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Caleb O'Brien under water with a big rock

DePauw senior dives deep into archaeology

When Caleb O’Brien came to DePauw University three years ago, he thought the small classes, a major in history and the Honor Scholar Program were the perfect preparation for law school, the step he envisioned beyond his anticipated 2020 graduation.

But the more O’Brien was exposed to new experiences, the more his interests evolved. Conversations with classical studies Professor Pedar Foss and several students caused O’Brien to choose classical studies as his major. “I fell in love with it,” he says, “because there are a lot of archaeology classes, which is something I hadn’t done before. I was really excited to do something different.”

Underwater rocks
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Caleb floating in the water
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Caleb underwater marking on a white board and making measurements
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He still expected to pursue a law career, but “I started thinking: You know; I might be interested in doing something else.” He participated in an expedition led by Foss and Rebecca Schindler, also a classical studies professor, to Comune di Castiglione del Lago, Italy, where DePauw students have been excavating a second-century B.C. Roman villa for several summers.

“I absolutely loved it, so I was like, you know what? I want to try this again. I like scuba diving; I’ve been in the water my whole life. Let’s do underwater archaeology, which is something I’ve always been interested in. I looked into it and I figured that’s an interesting career that I could do. I started thinking about it early this year and I’ve kind of switched and I’m entirely dedicated to doing that.”

A field school he attended earlier this summer – with Foss’s encouragement and made possible by grants from the DePauw Asher Fund and the Mercury Fund in Classical Studies – sealed the deal: O’Brien, product of landlocked Seymour, Ind., plans a career in maritime archaeology.

For four weeks in June, O’Brien joined other students of the Institute for Field Research, a Los Angeles-based academic organization, to excavate ancient Mesambria, now known as Nessebar, a site 10 to 18 feet under the Black Sea, off the east coast of Bulgaria. They learned to survey the site and to document their findings using 3D imaging and GPS.

O’Brien now plans to attend graduate school to study maritime archaeology and perfect his 3D imaging skills. He says he’d like to create virtual archaeological sites so people visiting U.S. museums could feel as if they were exploring underwater with him. Eventually, he says, he’d like to earn a doctoral degree so he can teach.

Caleb under water holding a sign that says happy fathers day
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“Caleb is a hard-working and ambitious student who has been successful in finding the field training he will need to become a practicing archaeologist,” Foss says. “Caleb is doing great; we encourage him, as we encourage all our students, to take advantage of opportunities to get learning experience in the world to augment and expand their classroom training. Students need both. There is substantial funding support available at DePauw for students willing to take that step, and Caleb drew upon those funds to make it possible for him to travel, learn and train overseas. We want all students to know, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, that we welcome their applications, help them find support and will assist their efforts to join our project.”

Says O’Brien: “DePauw has definitely put me in a position that I don’t think any other school would have put me in, to be able to do this. Professor Foss has been pushing me to do stuff like this for a while, so that’s a really nice thing.” 

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