Where can the University of Louisville lead you? For sophomore anthropology major Bailey Wilson, it was a cave in Portugal, where she spent the summer unearthing the mysteries of early man as part of an archeological dig.  

Each day, Wilson and her classmates would hike a half-mile to the cave in Mira de Aire, Portugal, where they’d dig alongside UofL researchers and graduate students, tracking and recovering artifacts from the site. Wilson is one of many UofL students of all levels and disciplines who participate in research every year — a unique opportunity that allows them to gain hands-on experience and explore potential future careers as investigators.  

 Archaeology is an especially hands-on field, so my experience helped me to visualize my future career and see if I was truly up for the job,” Wilson said. I think I came back to campus with a much better understanding of what I wanted to do in the discipline and what I didnt, which is so valuable for determining your next steps in life.” 

Researchers at an archeological dig in Portugal.

Led by anthropologist Jonathan Haws, the team worked to find and catalog animal bones, charcoal, stone tools and soil samples that could reveal where, when and how early humans lived. The annual digs, part of a three-year project sponsored by the National Science Foundation, have led to groundbreaking discoveries about the movement of early humans.  

For example, that modern humans arrived in the westernmost part of Europe about 5,000 years earlier than previously known, at a time when most believed there were only Neanderthals. Those findings led to important ramifications for understanding the possible interaction between the two human groups — and the ultimate disappearance of the latter. 

“That discovery completely changes the way we understand early human history, where they lived and when,” said Haws, a professor and chair of the UofL anthropology department. “Now, our team is working to paint a fuller picture of what that life looked like — how they cooked, how they hunted, how they lived. Being involved in something like that is just a huge opportunity for students.”