’s burying those stereotypes of swashbuckling diggers.

Larkyn actually did want to chase bad guys like Laura and Indiana back in the day—she came to Northern Kentucky University in pursuit of a criminal justice degree. But when her diminutive size—she weighs just 110 pounds—put an end to her goal of becoming a police officer, Larkyn found herself in pursuit of a new dream. She had always loved learning about other cultures, and a previous trip to Italy and Greece sparked a desire to travel the world. So when she needed to find a new major, NKU’s anthropology program came to mind.

NKU’s Larkyn Randolph

“I knew that [archeology] existed, but I never really saw it for myself actually taking place,” she says. “I remembered while in Italy people were doing an excavation and thought it was cool, so I decided to look into that.” Once she enrolled in the program and began taking courses, though, Larkyn knew she’d found her home. “After taking Thaddeus Bissett’s class archeology class, I knew that I made the right decision.”

From studying primatology at the Cincinnati Zoo to learning proper digging techniques, the experiences she had as an archeology major gave Larkyn new energy, and she decided to pursue a career in archeology. But this would require a field school experience.

Field schools are short-term classes, often taken in the summer, that allow students to gain experience and put their classroom lessons to the test. Many students attend field schools in the United States, but Larkyn thought to herself, “Why not go big?” and began hunting for an overseas field school. Eventually, she stumbled across Achill Archaeological Field School located in County Mayo, Ireland.

“I was looking for a field school online every day. I wanted to go to Europe, but not somewhere that’s scorching hot because it would make my first time miserable,” Larkyn says. “I found this one in Ireland, and I knew it was a perfect fit.”

NKU sponsors a number of study-abroad trips with academic advisors from the university, but as the Ireland study was not presented by NKU, she had to coordinate the trip herself. (She will receive class credit for the experience, though.) This meant she’d be living and dining with eight strangers, and this startled the young anthropologist. Anxiety and doubt started to creep in—a week before the flight.

“From Carlisle, Kentucky, to Ireland? I knew that it was going to be real scary,” she explains. “I just had to keep thinking of the connections and making new friends forever. I decided it was worth it.”

“I just had to keep thinking of the connections and making new friends forever. I decided it was worth it.”

When Larkyn began her six-week journey, she understood this wasn’t going to be a typical 9-5 internship. Instead of getting coffee, running errands and staring at the blank wall of a cubicle, Larkyn went to work in bogs and bushy grasses alongside the North Atlantic Ocean.

The first days of field school consisted of lectures about the history of the land and what the students would be looking for. Larkyn couldn’t wait to get her hands dirty, and she woke up every day excited for the day when she’d get a chance to find something really cool.

Then the lecturers ended, and Larkyn got her chance.

When the group arrived at the excavation site, program director Eve Campbell had one simple instruction: Start digging. Excitement and adrenaline pulsed through Larkyn as she dug into years of hard work and study.

“My first reaction was, hello, what do I even do? I never thought about beginning the dig,” Larkyn says. “For some reason, it didn’t occur to me we needed to de-sod the ground to start.”

The excavation continued for six weeks near an 1800s-era house. Larkyn’s class spent days in the dirt de-sodding, troweling, cleaning and keeping records. Some days she found nothing, and other days they uncovered everything from amethyst to ceramics to, one day, a nail.

During the week, Larkyn spent eight hours of every day digging. Excavating was fun, but she was just as excited to learn the community of County Mayo, a small town with local adventures just a short walk away.

“I loved seeing the Ballycroy National Park and Museum, visiting the beaches and eating their food,” Larkyn says. “They served curry stir-fry and rice with fries! I was able to experience so much in just six weeks.”

But more than anything else, Larkyn values the friendships she made during the experience, which she calls “incredible and amazing.”

After coming home to the States, Larkyn has a new goal to return to Ireland one day to direct a dig herself. Archeological field work is nothing like an action film, but it’s plenty exciting to her.

“It’s not ‘Indiana Jones.’ A lot of the days we only find insignificant things or nothing at all,” she says. “But once it’s over and you look at the bigger picture, it’s incredible.”

This story first appeared in NKU Alumni Magazine.

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