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Dual major brings passion for archaeology to life at PLU and abroad

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Megan Wonderly '16 traveled to Ethiopia to observe Professor Neal Sobania conduct research with his partner, Raymond Silverman.

Image: Megan Wonderly ’16 traveled to Ethiopia to observe Professor Neal Sobania conduct research with his partner, Raymond Silverman.

February 1, 2016
By Samantha Lund '16
PLU Marketing & Communications

TACOMA, WASH. (Feb. 5, 2016)- When she was 17 years old, Megan Wonderly had no idea what she wanted to be when she grew up. One afternoon, her teacher had the class look through a list of possible careers. At the top of that list was anthropology and archaeology.

“Hm,” she remembered thinking. “That could be pretty cool.”

But it was a passing thought. She never thought that would open the door to studying ancient civilizations, going on digs and travelling to East Africa.

Now a senior at Pacific Lutheran University, Wonderly is graduating with degrees in anthropology and history. She recently finished an internship at Mount Rainier National Park and traveled to Ethiopia to study metalwork and observe professionals conduct research.

Her trip to East Africa was one of the highlights of her life, Wonderly said. After being approached by professors and working with the Anthropology department to find funding, she was able to travel across the world and study the ancient civilizations she learned about in class that fascinated her.

“It’s really a big shout out to the Anthropology department,” Wonderly said. “Really the entire department came together to help me accomplish things that I never thought possible and made me realize pursuing archaeology isn’t as crazy as I thought.”

Over the summer, Wonderly traveled for 11 days through the Ethiopian cities Aksum, Lalibela and Addis Ababa. She shadowed Professor Neal Sobania, experiencing everything from exploring Christian-era tombs to spending an afternoon with a silversmith.  Wonderly observed Sobania and his partner, Raymond Silverman, conduct their own research with church painters and artists.

From my standpoint, she is an outstanding student who took an interest in a topic from class to dig deeper into the subject” Sobania said, who considers Wonderly one of his best students. “I find this desire to take a topic from class and want to learn more about it to be a sign of what we aspire for all our best students to do.”

The Kingdom Aksum was a trading nation in northern Ethiopia. It existed from about 100-940 A.D. and even though most people will never know what Aksum was, Wonderly considers it the hidden gem of Africa.

“Aksum attracted me because it defies stereotypes,” Wonderly said.

She said most Americans think of poverty, drought and safari animals when they think about Saharan Africa, but Aksum is a testament to a rich history. It’s a civilization that, through trade and military conquest, stretches across several modern day African countries, Wonderly said.

Now back at school and looking toward graduation, Wonderly plans on becoming an archaeological field technician after she graduates and to eventually join the Peace Corps in Ethiopia to get closer to the cultures she finds intriguing.

Ultimately, she wants to continue doing field work and learn more about the ancient civilizations people know so little about.

For now, Wonderly is focused on finishing her senior year and graduating in May, after studying at PLU for three years.

“I think some people think ‘What can you do with a social sciences degree?’” Wonderly said. “But it’s really expanded my mind and I wouldn’t be who I am today without (the Anthropology and History) departments.”