• 2016 Field School in Subarctic Archaeology: Mead Site

May 16 through June 18, 2016
Mead site is a multicomponent site consisting of at least 4 components dating from 14,000 to 1,400 years ago in deeply buried stratified contexts in the mid Tanana Basin, near Delta Junction, Alaska.  This site has received little investigation given its importance in the early prehistory of northwest North America, but initial excavations have yielded lithic tools, organic tools, and faunal remains from multiple components. Along with Broken Mammoth and Swan Point, this is one of the oldest sites in northwest North America, and indeed in the Western Hemisphere. The presence of faunal remains and lithic artifacts within stratified contexts provides an opportunity to document patterning in site use and test hypotheses about technology, subsistence, and settlement of ancient populations in Interior Alaska.

The 2016 excavation and field school at Mead is designed to better understand activity areas and technological and subsistence change through time. Specifically, we will focus on areas of the site where we recovered numerous faunal remains
(bison, waterfowl, small game, and fish) dating to ~12,500 cal BP, that may represent multiple ancient house floors. In the past several seasons, we encountered multiple hearth features with associated fauna, including (1) a Pre-Clovis horizon associated with bison and quartz lithics dating to >13,300 cal BP, (2) an early horizon with 6 hearths dating to over 13,000 cal BP, (3) a Younger Dryas horizon (Folsom age) with 15 hearth-related activity areas dating to 12,500 cal BP, and (4) a middle Holocene layer with an associated cache pit, the earliest of its kind in this region. All of these areas have associated well preserved faunal remains. We expect to recover numerous lithic and faunal remains, probably in association with hearth features. This will give field school students an unparalleled opportunity to participate in a cutting edge excavation of an important site, using modern archaeological equipment and techniques that will be valuable to them in their future work and classes. 

We will use the grid established in previous years, and a Leica Total Station will be used for mapping. Students will be trained in both computer and traditional methods of provenience control.  Various excavation strategies, stratigraphic profile drawing, and field recording will be emphasized.  Archaeological features and articulated faunal remains may be encountered, thus enabling students to get specialized training in excavating and preserving these rare entities.

Stratigraphy at the site consists of a series of aeolian sediments up to four m thick with several buried paleosol complexes.  Given the complexity and time depth of the site, students will get a chance to develop excavation skills useful for many different archaeological problems (i.e., zooarchaeology, stratigraphy, spatial analysis, etc.).  This is one of few sites in Interior Alaska with excellent faunal preservation, micro-stratigraphic and radiocarbon controls. We will also conduct optically stimulated luminescence dating (OSL), and students will be able to take part in this cutting edge research.

Lectures will be conducted on a regular basis on various aspects of archaeological theory, excavation practice, and analyses.  I feel that archaeological field schools should give students both hands-on practical training in excavation and laboratory techniques as well as understanding the interface between theory and practice.

At the end of this field course, the students should:
1. understand archaeological research designs and their impacts on field investigations
2. have competence in field excavation and documentation methods (including basic mapping, use of total station, line-level, stratigraphic profiling, and excavation techniques).
3. understand basic problems in stratigraphy, taphonomy, and site formation and site disturbance factors
4. gain experience in field survey in Alaska remote settings

5. gain experience in working in remote field settings
6. evaluate the context of archaeological finds

Photos from the 2009-2014 Field Schools at Mead: 

Mead Excavation
Excavating a 12,000 year-old hearth


 A 13,300 year-old stone artifact scatter

2009 Field School

2011 Field School

2012 Field School

2013 Field School

2014 Field School


To read publications related to archaeology of Subarctic Alaska, see Dr. Potter's personal page.
This course begins at UAF, Fairbanks, Alaska, in Room 302, Bunnell Building on May 16, 9:00 AM. The Mead site is accessible by road via the Alaska Highway, though the site is 20 miles from the nearest town. Transportation from UAF to the site, trips to regional archaeological sites like Broken Mammoth and Gerstle River, and to and from Delta Junction is provided by UAF.

Life in the Field:
A field camp will be established on-site, utilizing an existing house (the land is on private property, owned by Barbara Crass, a researcher at University of Wisconsin).
All excavation equipment and transportation to and from the site and Fairbanks will be provided by UAF or the instructor. Students will be expected to provide their own sleeping bags, outdoor clothing, good work boots, rain gear, and tents. A more detailed list of what to bring will be provided by the instructor. Weather is generally warm throughout the summer, with relatively little rain, and the wind minimizes mosquitos.

In addition to excavation duties, students will participate in camp chores. If you have special diet needs, please inform the instructor. We'll be working six days a week - days off can be spent hiking, fishing, sight-seeing, canoeing, or lounging. Students will have opportunities to visit Delta Junction every few days; services include telephones, stores, laundromats, showers, and restaurants. There is cell phone coverage near the site.

The Tanana River Basin is located in the central interior portion of Alaska and the local vegetation consists of interior upland spruce-hardwood forest floral communities (white and black spruce, poplar, willow, and mosses), with south facing slopes maintaining xeric floral communities typified by sagebrush.  The Alaska Range is visible from 10 to 15 miles south of the site.  Summer weather is generally moderate to warm (70°-80° F), though some cold nights (40°s F) may occur.  A variety of wildlife is present in the site area, including brown and black bear, moose, caribou and fox.


How to Apply and Costs:
The UAF Field School is particularly suited to graduate and undergraduate students in archaeology, anthropology, history, ecology and related disciplines. But, applications are encouraged from people of all backgrounds. The only pre-requisite course is an introductory archaeology course. Prospective students will be 16 or older and physically able to live and work in a remote wilderness area. Given the general interest in the site, we encourage you to apply early.

You will need permission from the Instructor (Dr. Potter) to enroll. Please send to him (fax or email) the following documents:
1. Unofficial transcript (this can be a faxed printout or electronic document)
2. One academic reference (please ask the reference to email me a brief letter of support for your participation)

Note: Due to the interest in this project, we have instituted the following application schedule:

* Registration is open between Feb 25, 2016 and May 4, 2016. We encourage you to contact Dr. Potter early.

* Applications will be reviewed and acceptance decisions will be sent out after March 30, 2016 (though we will still accept applications until the closing date of May 4, 2014). This will give you enough time to make flight arrangements.

Total costs (for ANTH-495)

 Fee Cost
 Tuition (6 credits)
 $ 1326
 UAF Network/Technology/Activity fee
 $ 75
 Field course fee (food, transportation, etc.)
 $ TBD
 Total $ TBD
Note, the field course fee will be announced by December, 2015.

UAF Summer Sessions has reduced tuition to in-state rates for all students, in-state or out of state. Contact Summer Sessions (below) for the tuition rate. Each student must have accident insurance coverage. This coverage can also be purchased from UAF for less than $5.00/day.

The University of Alaska is committed to equal opportunities for students experiencing disabilities. Due to the rigors of the fieldwork, students with disabilities are expected to notify the instructor of any potential difficulties prior to enrollment so that arrangements may be made to ensure a positive educational experience. Again, Instructor permission is required, so please contact Dr. Potter (bapotter@alaska.edu) to apply.

To receive a registration form, contact:

Summer Sessions
University of Alaska Fairbanks
214 Eielson Building
PO Box 752627
Fairbanks, Alaska 99775-7540
Phone: (907) 474-7021
Fax: (907) 474-5297
Visit their webpage for more info: www.uaf.edu/summer