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Dig Up the Past: An Archeological Volunteer Vacation 
by Nancy A. Meadows-Galloway June 23, 2005

Have you ever dreamed of participating in an Archeological excavation? If so, then an Archeological Vacation might be the vacation for you. Programs are offered by several states during the summer months to train the average individual in excavation techniques, along with record keeping and surveying procedures. You do not have to be an expert in the field of Archeology to participate. Most people who attend these field workshops are interested in archeology or history but have never had the opportunity to explore this area.

Archeology is not limited to the study of things prehistoric-pertaining to the time before recorded history. Historic archeology is another popular field that deals with the not-so-distant past. Programs offered by the states listed are for both prehistoric and historic Archeology.

Texas Archeological Society

The Texas Archeological Society sponsors an archeological excavation/field school to train individuals in the proper techniques of excavating, recording and the preservation of finds. Each year the dig is located in a different part of the state during one of the summer months and lasts for eight days. During the excavation/field school individuals stay in tents or RV’s that are located close to the excavation site. The principle focus of the dig is for the average individual to be able to participate in a professionally run archeological excavation. Participants can choose from several different jobs at the dig:

  • Helping with the actual excavating-Participants learn proper use of a trowel along with other methods for excavating.
  • Help with surveying new sites-Individuals learn the proper techniques needed to locate and document new historic and prehistoric sites.
  • Individuals can help with lab procedures-The cleaning and recording of artifacts such as pottery shards, tools, ect.

The field school is held from 7am to 1pm the rest of the day is free to explore, rest, and attend workshops. Some of the workshops offered at the field school are:

  • Flint Knapping
  • Pottery making

An evening program is also offered that focuses on archeology and the history of the area where the dig is taking place.

Kids Field School Held During the Excavation

Children are offered many opportunities to participate in activities at the excavation. They learn various methods and procedures. Some of the activities that were offered at past field schools are:

  • Excavating techniques- Children learned how to properly layout excavation units and also how to dig properly with a trowel.
  • Documentation- Children Learned how to properly record artifacts and findings.
  • Youngsters also learned how to collect artifacts in a manner that preserves the provenience of the find. (Provenience being the original location in which the artifact was found and any important information concerning the artifact)
  • Children were also taught the various techniques that Native American’s used to start fires and also the use of boiling stones.
  • The 2003 and 2004 field schools taught children how Spanish Colonial soldiers lived and worked at the Presidio San Saba site.
  • Some of the children learned how Archeologists use tree ring dating at an excavation.
  • Along with learning procedures and methods, children were also able to participate in a play which was a reenactment of the history of the Presidio San Saba.

The 2003 and 2004 excavation/field schools were held at the Presidio San Saba site located in Menard, TX. This was the site of a fort that was occupied until 1770. The excavation yielded many interesting finds such as pottery, tools and even an intact piece of fabric, which is extremely rare due to the fact that cloth decomposes rapidly. The Texas Archeological Society’s excavation/field school for the years 2003 and 2004 was a success due in large part to the many volunteers that assisted the archeologists.

Oregon Archeological Society

The OAS Training Program provides basic and advanced educational training opportunities for volunteers.

The Basic Archeology training series is given in the spring of each year. This program teaches beginners the basic knowledge of archeology and excavation but also enables them to be able to understand procedures and what is expected of them at the dig site or in the lab. Lectures and workshops are given by professionals in the field of Archeology. The workshops provide training in these areas:

  • Field methods- Excavating and documenting artifacts and finds.
  • Laboratory analysis- The cleaning and preparing of artifacts for preservation and storage.
  • Survey methods and techniques- The surveying and documenting of possible future excavation sites.

The OAS Basic Training Series also offers the individual knowledge about Northwest archeology, artifacts, and also mapping techniques. Individuals must be 18 years old to participate in this field school. Unfortunately, there is no field school for children or young adults. After completing the basic training session you will be qualified for to help with these activities:

  • Field work
  • Excavation projects
  • Archeological surveys

The Alabama Archaeological Society

While this organization does not offer a summer dig it does allow members numerous fieldtrips to excavation sites along with being able to help with the cleaning and cataloging of artifacts that are held at the Erskine Ramsay Archaeological Repository located in Moundville, Alabama.

The Archaeological Society of South Carolina

This group offers a spring workshop. The workshop provides members a chance to learn from others. This informal setting provides knowledge, skills, information and techniques within the field of archeology. The workshop takes place in April and is held for one day. This comprehensive workshop offers participants a number of activities:

  • Flint knapping
  • Primitive weapons
  • Tool making
  • Pottery making
  • Tanning hide techniques
  • Colonial cooking

South Carolina also hosts an Archeology Discovery Weekend each year. This is a three-day event usually held at a state park. Children are allowed to participate in the Discovery Weekend. This event provides numerous workshops along with those listed above, such as:

  • Prehistoric pottery firing and decorating
  • Black powder weapons demonstrating
  • Archeology skills for children
  • Plus, many other activities

This organization offers activities throughout the year. Divers are also encouraged to participate in the Sport Divers Archeology Management Program as well as non-divers.

The Maine Archaeological Society

  • The Damariscotta River Association- A local chapter of the Maine Archaeological Society offers individuals the chance to participate several excavations both prehistoric and historic. Past excavation sites have included the Glidden Midden, a site located on the upper Damariscotta River and also the excavation of the Bryant-Barker Tavern (historic site) from the 1800’s era.
  • Friends of the Maine State Museum- A local chapter of the MAS, which offers members a two week field school. This field school is held in the summer and provides members with an understanding of Maine from the last Ice Age, 12,000 years ago to the present. One other topic covered by the field school is European settlements in the 17th century.
  • Abbe Museum Archaeological field school- Participants are provided the opportunity to work with staff archeologists at an on-going research site. This is a week long program which includes field techniques, Wabanaki history, lab analysis, and also curation procedures.

Arkansas Archaeological Society

The Arkansas Archaeological Society hosts one of the most intensive training programs in the country for amateur archeologists. The program is held each summer for 2 weeks. Participants in the program gain experience in all phases of archeological excavation, site surveying, and lab procedures under the supervision of professionals. Children are also allowed and encouraged to take part in every aspect of the program.

The program was started in 1964. Society members participate as much or as little as they want during the field session. Everyone is required to attend an orientation lecture before beginning work. Members gain valuable knowledge on excavation techniques, lab processes, record keeping plus surveying techniques. Each topic is discussed in a class-room setting except for those that relating directly to excavating; those are held in the field at the site. All classes are held close to the dig location.

Arkansas Archaeological Society Certification Program

The Arkansas Archaeological Society also offers a certification program. This program was started in 1972 and provides a means of formal training in various aspects of archaeology outside of an academic degree. This program takes up to four years to complete since most of the hands-on work required can only be done during the summer training program. Some of the courses offered for this program are:

  • Basic site surveying techniques
  • Basic excavation techniques
  • Basic lab techniques
  • Arkansas Archeology
  • Ceramic description and analysis
  • Lithic description and analysis
  • Mapping techniques
  • Plus, various other courses

Individuals who complete the certification programs are qualified to assist archeologist through out the year on various projects plus they are qualified to lead there own research for the State of Arkansas. Many have been offered employment with the forest service and private businesses such as logging companies, who are required to have an archeologist in the field during logging operations.

Pack Your Trowel

So pack your trowel and join the many other volunteers participating at these digs for a memorable summer vacation packed full of discovery and learning.


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