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How to Choose a Field School in Archaeology

Engaging the Next Generation


University of Wisconsin Fox Valley Field School at the Schaefer sites

University of Wisconsin Fox Valley Field School at the Schaefer sites

Thomas Pleger (c) 2005

Choosing an archaeological field school may seem a little daunting. There are lots of choices, conducted in many different places in the world, for different fees, from different universities, for different lengths of times. So, how do you choose one?

What makes an ideal field school?

  • Exotic venues?
  • Exciting archaeology?
  • Great group of people to work with?
  • Famous archaeologist leading it?
  • Important/famous school giving you credit?
  • Great food/accommodations?
  • Great weather?
  • Good tours on the weekends?
  • Safety plan?
  • RPA-certified?

Well, okay, let's admit it; all of that will help. But to tell you the truth, the best kind of field school is like the best kind of archaeology: an engaged field school. By this I mean, each and every student is an active participant, actively participating in the research itself. Each student has a particular contribution to make, whether it's small finds analysis, faunal identification, soils study, or remote sensing. And each student's contribution is used in the final study.

Sound too good to be true? Not at all. One remarkable example of this kind of field school is the Körös Regional Archaeological Project.

For the past several years, William Parkinson of the Florida State University, and Richard Yerkes of the Ohio State University, have been mentoring a new crop of students through field excavations at the early Copper Age site in Hungary called Vésztõ. Each of the ten students selected for the field school are required to produce an independent study project that contributes to the better understanding of the economic and cultural understanding of the site. Each student is encouraged to present a paper at the professional meetings; each student is further encouraged to publish their papers on the project website and get those papers published in professional, peer-reviewed journals.

An Engaged Field School

Sounds pretty exciting, doesn't it? These field schools end up producing the next generation of archaeologists, interested, geared-up, curious students. I know this for a fact because I was lucky enough to stumble into the Körös session at the Society for American Archaeology meetings in Milwaukee and heard some of the best papers at the conference.

Fortunately, this kind of field school is really nothing new; such field schools have been conducted for decades--a reliable source tells me W. Ray Wood led several field schools in the 1970s which helped produce the present generation of archaeologists.

If you're looking for a field school to find out if you have what it takes to be an archaeologist, you can do no better than to find yourself an engaged field school such as the Körös project. The way you do that, is email or phone the director and ask questions about what your role in the excavation might be. Tell them you're interested in actively assisting with the research, and ask about opportunities for your participation.

As the Captain would say: Engage! Make it so.

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