ANTH 380: Archaeological Field School - Summer IA 2015

Field Instructor Contact Information

Instructor: Jon Hageman

Class: May 20, 2015 to June 17, 2015

Office: BBH 136, (773) 442-5863,

Office Hours: By appointment

Course Description and Objectives

This is a six credit-hour course designed to introduce you to the methods used to collect and analyze archaeological data in a hands-on field setting.  The course will take place over the span of four weeks at a remote archaeological field camp in Belize, Central America.  Archaeological field methods include mapping using measuring tapes and compasses as well as total stations to record the locations of archaeological features and artifacts.  Excavation subsumes documentation and recovery procedures.  Artifact curation deals with processing and analyzing artifacts and samples in the lab.  In addition, you will have the opportunity learn a great deal about the Prehispanic Maya through lectures and field trips. 

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Have a grasp of mapping equipment and procedures
  • Lay out, excavate, and record materials associated with an excavation unit
  • Describe natural and cultural impacts on artifact, ecofact, and feature preservation
  • Recognize artifacts and features for a given context
  • Process, inventory, and conduct a preliminary analysis on artifacts in the lab
  • Function as an integral part of a larger field research station

Required Equipment and Reading

  • Hester, Thomas R., Harry Shafer, and Kenneth Feder, 2008, Field Methods in Archaeology, 8th edition.  Left Coast Press, Inc.
  • 8 ½ x 11 inch spiral-bound notebook to record field notes and journal entries. 
  • 3-5 inexpensive mechanical pencils and 2-3 ballpoint pens (black ink only) 
  • Trowel (flat, pointed, bricklayer-type, Marshalltown brand 4 ½-inch or 5-inch)
  • 3-meter or 5-meter tape measure
  • Line level
  • Pruning shears/root clippers
  • Plate compass (Brunton, Suunto, or Silva model is good and inexpensive)
  • inexpensive trigonometric calculator (sine, cosine, tangent)
  • Day pack in which to carry your equipment, lunch, and water daily
  • At least one 2-quart canteen 

Heavier duty equipment such as shovels, picks, mattocks, etc. as well as forms, clipboards, and graph paper will be provided.  Filtered water is available in camp and you will need to drink at least two quarts of water every day to keep hydrated.


Your grade in this course will be determined by your demonstrated ability to perform basic and more advanced procedures in three facets of archeological field work, including mapping, excavation, and artifact curation/analysis.  A portion of your grade is also based on the quality of field notes you maintain in a daily journal, as well as your participation in camp duties and overall conduct.

  • Mapping evaluation will assess your ability to map a small residential group of ruins using a tape and compass, as well as an optical transit.  Your ability to use this equipment and create a map will be assessed. 
  • Excavation evaluation focuses on your ability to lay out an excavation unit, dig and screen soil matrix, collect botanical samples, recognize changes in the matrix, properly manage paperwork and artifact recovery, draw plan maps and profiles, and photograph features as they are uncovered in the field.  You will be assessed on your ability to coordinate and maintain track of these things, as well as demonstrate a conceptual understanding of the Harris Matrix recording system.
  • Artifact curation and analysis (Lab) addresses your ability to process and record artifacts and samples in the lab. This includes the processing and recording of ceramic and lithic artifacts, as well as any bone, botanical, or Carbon 14 samples.  You will also be called upon to participate in flotation and dry screen analyses, or on other projects that may be underway in the lab (e.g., ceramic refit/reassembly, soil cores, photography, drawing, etc.).  Specific lab tasks vary based on what is recovered in the field; your tasks will be assigned after arriving in camp.
  • Your Journal will consist of field notes, which will detail the techniques you've used and your observations about the artifacts and features you've encountered.   You may also ask questions in your notes about why things are being done the way they are, and are also encouraged to make your own interpretations.  As archaeological excavation is a destructive process, the accurate recording of fieldwork is an essential part of this field school. 
  • Camp Duties vary and will rotate weekly.  These include disposing of trash, monitoring and replenishing the camp water supply, doing dishes, and maintaining and cleaning the latrines, showers, lab, and kitchen.  You will also be expected to pitch in on an as-needed basis.  Essential non-technical skills, including teamwork, punctuality, and ability to work well with others will also comprise a portion of the student assessment.

Grading Breakdown

            Mapping:                       20%                                       A = 90-100%

            Excavation:                    20%                                       B = 80-99%

            Lab:                               20%                                       C = 70-79%

            Journal/Notes:                20%                                       D = 60-69%

            Camp Duties/Conduct:    20%                                     F =   <59%

Plagiarism and Cheating

The ownership or consumption of illegal drugs will not be tolerated and will result in an immediate, automatic flight home at your own expense and an F for the course.  I also reserve the right to send you home at your expense if I believe you are a danger to yourself or others. 

Field Location

Field methods will be taught at various locations within the Programme for Belize nature preserve, located in northwestern Belize.  The site of Guijarral will be the focus of mapping and excavation efforts.  This season’s excavations will focus on recovering botanical and chemical evidence from an area that appears to have been devoid of prehistoric feasting during the Late Classic (AD 600-850) period.  These remains will be compared to remains recovered from locations thought to have supported prehistoric feasting activities.  A residential group will also be mapped. 

Camp Life

We will be staying at the rustic yet pleasant R.E.W. Adams Research Station, adjacent to the Programme for Belize’s La Milpa Research Station.  You will be assigned to share either a dorm room or a tent.  The camp has showers and latrines, a large dining cabana (with two excellent cooks preparing our meals), and an extensive field laboratory.  Students will be expected to participate in camp jobs (e.g., cleaning the buildings, maintaining the water supply, tending the latrines, disposing of trash) and to follow general camp guidelines (e.g., quiet after 8:30 pm, clearing your dishes, etc.).  These jobs and guidelines make camp a fun and pleasant place for all, including you.

Typical Field Day

  •  5:30 a.m.    Wake-up call
  •  6:00 a.m.    Breakfast, make your lunch
  •  6:45 a.m.    Daily briefing and assignments
  •  7:00 a.m.    Leave for the field (with lunch and equipment)
  •  11:00 a.m.  Lunch (30 minutes)
  •  3:30 p.m.    Head back to camp
  •  6:00 p.m.    Dinner
  •  7:00 p.m.    Lectures (when scheduled), otherwise evening free
  •  8:30 p.m.    Quiet time
  •  9:00 p.m.    Lights out

Tentative Course Schedule

  • May 14            Introduction, SCI 156, 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
  • May 21            Arrive O’Hare International, 4:00 a.m.  Depart and change planes in Miami at 6:00 a.m. and arrive at Goldson Int’l Airport (Belize City) at about 1:30 p.m., chartered bus to REW Adams Research Station, arrive at about 7:30 p.m. 
  • May 22           Settle into camp
  • May 23           Tour lab and site of La Milpa, trip to Blue Creek for shopping
  • May 24           Fieldwork begins
  • May 25-          Fieldwork continues
  • May 31           Readings:
    • Chapter 2: Goals of Archaeological Investigation; 
    • Chap. 4:         Site Survey; Chap. 9: Archaeological Mapping, and Site Grids; 
    • Chap. 5:        Methods of Excavation
    • Lectures: Dr. Brett Houk, Texas Tech University, Dr. Rissa Trachman, Elon University
  • June 1            Trip to Lamanai 
  • June 2-11       Fieldwork continues
    • Readings: Chap. 6: Data Preservation (Recording and Collecting); Chap 10: 
    • Stratigraphy; Chap. 7: Handling and Conservation of Artifacts in the Field; 
    • Chap. 8: Archaeological Field Photography; and Chap. 12: Excavation and 
    • Recovery of Botanical Material from Archaeological Sites
    • Lectures: Dr. Jon Hageman, Northeastern Illinois University, Dr. David Hyde, Western State College of Colorado
  • June 12           Backfilling
  • June 13           Day off, prepare for Tikal/Cayes trip
  • June 14           Chartered bus to Flores, Guatemala
  • June 15           Day in Tikal National Park
  • June 16           Chartered bus to Belize City, Water Taxi to Caye Caulker
  • June 17           Day at Caye Caulker
  • June 18           Water Taxi to Belize City and Taxi to Goldson Int’l Airport, Belize City. YOU MUST ARRIVE AT THE AIRPORT NO LATER THAN 10:30 a.m. Depart Belize City 2:55 p.m., change planes in Miami, Arrive Chicago 11:14 p.m.
  • June 22           Debriefing and course evaluation, SCI 156, 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.