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So you want to be an archaeologist?

Students and amateurs are working alongside professional archaeologists in rural Georgia this month, searching for the remains of a 400-year-old Spanish mission that's been lost in the mists of time. And although it's a little late to get involved this year, you just might have a chance to join them next summer.

The program is led by Dennis Blanton, curator of Native American archaeology at Atlanta's Fernbank Museum of Natural History. For years, Blanton and his colleagues have been unearthing hundreds of thousands of artifacts from St. Catherines Island, a site where settlements go back as far as 5,000 years.

Recently, archaeologists have turned their attention to the search for Santa Isabel de Utinahica, a one-time Spanish mission thought to have been located in Georgia's Telfair County.. Blanton says magnetometers have identified some intriguing anomalies to investigate, and in April the Fernbank Museum put out a call for volunteers.

This month, the volunteers will learn how to excavate artifacts, as well as how their finds will be studied to gain new insights into unwritten history. "Santa Isabel was in operation for nearly two decades and was the most isolated of the Spanish missions to be studies so far," Blanton said in a museum news release. "Through our findings, we hope to better understand the range of mission experiences."

There are plenty of other opportunities for amateurs to get involved in archaeological projects around the world. You can find a wide selection by checking Archaeology magazine's listing of field schools and educational opportunities. But it's hard to beat the price for the Fernbank field work: $100 a week for high-school students and $200 a week for college students and adults (not including accommodations).

Unfortunately, Fernbank's Brandi Berry reports that the four weeklong sessions are pretty much filled up. "Our archaeologist is already down at the site and has things pretty firmly set," she wrote via e-mail today. "I think there were only two spots left in the entire four weeks of programs anyway. But if you want to let people know to look for more information about signing up next year, we should be accepting applicants by early spring 2007."

When the time comes, I'll try to remember to pass along the contact information for applications. But in case I forget, hang onto Fernbank's e-mail address: information@fernbank.edu.