Archaeological Field Schools at UW-L

At UW-L, we firmly believe that it is important for students to gain hands-on experience in the methods and techniques of archaeological field research.  Therefore, the Archaeological Studies Program currently offers two opportunities for students to acquire basic field experience in archaeological excavation; one locally based in the La Crosse area, and an international field school based in Bolivia.  Information about our local and international field schools can be found below.

We are also in the process of developing an opportunity for students with prior archaeological training and experience to gain additional archaeological field experience through participation in a research project in Egypt being conducted by one of our Archaeology faculty.  Information on this project be forthcoming as the program develops.

In addition to those field schools offered by UW-L, our students have participated in archaeological field schools around the globe.  We work closely with students to help them find a field school in a region appropriate to their research interests, as well as to help ensure that the field school they choose provides them with a high quality learning experience.  In the past, students have attended field schools in England, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Israel, Turkey, Syria, Peru, and Belize, as well as many other national and international locations.

Local Field School

Students from the 2009 Field SchoolTraditionally, each summer, the Archaeological Studies Program offers an archaeological field school based in the greater La Crosse area. The local field school is a 6 credit course typically running four days a week for a period of 5-6 weeks and is offered from late May through June.  This course involves the practical application of the basic skills used in the excavation of archaeological sites including survey techniques, methods of surface collection and excavation, compilation of field data, and laboratory processing and analysis.  It includes hiking, digging with shovels and trowels, screening dirt, carrying equipment and artifact bags, and the careful completion of field notes. 

In the summer of 2009, our local field school conducted excavations approximately nine miles north of campus at two prehistoric period Oneota Culture Native American sites in Onalaska, Wisconsin.  Our excavations revealed extensive remains of former habitation dating to ca. 1400 A.D.  In addition to a large assemblage of lithic and ceramic artifacts, and faunal remains, our excavations uncovered over 300 features, primarily storage pits which had been reused as refuge pits. 

Student using the total stationStudents who participated in the field school received training in a variety of field methods.  At the beginning of the field school a controlled surface collection of one of the site areas was conducted.  Students learned how to establish a large collection grid of individual 5 x 5 meter collection units, as well as the use of computerized survey equipment for the recording of horizontal and vertical provenience information.  Following the surface collection, a variety of techniques were employed to investigate the subsurface remains.  These included the hand excavation of test units, mechanical removal of the plowzone, as well as the hand excavation of individual features.  (To see a short video clip of feature excavation, click here).  Students learned to record information about the excavations using traditional note taking on paper forms, graph paper and in notebooks, as well as by using hand held computers, a methodology increasingly being used in archaeology.  Entering data into the hand held computer

Besides learning the methods employed to recover archaeological data in the field, all the students received training in the basic steps involved in processing and analyzing the materials in the laboratory.  In addition to rain days when the entire crew worked in the lab, each student spent at least one other day in the archaeology lab on campus processing and analyzing the artifacts they had just helped to excavate in the field.

Dr. Anderson, Sheila Oberreuter, and Edward Quinn at Larson CaveAt UW-L we believe that one way in which students learn the most is through teaching other students.  Therefore, in addition to our faculty instructor on the field school, student field supervisory positions are available on our field schools.  These field supervisors are advanced students in the Archaeological Studies Program who have previously attended field school and have demonstrated a good working knowledge of skills involved in archaeological fieldwork.

To see additional photographs from this past summer's local field school, click here.

During our local summer field school, we feel it is important for students to be exposed to archaeological remains other than those they are excavating through field trips to archaeological sites in the greater Upper Mississippi Valley region.  In 2009, we visited Effigy Mounds National Monument, the excavation of an historic period archaeological site being conducted by MVAC in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, as well as Larson Cave, a prehistoric period cave art site on private property in southwestern Wisconsin.  A few photographs from these field trips can be found here

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International Field School


Students at TiwanakuThe archaeological field school in Bolivia is a 4 week, 6 credit course offered from May through June every other year. Unlike most other summer courses, student involvement in this course is virtually every waking hour of every single day.  This course involves the practical application of the basic skills used in the excavation of archaeological sites including survey techniques, methods of surface collection and excavation, compilation of field data, and laboratory processing and analysis.  It includes hiking, digging with shovels, pick axes, and trowels, screening dirt, carrying equipment and artifact bags, and careful paperwork, to name a few of the tasks students engage in.

Students screening depositsThe field school is based near the village of Parotani located west of the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia.  The Pirque Alto site is the focus of the field school. The site contains occupations dating from 2000 B.C. through Inca times and our excavations focus on the Formative and Tiwanaku periods.  The Formative Period (ca. 2000 B.C. through A.D. 200) saw the establishment of the very first villages in the Andes, and the subsequent Tiwanaku Period represents the time during which the complex civilization of Tiwanaku reached beyond its altiplano heartland into distant regions, including Cochabamba.  Our excavations reveal large quantities of pottery, stone tools, human remains, animal bones and charred plant remains, as well as traces of architectural and domestic features.  The focus of the field school is to train students in the skills of archaeological field work, including mapping, surface survey, hand excavation with shovels and trowels, screening, and the critical importance of recording excavations through paper work.

Excavating in BoliviaIn addition to training in archaeological field methods, students spend time in the major Bolivian cities of La Paz and Cochabamba, where they visit interesting cultural and historical landmarks as well as museums containing collections of ethnographic and archaeological significance.  During their stay in Bolivia, students also visit important archaeological sites associated with ancient Andean civilizations, foremost among these will be the ancient monumental center of Tiwanaku. 

Finally, students learn firsthand about Bolivian culture by working in an indigenous village, observing and taking part in community activities (festivals, market days, etc.), and working closely with Bolivian archaeologists and local villagers hired to assist in excavations.  Thus, students gain a great deal more than exposure to the methods implemented by archaeologists in the field.  Students live and work in a third world country and are exposed to a rich and diverse cultural landscape composed of indigenous Quechua and Aymara populations.

More information about the Bolivia Field School can be found at

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