Lab Facilities & Operations

The UCSC Archaeology and Physical Anthropology Laboratories are housed in state-of-the-art facilities that provide an excellent venue for research and instruction. A dedicated research laboratory is provided for each of our four archaeology and two physical anthropology professors. In addition, teaching labs are designed specifically for the research and teaching needs of our faculty for teaching courses in ceramic and lithic analysis, landscape and household archaeology, cultural heritage management, zooarchaeology, ancient DNA and comparative human and primate osteology and anatomy.  

Ceramic Analysis

Clay and ceramic materials from around the world are classified and analyzed through the operations of the Ceramic Analysis Research Lab and the Lithic & Ceramic Teaching Lab. We have the capacity to investigate the special properties of clay bearing soils, clays and fired ceramic materials. The significance of these materials within an archaeological or cultural framework are also considered. Students in the ceramic analysis course get hands-on experience with the scientific techniques and tools that make this research possible. Many students go on to expand their own research projects or assist with graduate student or faculty projects. Specialized equipment in these labs includes stereomicroscopes, petrographic microscopes, thin sectioning equipment, a large, programmable studio kiln, drying oven, custom metrical tools and a variety of hand-building and clay manipulation tools. We are also an official USDA Soils Lab, able to receive and analyze field clays and sediments collected from international sources.

Household Archaeology Lab

The Household archaeology lab specializes in chemical, sedimentary and microartifact (cultural particles smaller than 2mm in diameter) analyses.  Smaller scale materials such as these constitute a significant part of the archaeological record, yet remain some of the most underutilized sources of information.  Students will be trained in these techniques, learning how to interpret site matrixes and evaluate anthropogenically altered soils and microscopic materials related to floor and midden excavations.  Materials are drawn from several different sites and time periods, including colonial California, 18th century West Africa, and the Late Classic Maya (A.D. 600-900). Additionally, lab interns work on the processing, sorting and analysis of archaeological and household assemblages related to the supervisor’s work on the 18th century California Mission site, San Antonio de Padua. 

Spatial Analysis Laboratory

Quantitative approaches to the analysis of spatial patterning have re-emerged in recent years as integral components of a wide range of modes of anthropological inquiry.  The Spatial Analysis Laboratory provides state of the art research facilities for exploring spatial patterns across cultural landscapes at multiple scales of analysis. The facility boasts advanced laboratory and field research equipment, including three GIS workstations and peripherals, as well as a full complement of spatial technologies used in field survey (total station, Trimble GPS base station, and Trimble GPS handheld field computers).  Laboratory associates are engaged in a variety of projects designed to collect, analyze, and interpret spatial data from a broad range of cultural landscapes past and present.  Past and current research projects undertaken by lab associates have examined urbanism and regional settlement practices in precolonial West Africa, ceramic production and exchange networks in precolonial West Africa, the nature of settlement defense and agricultural planning in Contact Era New Mexico, and economic networks linking precontact settlements in coastal California.

Zooarchaeology and Comparative Osteology

The Zooarchaeology Lab sustains faculty and graduate research projects on a number of topics connected with human – animal interactions in central coastal California and East Africa. Recent and current projects include: collaboration on NSF–sponsored research on indigenous pyrodiversity practices in the Monterey Bay region, historical ecology of northern fur seals in the greater Monterey Bay, isotopic ecology and mobility practices of early African pastoralists in Kenya, experimental exploration of parameters of bone grease extraction, and two Honors Senior Theses on California archaeofaunal materials. The lab offers undergraduate internship opportunities every term, where students gain hands-on skills in assisting faculty, graduate students, and advanced undergraduates in their research. NOTE: Potential doctoral students should read here for information concerning future planning for zooarchaeological research.

Cultural Heritage Laboratory 

The Cultural Heritage laboratory was established to help facilitate and promote projects that revolve around the preservation and stewardship of cultural heritage, with a special focus on community-based collaborative work. The goal of the Cultural Heritage laboratory is to provide a center for hands-on training in all aspects of heritage stewardship, from initial background research and the development of collaborative partnerships, to the completion of research reports and public/educational materials.  Laboratory participants have access to field equipment and computer resources that will assist them in their stewardship work, including equipment for the recording and documentation of ethnographic interviews and oral histories (digital voice recorders and video cameras), archaeological survey and mapping (Trimble handheld units and base station, GIS workstation), and the production of public documents and interpretive material (desk-top publishing, website development, video editing). The laboratory is run by Jon Daehnke, who is currently working on collaborative heritage projects with the Chinook Indian Nation along the Columbia River and the Amah Mutsun Tribe of the greater Santa Cruz area.

Molecular Anthropology and Human Palaeogenomics Lab 

The newly established Molecular Anthropology and Human Palaeogenomics Lab investigates the evolutionary history of human populations with a specific interest in the co-evolution of cultural, ecological, and human genetic diversity. We use genomic techniques and heterochronous data analysis to explore the evolution of human genetic diversity, past and present population relationships, demographic consequences of climatic change, the impact of human disturbance on ecosystems and (prehistoric) biodiversity, and the genetic consequences of exposure to environmental and epidemiological stressor from a diachronic perspective. The main geographic research focus is South America with projects investigating the pre-Columbian population history of western South America, adaptive responses to physical stressors acting in the high altitude Andes, and the impact of the European colonization on the Native American genetic diversity. In addition to South America research projects are conducted in Central Europe, the Caucasus, North America, and the Caribbean. The lab also specializes in Forensic Anthropology with a focus on molecular methods for Human Identification (HID) and kinship analysis. Besides the full canon of molecular methods for HID the lab also includes 

Human and Primate Anatomy and Osteology

The Anatomy and Osteology Teaching Labs and Physical Anthropology Research Labs conduct detailed investigations into human and primate anatomy and skeletal biology. On-going work in the labs prepares skeletons for the comparative osteology collections. Frequently we also undertake detailed explorations of primate anatomy. Supplementing the anatomical work are dermestid beetle colonies and maceration tools that enhance the processing of animals into skeletons.

Field and Lab Archaeology

Students have the opportunity to learn the techniques for field archaeology and lab analysis of archaeological materials through both formal field schools and more informal internships and volunteer opportunities. The UCSC Archaeology-Physical Anthropology Labs maintains various excavation, survey and mapping equipment. In addition, the labs include space for primary curation, sorting, re-packaging and sample preparation from archaeological materials acquired in the field. Some recent faculty-led field projects include collecting and mapping clay and temper resources near Tijeras Pueblo, New Mexico, regional survey and test excavations on the Dahomey Plateau in Benín in West Africa and excavation and site survey at Mission San Antonio de Padua in California. Some of our students have also been assisting with the excavation of a Columbian Mammoth discovered in an agricultural field near Castroville and have been working as archaeological interns at the Cowell Limeworks Historic District on campus.