Paige Mills '14 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
5/28/14Randolph-Macon College student Paige Mills ’14 is an archaeology major and chemistry minor. When R-MC added the archaeology major to the curriculum in 2012, Mills was majoring in chemistry. But this new discipline, plus several study-abroad trips to Greece, inspired her to change her major.
“I participated in R-MC’s Athenian Agora excavation in Greece three times,” says Mills, referring to an intensive, eight-week dig that is led by Niarchos Professor of Classics John Camp II.
Each year, Camp and his students travel to the Agora, which once served as the center of economic, social and intellectual life. Students learn firsthand about the techniques of archaeological work and the Classical world.
“Each time I traveled to the Agora, we had an archaeological conservator at the dig site who cleaned the finds and made them stable for further study,” explains Mills. “It was the perfect combination of science and history, and that’s when I decided to switch my major to archaeology.”
Hands-on TrainingMills is currently participating in an internship at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) Conservation Lab in Richmond, Virginia. Under the guidance of Head Objects and Sculpture Conservator Kathy Gillis and Assistant Conservator Sheila Payaqui, she is learning a wide variety of skills.
“There really are no typical days for me at the VMFA,” she says. “I could spend hours cleaning silver, or I can work on multiple projects at once. Sometimes I write condition reports for an object, and I have helped clean and treat an outdoor sculpture. Every day is different, which is why I love working in the lab.” Mills will spend the next year working as a museum technician before applying to the Conservation Graduate Program at University of California Los Angeles.
“Because UCLA only accepts applications every other year, I’ll use this time to gain more experience, and to network,” she says.
Good Advice“The best thing about being a Yellow Jacket is the community feel of the campus and surrounding area,” says Mills, a member of the women’s basketball team, which won the ODAC tournament twice during her college career. Mills especially loves the enthusiasm of the basketball team’s most ardent fans—alumni and Ashland residents. “My advice to new Yellow Jackets is to make every moment last while you are here. Four years flies by and it will be over before you know it. Enjoy it all.”
“Paige is the quintessential R-MC student,” says Archaeology and Classics Professor Beth Fisher. “Beginning with her first year when she participated in an excavation at the Revolutionary War period Hanover Tavern, she jumped wholeheartedly into the opportunities the college offers. My advice to students is to take advantage of the opportunities we offer—success doesn’t come from just a grade in a course and a job, but from finding a passion that leads to both a career and a contribution.”
Archaeology Studies at R-MCThe Archaeological Studies program at Randolph-Macon College brings together knowledge from many disciplines to build an understanding of our human past. As a cross-disciplinary field, archaeology calls upon expertise in a wide range of subject areas: archaeologists excavate objects which are displayed as art, analyze finds using natural sciences such as chemistry and geology, read historical documents and texts in many languages, and write with anthropological perspectives.
“In the past few decades, archaeology has become much more dependent on natural sciences, developing new techniques such as strontium isotope analysis of bone and teeth, radiometric dating methods, and conservation of artifacts and materials,” says Fisher. “The liberal arts education at Randolph-Macon College provides a foundation that prepares our graduates to ask new questions, employ new methods, and make new contributions to archaeology. The diverse courses of the Archaeological Studies Program—chemistry, art history, archaeological law, history, field methods—equips our graduates with a versatile tool kit as they enter a profession which, like many others, undergoes sometimes rapid changes as new technologies are applied and new discoveries are made.”