Field school examines the past

Local students and community members will have an opportunity to touch pieces of the past this summer. The University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County will offer a six-week archaeological field school from June 2 to July 11.

The course can be taken for six university credits or as a continuing education opportunity.

The school’s first four weeks will be devoted to field methods and the last two weeks to laboratory processing, artifact analysis and curation, said anthropology and sociology lecturer George Christiansen.

“This is going to be a good opportunity for students and community members to participate in local prehistory and history,” he said.

In conjunction with the Sauk County Regional Archaeology Program and the Center for Wisconsin Archaeology, the students’ investigations will focus on local sites in both open field settings and places where the surface isn’t visible.

“We’ve got a couple of alternatives,” Christiansen said.

The students will concentrate on finding evidence and materials of Native Americans throughout the area, gaining as much exposure to different time periods as possible, he said. Through the experience, participants will learn archaeological tools and techniques such as surveying, shovel testing and vertical excavations.

“This is an unusual circumstance,” Christiansen said. “Not many two-year schools are able to put together a field program, so we’re very excited that we have that opportunity to do that.”

Most students of archaeology and anthropology don’t get the chance to attend a field school until their junior or senior year in college, he said.

The experience will give participants exposure to the type of field work they would experience as professional archaeologists.

“You’ll learn right away whether you like archaeology or not,” Christiansen said with a smile.

Participants must be able to endure the physical demands of the job, including hot, humid temperatures and extensive walking, shoveling, screening and other physical activity, he said.

After students have completed field school, they are qualified to work for archaeological consulting firms, he said.

Previous field school opportunities through the university have been located in Trempealeau, several hours away. That project will continue, but the local opportunity will allow more area residents to participate.

Seth Taft, archaeology research assistant at the university’s Center for Wisconsin Archaeology, attended field school in Trempealeau in 2010, just as he was finishing his associate’s degree.

The experience helped cement his decision to go into the field, as he found that he enjoyed the physical demands of the career and the opportunity to learn and research on the job.

“It all fit very well,” he said.

Taft said the experience of collecting artifacts made him feel a deep connection to the past.

“All of a sudden you recover this piece of pottery or a projectile point or arrowhead,” he said. “You’re going back in time. It becomes that time capsule. You’re going back to 1,000 years or 2,000 years.”

Taft said he also enjoyed sharing his discoveries and experiences with the community members who would stop by the site each day.

“There are so many potential opportunities to learn about who was here before we were and to give that back to the community,” he said. “… It’s telling a very long story of our past.”

The center, which recently has participated in several local projects and community outreach events, will serve as a base of operations for the field school this summer. Taft encouraged people to register for the opportunity.

“The point has been to be local,” Christiansen said of the center, adding that the Sauk County area affords students, researchers and history buffs access to important sites and unique resources to learn about the past.

“Just telling that story that is so old, there is so much value to that,” Taft said.

So far, about six people have registered or expressed interest in the field school, which can accommodate 12 people.

During the field school, students will work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. They will depart from the UW-Baraboo parking lot each day at 7:30 a.m.

The cost is $1,219.58 for those seeking course credit and $350 for those taking the class as continuing education. All participants also pay a $50 course fee for materials.

To register for the field school, contact Cindy McVenes, the university’s director of continuing education, by calling 355-5234 or e-mailing Applications should be sent to Christiansen at before April 11.

Baraboo News Republic
Publication Date: 
Friday, March 28, 2014