The Benefits of Field School

With spring approaching (trust me, I’m sure it’s right around the corner) archaeologists are chomping at the bit to start their summer research. Equipment is being dusted off, trowels are being sharpened, and shovels are being shined, all in anticipation of the summer field school. While archaeologists are planning their summer research goals, students should be considering which field school they’d like to attend.

Like many other scientific disciplines, research in archaeology requires time to be spent in the field, collecting data. Unlike other disciplines, archaeology (and anthropology as a whole) requires weeks and months of field research in order to get just the minimum amount of data. Field research is often tedious and grueling, but absolutely necessary for data collection. Field Schools are a way for students to a)decide if they can handle a career with fieldwork,  b)decide if archaeology is still a career they want to pursue. Sociocultural anthropology also has field schools that serve a similar purpose, but obviously focus on different types of data collection.

Field School is something most anthropology students are aware of as they progress through their various degree programs. But unfortunately, not all students participate in field schools. Attending a field school was one of the best things I believe I could have done for my future career. And I believe that it’s something that every anthropology student, especially for those interested in pursuing an archaeological career, can benefit from. The field school I attended was an archaeological field school held in Aztalan, Wisconsin, and was led by Dr. Lynne Goldstein.

The most valuable thing I gained from this experience was finding out that I love archaeology. I love the feeling of freshly dug dirt in my hands and the accomplished feeling I would get when I finished a level. I loved finding pieces of the past and realizing that the item I was touching was connecting me with someone who has been long gone for hundreds of years. I even found that I loved the exhaustion I felt at the end of the day of physical labor-not to mention the fact that my arms became seriously well-toned.

I also found I was capable of doing yoga while digging!
I also found I was capable of doing yoga while digging!

While this type of work and lifestyle may not be for everyone, that’s exactly what field school is there for. To find out if you like the work your potential career might hold. Imagine the horror one might feel having pursued an undergraduate degree, or begun their graduate degree, only to find out at their first excavation that they hate digging!

In addition to finding a passion for archaeology, I have also had some great opportunities opened up to me thanks to the connections I made at Aztalan. The semester following my field school Dr. Goldstein offered me the opportunity to help with research on the materials we found at Aztalan; now I’m performing my own research using the materials we found for the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF)- something which will definitely strengthen my graduate school applications. I’ve also gotten the chance to become an intern with the Campus Archaeology Program, which has helped me learn about the work of an archaeologist outside of the field (they say for every hour spent in the field, an archaeologist spends 4 hours in the lab!). Again, this can do nothing except help build my resume and strengthen my application for graduate school. All of this thanks to just five weeks of field work.

The 2013 Aztalan Crew Photo by Dan Seuer
The 2013 Aztalan Crew Photo by Dan Seuer

All in all, I think I received much more than a few credits thanks to my time at Aztalan. If you ever have the opportunity to participate in a field school I would encourage you to take it. MSU is offering two such opportunities this summer.

The Morton Village Field School runs from May 12th-June 22nd and is located near Lewistown, Illinois. Dr. O’Gorman’s research focuses on the A.D. 1300-1400 community associated with a period of social integration and conflict among the Oneota and Mississippian groups. This summer’s research will build on previous years’ findings in order to understand the chronology of social interaction at the site. This traditional field school exposes students to the methods of excavation, allows students to contribute to the ongoing research, and introduces students to the importance of public outreach. To apply, submit an application to Nikki Silva at

If you don’t have the time or money for a traditional field school, Campus Archaeology is offering another great hands-on learning experience, ANP 491 Methods in Cultural Heritage.  This course runs from July 7th-30th, Monday-Wednesday from 9am-1pm. Methods in Cultural Heritage will be held on campus, but will use a hands-on approach that will allow you to apply the skills you learned to real world situations. While this course will use the history and archaeology of MSU as a model for a Cultural Heritage Plan, the results will be widely applicable beyond the realm of archaeology.

Cultural Heritage sites are increasingly facing the crisis of the loss of cultural values and identity due to economic decline, emigration, inappropriate infrastructure and high costs of living. Cultural Heritage Plans aim to provide a strong basis for ensuring compatibility and synergy between cultural heritage conservation and socioeconomic growth. As more places in the US realize the potential of heritage tourism and the value of heritage for the economy, the need for the creation of cultural heritage plans has increased dramatically. Applications can be sent to Dr. Goldstein at


Author: Kyla Cools

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