Archaeology Field Course: A Unique Opportunity for Students to Gain Field Experience

Students in the Archaeology Field Course

Mariah Valdivia, Anthropology Major

These last ten weeks have been hard work for the twelve students, three helpers, and one volunteer in the Archaeology Field Course. Many of us were unexperienced in the field and this class was our opportunity to get our hands dirty and learn how to excavate a site. Week one was dedicated to learning all about the Cowell Lime Works Historic District that sits at the base of campus, but from then on we worked every Saturday digging for artifacts. Six units, three feet by three feet, were made and students learned how to properly use a pickaxe, shovel, and trowel to dig six inches deep for each level. We soon learned that the dirt we dug up was going to have to be screened for artifacts. Over the weeks we collected many wires and cut nails, colored and non-colored glass fragments, brick, ceramic fragments, rivets, marine shells, a key, a bullet casing, a full rabbit skeleton, many miscellaneous metal fragments, and two intact bottles. We were able to properly use a Munsell book for color changes in soil to document in our level records. Every day ended with journal notes, level records, bag records, and project records—we documented everything! John Schlagheck was nice enough to devote a Saturday teaching us how to map a site using a datum stake and a compass. John even came back another Saturday with Peter Von der Porten to teach us how to use a metal detector in the field. Although metal detectors are usually frowned upon by archaeologists, we learned that they can be used for good purposes—not just for looting a site. Buckets of dirt later, we found ourselves at the end of the excavation and profile drawings of each unit had to be made. Our Open Hole Day was spent filling up our units with the already screened dirt and teaching guests about our awesome class. Digging these units took us ten long weeks and only ten minutes to fill back up!

Looking back on this course it was difficult to give up every Saturday and commit the whole day to hard work in the sun (and sometimes fog), but it was well worth it. I loved this course because there is nothing like it offered anywhere else! We are lucky that our university sits on a historic site and students are able to take a course or internship on campus where they can learn more about Santa Cruz history and prepare themselves for a job in archaeology. I’m finishing this course with skills, such as excavating, screening, mapping, and cataloging, that can be used in a real Cultural Resources Management job and I am very thankful for that. I think even if I do not get a job in archaeology I will forever remember this experience because it was the very first five unit excavation class at the University of California, Santa Cruz and that will be history in itself!