The Tanana Valley Archaeological Field School (ANTH-495)

Visit Alaska! Experience Sub-Arctic Science! Put your archaeological skills to work!


Delta Junction, Alaska


May 13-June 15, 2019

Application Deadline

March 1, 2019

Program Type:

Accredited Field School, 6 upper division credits


The University of Alaska Fairbanks

Project Directors:

Dr. Ben A. Potter, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Dr. Joshua Reuther, Museum of the North

Gerad M. Smith, Ph. D. Candidate, University of Alaska, Fairbanks

Dr. Charles E. Holmes, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Project Description:

Welcome to the third year of the Tanana Valley excavation project! The Tanana Valley in the Alaskan Interior has been the focus of northern archaeological research since the 1930's. The oldest site thus far described is the Swan Point Archaeological Site which has been almost continually excavated since its discovery in early 1990’s. The site is representative of all major archaeological traditions in the Interior. Swan Point represents four major cultural components; the earliest is over 14,200 years old, currently the oldest best-dated cultural zone in Alaska. The oldest component of this stratified site contains microblade technology similar to the ancient Duktai cultural widespread in Siberia. This deeply buried site also represents occupations associated with the Younger Dryas, the middle Holocene, the late Prehistoric, and Historic periods. The focus of the current field school will be to explore archaeological components associated with these horizons in the Shaw Creek flats. This is a great opportunity for field school students to participate in the excavation of an important North American site, and will provide experience with cutting edge archaeological equipment and methodology that will provide valuable training for their professional future. Additional field trips will be taken to other important cultural sites throughout the Interior every Sunday. The Tanana River Valley is a wide river basin with lush stands of spruce, birch, poplar, and willow. The site is located in the foothills of the Yukon Tanana Uplands, a region of low elevation hills. The Alaska Range, visible to the south, is typified by peaks rising 12-14,000 feet.

The course will cover:

Interpreting the prehistory of Alaska

Integrating paleoecology and the archaeological record

The basics of geoarchaeology: reading stratigraphy

The basics of lithic identification

The basics of faunal identification

Learn how native Alaskan geographic knowledge informs the archaeological record

And especially: how to excavate a prehistoric residential structure

Equipment, Room, and Board:

The field school will be held in a remote location in the Alaskan Interior. Students and staff will reside in a camp near the site. Students will need to provide their own tents, camping gear, and outdoor clothing (tents, sleeping bags, warm clothing, day packs, rubber boots, and excavation shoes, rubberized rain gear, etc.). Weather is generally warm throughout the summer, with relatively little rain, and the wind minimizes mosquitos. Summer weather is generally moderate to warm (60°-80° F), though some cold nights (40°s F) may occur. All excavation equipment, supplies, and transportation to and from the site and Fairbanks will be provided by UAF or the instructor.

Students will be given a weekly cash food stipend, and all food will be prepared communally in camp. Students will participate in excavation duties and camp chores. If you have special diet needs, please inform the instructor so that accommodations can be made. The camp has occasional cellular service. Each weekend, we will return to Fairbanks to purchase food and clean laundry. We will work six days per week, and days off can be spent at your discretion; there are plenty of opportunities for hiking, fishing, and site-seeing. Trips will be taken mid-week to Delta Junction (20 miles east of camp) for showers, and restaurants are also available in town.

Periods of Occupation:

~14,200 cal BP to 1930 AD

Project Size:

~10-25 participants

Minimum Age:


Experience Necessary:

No field experience needed, but an Introduction to Archaeology class is strongly recommended.

Academic Credit:

Institution offering credit: UAF

Number of credits offered: 6

Total cost of this six-credit course is: $3136.00


Tuition and campus fees: $1536.00

The additional field trip fee of $1600.00 will cover food, equipment, and round trip transportation between Fairbanks and the field school location.

How to Apply:

The application deadline is March 1, 2019. All applications will be reviewed and acceptance letters will be sent by March 30th. All students will need to make their own travel arrangements to Fairbanks (registration begins in February 25, 2019-please contact Gerad Smith prior to registration).

You will need permission from the instructors Dr. Potter and Mr. Smith to enroll. Please email both of them (contact info below) the following documents:

1. Unofficial transcript (this can be a faxed printout or electronic document)

2. One academic reference (please request your reference to email us directly a brief letter of support for your participation)

Students will be required to provide proof of health insurance or must purchase insurance through UAF.

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. Students should take into account that the site is located in a moderately difficult-to-access area. The site is located on a high, dry hill about 1 mile from the parking area, along an unmaintained trail which can be fairly muddy, so please plan accordingly.

Contact Information:

Gerad M. Smith (

Ben A. Potter (

Joshua Reuther (

Required Readings:

Potter, Ben A., Charles E. Holmes, and David R. Yesner

2013 Technology and Economy Among the Earliest Prehistoric Foragers in Interior Eastern Beringia. In Paleoamerican Odyssey proceedings, pp 463-485. Texas A&M Press.

Holmes, Charles E.

2001 Tanana River Valley Archaeology Circa 14,000 to 9000 B.P. Arctic Anthropology 38(2):154-170.

2008 The Taiga Period: Holocene Archaeology of the Northern Boreal Forest, Alaska. Alaska Journal of Anthropology 6(1&2):69-81.

2011 The Beringian and Transitional Periods in Alaska: Technology of the East Beringian Tradition as Viewed from Swan Point. In From the Yenisei to the Yukon: Interpreting Lithic Assemblage Variability in Late Pleistocene/Early Holocene Beringia, eds T Goebel & I Buvit, Texas A&M University Press, College Station, pp. 179-191.

Potter, Ben A.

2008a A First Approximation of Holocene Inter-Assemblage Variability in Central Alaska. Arctic Anthropology 45(1):89-113.

2008b Exploratory Models of Intersite Variability in Mid to Late Holocene Central Alaska. Arctic 61(4):407-425.

2011 Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene Assemblage Variability in Central Alaska. In From the Yenisei to the Yukon: Interpreting Lithic Assemblage Variability in Late Pleistocene/Early Holocene Beringia, eds T Goebel & I Buvit, Texas A&M University Press, College Station, pp. 215-233.