Heading into her senior year, University of Mary Washington classics major Ana Tkabladze had already experienced four archeological digs, including in Spain, Portugal and the Republic of Georgia. But her fieldwork this summer will be hard to top, even for the most seasoned archaeologist.
As an intern working with an international team of scientists, Tkabladze witnessed a groundbreaking discovery that may rewrite evolutionary history.
“I was at a field school in Dmanisi, Georgia,” said Tkabladze, who has concentration in classical archeology. “It’s a paleolithic site that proves that the first humans out of Africa settled into Georgia.”
The discovery of a 1.8 million-year-old hominid skull at the site made international news, including in The New York Times. When Tkabladze was on-site from July to August, researchers were analyzing the skeletal remains.
“When my field school started last summer, I was aware that the fifth skull was uncovered on the site and I knew it was under experimentation and research,” she said. “I didn’t realize that the results were going to be of this importance.”
This semester, she is continuing to make her mark as an intern at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum through the Asian Cultural Heritage Program. The experience brings her closer to her home country.
“It connects me straight to Georgia from the Smithsonian,” Tkabladze, who moved to the U.S. with her family about 11 years ago, said. “I can be a bridge from America to Georgia.”
Her internship allows her to help with the Smithsonian’s critical archival work, including reading manuscripts, digitizing photographs and looking up annotations.
She is one of many UMW students who have received an undergraduate research grant for travel or snagged an impressive internship that furthers their classroom experiences. In fact, two to three students in the classics, philosophy and religion department go on excavations each year, either through undergraduate research grants like Tkabladze or as part of an independent study.
“Ana is an excellent example of those of our students who have been able to go out and excavate Greek and Roman material,” said Professor of Classics Liane Houghtalin.
Last year prior to the trip to Portugal, Houghtalin showed Tkabladze how to search for excavation opportunities in Europe, helped her apply for a research grant and kept in touch with her frequently throughout the program.
“I get to hear about what’s going on and live vicariously through a student who is doing what I do but for the first time,” Houghtalin said of her role as an adviser. “It gives me a fresh perspective.”
Tkabladze has shared her experiences with adjunct professor Elizabeth Heimbach’s eighth grade Latin class.
“They were very interested and fascinated with archaeology and it generated a lot of questions,” she said. “I know that this presentation was done to get them more motivated, however, their reaction and interest in archaeology motivated me and fueled my future plans.”
She also hopes to plan an event where all UMW students who have gone on excavations will share their work and experience with the broader community. She hopes when others hear her story, they will be motivated to uncover history of their own.
For Tkabladze, her work is one step toward her goal of becoming a professor in her lifelong passion.
“I can’t see myself doing anything else,” she said. “It’s what I love.”