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December 3, 2018

An Archaeology Student Digs Into the Past to Learn More About Himself

Julio Ruiz Diaz

Dirt covered the hands of Queens, New York, native Julio RuizDiaz last summer as he excavated artifacts in the Alaskan wilderness.

“It was the biggest highlight of my academic career so far,” says RuizDiaz, 19, a sophomore in the Adelphi University Honors College majoring in anthropology and history. “You’re pulling artifacts—including a combination of stone tool debris, animal bones and hearths—out of the ground that no one has seen or touched in thousands of years,” he explains. “It made me understand archaeology in a more well-rounded way and helped me see the whole process.”

Each summer, assistant professor of anthropology Kathryn Krasinski, Ph.D., and associate professor of anthropology Brian T. Wygal, Ph.D., take a small group of top students for a dig at the Shaw Creek Archaeological Research, LLC, station in Julio Ruiz DiazAlaska’s expansive Tanana Valley. The experience, which comes with academic credit, served as the perfect conduit for RuizDiaz’s passion for archeology, an interest largely sparked by his Paraguayan heritage.

“I’m really fascinated about that part of my background, and part of the reason why I love archaeology was to learn more about myself, educate others and bring awareness about it,” he says. “I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life and finally it clicked: ‘Wow, I should really go into anthropology and archaeology.’ It ended up being a really good fit.”

He was attracted to Adelphi’s strong archaeological program and focus on giving students real-world field experience.

“It’s hard to find a university that has a field camp, let alone three,” he explains, alluding to the site in Alaska as well as ones in Crete, Greece, and Mumbai, India. “When you’re working in the field away from the classroom, you’re with people who are really passionate and are completely cut off from the rest of the world—all of that, with the added bonus of finding all of these artifacts.”

Dr. Wygal counts RuizDiaz as one of his “top research assistants” at the Adelphi archaeological laboratory.

Julio Ruiz Diaz“He’s an outstanding student because he knew immediately upon arriving at Adelphi what he was here to do,” Dr. Wygal says. “In his first week as a freshman, he entered my office and stated, ‘I want to be an archaeologist,’ to which I replied, ‘You have come to the right place.’

“In my years as a professor, I have only encountered a few students with such a clear vision and dedication to achieve their goals in life.”

Rounding out his Adelphi career, RuizDiaz is planning to return to Alaska and complete an honors thesis that zeroes in on a recently discovered bison mandible. “I’m going to analyze it and find out everything I can,” he says of the ancient artifact, a centuries-old discovery unearthed during a previous field camp. “My ultimate career goal is to one day obtain my Ph.D. in archaeology and work as a professor in a university,” he explains. “It’s exciting.”


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