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Department of Anthropology
Bryn Mawr College
101 N. Merion Avenue
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010

610-526-5030
Fax: 610-526-5655

Fieldwork

The cornerstone of anthropological methodology is fieldwork- getting up from our comfortable chairs and offices and encountering new environments, cultures, and situations. Whether the "field" is in a remote, tropical climate, or a setting in industrial and corporate America, the anthropologist lives and interacts with a community, conducts anthropological investigations, and acquires new perspectives on other peoples and their ways of life.

If you are an anthropology undergraduate major and are strongly considering a career in anthropological archaeology, historical archaeology, or museum studies, attaining archaeological experience is essential in building professional archaeological skills, a strong resume, and developing a strong foundation for further graduate studies.

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do I have to be a declared anthropology or archaeology major to participate in an archaeological field school?

No - but it helps! Many students who attend archaeological field schools are in their first few years of undergraduate work, and even, graduate work. During my fieldwork experience I have encountered anthropology students, archaeology students, and students from a range of other disciplines such as Biology, Geology, History, Zoology, English, and Journalism. Field schools also accept other paying participants, such as ecotourists, Elder Hostelers, and children's summer camps.

 

2. Do I have to have previous fieldwork experience in order to apply?

You do not need previous archaeological experience before attending an archaeological field school. The curriculum, in whatever format, is designed to give the novice archaeologist a wide, and intensive, exposure to archaeological methods. Some programs specifically offer training in archaeological specialties: faunology, palaeobotany, dendrochronology, etc.

3. Do I have to have archaeological field work already on my transcript?

It helps, but is not strictly necessary. Because of the popularity of attending archaeological field school programs, the openings are usually given to those individuals who demonstrate that they have a major, or at least solid interest in, anthropology or archaeology, or a related field of study. If you have experience in other field studies, hiking/camping, archaeological fieldwork without the coursework, or experience with surveying equipment, highlight this on your application.

4. How do I learn about field schools?
  • Your anthropology and archaeology faculty;
  • Word of mouth from other anthropology and archaeology students;
  • Notice boards in the anthropology and archaeology departments;
  • Archaeological Institute of America;
  • Archaeology Magazine;
  • Hometown university or college anthropology and archaeology departments;
  • Local, state, and federal museums;
  • State Historical Preservation Offices.
5. Are there different sorts of field schools?

Absolutely. Some field schools have specialties in regional archaeology (New England archaeology, Southwest Archaeology), or a particular time period (prehistoric archaeology, historical archaeology), or provide training for specific interests such as faunology, oral history, archival analysis, or biological anthropology.

Field schools are also different in the way they are organized and taught. Some field schools are set up with a specific curriculum, exercises, and examinations. Other field schools are organized to place the student directly into excavations with seasoned veterans. There are pros and cons to each of these teaching styles and the field experience you will attain.

6. How do I know which field schools are good?
  • Ask your anthropology and archaeology faculty;
  • Ask other students who have gone on those programs;
  • Is the program accredited?;
  • Is the program taught by trained archaeologists with a variety of experience?;
  • How long has the program been in existence?;
  • Do your homework;
  • Research the backgrounds of the field school instructors and staff on the American Anthropology Association handbook;
  • Search out websites for particular field schools and associated departments.

 

7. How much should a field school cost?

This really varies. A field school in a remote location may involve travel expenses PLUS the cost of the fieldwork program. A field school closer to home may mean that you can commute to the site and not need to pay room and board. Some programs have fees that cover the room and board, but do not cover educational or travel expenses. Still other programs charge only for room and board - and at the end of the summer you pay a small fee (at $40.00) to acquire the credit for the program.

  • CHECK on field school fees using the archaeological.org site;
  • CONSIDER the length of time that the field school program runs;
  • DETERMINE whether there are expenses not covered by the program - food, board, travel, etc.

In my fieldwork experience, I have seen programs that cost $ 1000.00 for two weeks, and lesser amounts for longer periods of time. You will have to be the judge of getting your money's worth in terms of time, experience, networking, and skills.

8. Do I have to pay for a field school experience?

Generally yes. In rarer cases I have seen some fees waived if a student has special skills, such as surveying experience, specialist experience, or networking connections. After the first stint of fieldwork, participating on the same, or other, archaeological projects as a paid experience may be possible.

9. Do I get credit for field school participation at Bryn Mawr College?

To my understanding, fieldwork grades do not get computed into the Grade Point Average. Do not take this to mean that you shouldn't go for that the credit the program will offer through an affiliated institution. Pay the fee, get a transcript, and attach this information to your resume or other applicant materials in the future.

10. When should I apply to field schools?

The usual time to apply to field schools is somewhere between late February and late April. While some schools are long-established and have frequently updated websites or other materials, other schools may not be accepting applications until they know that they have the relevant permissions, staffing, or grant money for the field season. Check the information to find out the application due date, and submit your application as soon as possible. I have known a number of these programs to fill up quickly on a first come first serve basis or because they are popular. For this reason, get your application in order early, ask your recommenders early, and with enough advance warning (two weeks), and apply to multiple schools. Although some schools now have fees that may be lost if you cancel, it is usually a good idea to have a couple of acceptance s and opportunities in front of you to choose from.

11. Can I stay on further than a single session?

Yes, often at more expense. In some cases you might be asked to continue on at the site in a paid position (starting pay rate).

12. What tools and equipment should I bring?

Find out whether your field school supplies equipment, such as pointing trowels, dustpans, and gloves. You may want to buy your own pointing trowel (4 inch from any hardware store - Marshalltown or WHS is good). Bring a waterproof field backpack to transport your equipment, food, and small supplies to the field. Some people like to bring their own Sharpie pens, mechanical pencils, tents for off days, and camera equipment. Don't forget to bring extra supplies of medications.

13. What clothing should I bring?

This answer is highly dependent on your field location, cultural setting, and the sorts of tasks you are expected to learn. For hot, dry climates, bring light-colored airy clothing. Bring shorts as well as long pants. Bring closed-toe field shoes for excavations - sandals can be dangerous. Bring a hat with some sort of visor, a canteen/water bottle, and lots of bandannas.

For cold, damp locations - imitate the onion. Cotton layers may be light, but when saturated, may not dry out and lead to hypothermia. Bring socks and clothing that allows wicking. Bring raingear that does not tear easily (Grunden's), bring a number of heavy pants (jeans, being made of cotton, may not be the best), and a number of turtlenecks, t-shorts, wool sweaters, gloves, etc.

Be very careful about your choice of footwear - bring a number of pairs of shoes and boots. The archaeologists I know generally wear hiking boots, steel-toed boots, or Extra Tuff waterproof boots. Be careful of deep treads, as they will clog up with dirt and make it difficult for you to walk. Sneakers are usually inappropriate, particularly if you are water-screening.

A most important consideration is to bring extra clothes that you wear after messy days, or when you are doing your laundry. In some cases, your group may venture to local towns or communities where there are festive occasions or a reason that you might want to bring something "presentable". Finally, bring clothes for the plane trip home - and consider that due to the strenuous exercise of the field season, you have lost the equivalent of a couple of clothes sizes - or the situation of not fitting into your good clothes if you have enjoyed the field food and built up interesting muscles!

14. What should I expect in living conditions?

This should be stated explicitly on your field school information source. Are you expected to live in a tent all summer? Are you being housed in a hotel complex? Are you sharing space in a trailer or motel? The answer to this question may also influence your choice of clothing and gear.

15. What if I'm a vegetarian or have dietary issues?

This is often a challenging situation as some field locations involve camping "Survivor style" - and in other cases some field schools have mess halls, kitchens, cooks, etc. Ask the field school personnel at the time of your application as to whether they accommodate different dietary needs - many do not. Field schools may expect you to bring your own foodstuffs and medications.

16. What other expenses should I consider?
  • Are you living in a town or city and know that you will be out on the town after work?;
  • Are you a shutter bug?;
  • Will you be renting camping or outdoor gear for ventures offsite?;
  • Will you be sending your gear home after the field season?
17. How do I afford a field school? Is there financial aid?
  • Ask the field school whether there is financial aid available.
  • Consider whether the Regional Alumnae groups offer monies for summer student research.
  • Apply to one of a number of Bryn Mawr/Haverford internship/fellowship programs.
  • Ask the faculty member for further ideas and sources of money.
18. What happens if I don't get into any archaeological field schools or my archaeological field school is suddenly cancelled?

This is not the end of the world! Continue exploring the different field school options. Contact field schools to see if their programs are filled or whether they have "extra room."