Norwich team joins early stages of archaeological/geologic study in Greece © Sept. 23, 2011, Norwich University Office of Communications

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A Norwich student and professor shot this video footage as they participated in the early stages of a large geologic, archaeological and historical study of a peninsula in southern continental Greece.

Tyler Hermanson's summer trip to Greece was no holiday.

The Norwich University geology major spent two weeks crawling around a patch of rugged coastline in 110-degree heat, trudging through olive groves choked with the most vicious thorn bushes he’d ever imagined. At one point, he and geology Prof. Richard Dunn lost a slender ring from their only working compass, and spent hours baking in a ditch while sifting through earth and fighting frustration in an unsuccessful attempt to find it.

“Even through that harsh time, I could see that I still wanted to do geology and field work,” said Hermanson, now a junior from Guilford, Vt.

Hermanson and Dunn had joined a research team at the beginning of a comprehensive study of the natural and anthropological history of the Mani Peninsula of Greece, the southernmost region of continental Europe. While the peninsula hosts a massive cave—Alepotrypa, which has been visited by tourists and studied by archaeologists since its discovery in the 1950s—very little was known about the surrounding land.

“This is a very, very remote part of Greece,” said Dunn.

The two of them worked alongside historians, archaeologists and anthropologists in an effort overseen primarily by the Chicago Field Museum and Millsaps College. Their job was to begin mapping the bedrock of Diros Bay where the cave is located, and to study its history of geologic change. Dunn, who has been taking students on trips to Greece for a number of years, called it a “reconnaissance” year, with an unfamiliar region and very little information with which to start. Hermanson’s task was to act as assistant and to study the orientation of the cracks, called joints, in the rock formations.

To collect information, they had to work their way across hillsides through uncultivated fruit groves and ancient rock walls, following the paths of goats who were much better equipped to move among the two-inch thorns. It was tough work, especially since temperatures hovered near record levels.

“We did go to the beach a lot, to cool down,” said Dunn.

Hermanson said they were usually exhausted by the time they returned to the hotel where they slept and took their meals, but he still enjoyed seeing the maps and geologic picture take shape.

“It was nice to sit down at the end of the day and just see what we had got; to interpret the data,” he said.

He added that his skills grew much more swiftly than in a classroom, and he viewed the trip as a great experience for a student to use and master the knowledge gleaned from books. They also spent two days in Athens, visiting the Parthenon, the Acropolis and other monuments from ancient Greece.

“They don’t come along very often—[opportunities] to actually go somewhere and study your major,” said Hermanson.

Dunn added that Hermanson had the chance to observe how a scientific knowledge base is built from the ground up. This was a truly interdisciplinary and international team of people who were supporting one another, sharing knowledge and speculating on the best way to approach a study that may go on for years. In the beginning, he said, there will be mistakes and challenges that won’t necessarily show up in scientific journals.

“It’s sloppy,” said Dunn. “Especially the first season.”