Field School: Experiencing Archaeology for Yourself

2011 Field Crew at Blue Creek
Maya Research Program

Would you like to go on an archaeological dig? Do Indiana Jones movies give you wanderlust? Does the thought of conducting scientific research in exotic locations sound like the perfect way to spend your hard-earned vacation? Are you tired of reading about ancient cultures from the pages of books and websites and do you long to learn about those dead societies first hand? An archaeological field school might be just what you're looking for. 

An archaeological field school means that even if you're not a professional archaeologist, you, too, can spend part of your summer digging in the dirt. After all, it doesn't seem terribly fair that we should have all the fun, does it? Well, fortunately, there are lots of university-based excavations going on all year long, called field schools, and some of them take unaffiliated volunteers.

Field School

An archaeology field school is an archaeological dig that is organized partly to train the next generation of archaeologists. Field schools are always arranged to conduct real, scientifically-based archaeological research for the professors and their graduate student assistants. The only reason to go into the field and excavate sites must always be to gather new information about ancient behaviors and cultures--archaeology is a destructive process and if you're not gathering data, you shouldn't be digging.

But field schools are specifically tailored to teach new students the methods and philosophy of archaeology. And the good news? Even if you're not planning on becoming an archaeologist, you can still attend a field school. In fact, I always recommend that anybody even considering a career in archaeology should go to one early in their education, if possible even before they start taking university classes, to find out if they like hanging around other sunburned and filthy people pursuing scientific research enough to warrant the cost of a college education.

Attending a Field School

A field school works this way: a small band of students--generally ten to fifteen, although the size varies considerably from school to school--is collected by a university anthropology department. The students go to an archaeological site where they get instructions on how to survey and dig, and then they dig. Many field schools feature lectures and tours to nearby archaeological sites; sometimes students are assigned a special project of their own. The students get college credit and training that way, starting them off in a career in archaeology. Most field schools last between two and eight weeks in the warm or dry season, depending on what part of the world the excavations are located.

Many field schools also welcome members of the local historical society or archaeology club or provide opportunities for the public to experience archaeology for themselves. Almost every archaeology department or anthropology department with a concentration in archaeology in the world conducts archaeological field research in schools every summer or every other summer.

What You'll Need

To attend such a field school, you'll need physical stamina, clothes you don't mind destroying, a hat with a brim, and SPF 30 or better sunblock. You may get college credit. You may have to provide your own travel and housing expenses, or they may be provided as part of the experience. You'll need a strong sense of adventure; a stronger sense of humor; and the ability to work hard without complaining. But you might have the time of your life.

So, if you have a few days or weeks off next summer, and you want to experience a little real-live archaeology, this is the time to start looking!

Finding a Field School

There are several ways to find a field school. There are several dozens being held all over the world every year. Here are a few sites that can be trusted to contain up-to-date listings from around the globe:

You could also contact the archaeologists associated with the anthropology, archaeology, or ancient history department at your local university. You might consider joining your local archaeology society or club. Good luck and good digging!

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Your Citation
Hirst, K. Kris. "Field School: Experiencing Archaeology for Yourself." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, Hirst, K. Kris. (2020, August 25). Field School: Experiencing Archaeology for Yourself. Retrieved from Hirst, K. Kris. "Field School: Experiencing Archaeology for Yourself." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).