2009 Archaeological Field School: 18 May-20 June

Tanana Basin Archaeology at Mead Site


Mead site is a multicomponent site consisting of at least 4 components dating from 14,000 to 1,400 years ago in deeply buried stratified contexts in the mid Tanana Basin , near Delta Junction, Alaska . This site has received little investigation given its importance in the early prehistory of northwest North America , but initial excavations have yielded lithic tools, organic tools, and faunal remains from multiple components. Along with Broken Mammoth and Swan Point, this is one of the oldest sites in northwest North America, and indeed in the Western Hemisphere . The presence of faunal remains and lithic artifacts within stratified contexts provides an opportunity to document patterning in site use and test hypotheses about technology, subsistence, and settlement of ancient populations in Interior Alaska.

The 2009 excavation and field school at Mead is designed to better characterize site function and delineate site formation and site disturbance processes. We expect to recover numerous lithic and faunal remains, possibly in association with hearth features. This will give the students of the field school an unparalleled opportunity to participate in a cutting edge excavation of an important site, using modern archaeological equipment and techniques that will be valuable to them in their future work and classes.

We will use the grid established in previous years, and a Leica Total Station will be used for mapping. Students will be trained in both computer and traditional methods of provenience control. Various excavation strategies, stratigraphic profile drawing, and field recording will be emphasized. Archaeological features and articulated faunal remains may be encountered, thus enabling students to get specialized training in excavating and preserving these rare entities.

Stratigraphy at the site consists of a series of aeolian sediments up to four m thick with several buried paleosol complexes. Given the complexity and time depth of the site, students will get a chance to develop excavation skills useful for many different archaeological problems (i.e., zooarchaeology, stratigraphy, spatial analysis, etc.). This is one of few sites in Interior Alaska with excellent faunal preservation, micro-stratigraphic and radiocarbon controls. We will also conduct optically stimulated luminescence dating (OSL), and students will be able to take part in this cutting edge research.

Lectures will be conducted on a regular basis on various aspects of archaeological theory, excavation practice, and analyses. I feel that archaeological field schools should give students both hands-on practical training in excavation and laboratory techniques as well as understanding the interface between theory and practice.

Students Learning Outcomes

1. understand archaeological research designs and their impacts on field investigations

2. have competence in field excavation and documentation methods (including basic mapping, use of total station, line-level, stratigraphic profiling, and excavation techniques).

3. understand basic problems in subarctic stratigraphy, taphonomy, and site formation and site disturbance factors

4. gain experience in field survey in Alaska remote settings

5. gain experience in working in remote field settings

6. evaluate the context of archaeological finds

UAF-Denali LLC Archaeological Technician Training Program Information

This field school is funded by Denali LLC as part of archaeological technician training for the proposed Denali Alaska Gas Pipeline. The goal of this project is to provide training for archaeological technician jobs needed for environmental research for a proposed gas pipeline through Alaska . A large number of qualified applicants will be needed, more than the current supply. The minimum requirements for archaeological technicians are an introductory class in archaeology and an archaeological field school in the region.

Students who successfully complete this course will have the opportunity to apply to the cultural resource management contractor for the Denali project, Northern Land Use Research, Inc. (NLUR) for possible summer field jobs. Note: this is not a job guarantee. NLUR may choose to hire at their discretion, but this program is put in place to provide applicants technical training and experience in Alaskan archaeology, regional prehistory, and fieldwork in Alaskan environments.

Life in the Field

A field camp will be established on-site, utilizing an existing house (the land is on private property, owned by Barbara Crass, a researcher at University of Wisconsin ). All excavation equipment, supplies, food and transportation to and from the site and Fairbanks will be provided by UAF or the instructor. Students will be expected to provide their own sleeping bags, outdoor clothing, good work boots, rain gear, and tents. Weather is generally warm throughout the summer, with relatively little rain, and the wind minimizes mosquitos.

In addition to excavation duties, students will participate in camp chores. Food will be provided by UAF, funded by Denali LLC - if you have special diet needs, please inform the instructor. We'll be working six days a week - days off can be spent hiking, fishing, sight-seeing, canoeing, or lounging. Students will have opportunities to visit Delta Junction every few days; services include telephones, stores, laundromats, showers, and restaurants. There is cell phone coverage near the site.

The Tanana River Basin is located in the central interior portion of Alaska and the local vegetation consists of interior upland spruce-hardwood forest floral communities (white and black spruce, poplar, willow, and mosses), with south facing slopes maintaining xeric floral communities typified by sagebrush. The Alaska Range is visible from 10 to 15 miles south of the site. Summer weather is generally moderate to warm (70-80 F), though some cold nights (40s F) may occur. A variety of wildlife is present in the site area, including brown and black bear, moose, caribou and fox.

Basic excavation tools and field gear will be provided by UAF (trowels, screens, wall tent, etc.). You will need to bring personal camping gear (sleeping bags, tent, rain gear, coat, gloves, etc.). A more detailed list of what to bring will be provided by the instructor.

Tentative Schedule

The schedule is tentative, and subject to change due to weather, etc.

--Mon, May 18: meet at 9:00 AM at Eielson 303, preliminary briefing on the course, the site, the excavation process, and the schedule. Visit to the UA Museum and the Campus site.

-Week 1: Gearing up for the trip; departing Fairbanks for the Mead site. Visit to the Broken Mammoth Site, setting up camp at Mead Site (site gridding, mapping, excavation)

-Week 2: Excavation and lecture (stratigraphy, geoarchaeology, site formation)

-Week 3: Excavation and lecture (culture history, lithic analysis)

-Week 4: Excavation and lecture (faunal analysis)

-Week 5: excavation, lecture (stratigraphic profiling), backfilling, breaking camp

Survey will take place during the excavation.

-Sat, Jun 20, depart Mead for Fairbanks

Who can Apply?

The UAF Field School is particularly suited to graduate and undergraduate students in archaeology, anthropology, history, ecology and related disciplines. But, applications are encouraged from people of all backgrounds. The only pre-requisite course is an introductory archaeology course. Prospective students will be 16 or older and physically able to live and work in a remote wilderness area.

UAF Summer Sessions has reduced tuition to in-state rates for all students, in-state or out of state. Contact Summer Sessions (below) for the tuition rate. Each student must have accident insurance coverage. This coverage can also be purchased from UAF for $2.50/day. There are no fees for this course, as the fieldwork is generously supported by Denali LLC. This results in a substantially cheaper field school than is typical.

The University of Alaska is committed to equal opportunities for students experiencing disabilities. Due to the rigors of the fieldwork, students with disabilities are expected to notify the instructor of any potential difficulties prior to enrollment so that arrangements may be made to ensure a positive educational experience. Again, Instructor permission is required, so please contact Dr. Potter (ffbap3@uaf.edu) to apply.

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