Indiana University Bloomington


G490/690 Field COURSE IN Geoarchaeological Methods

NOTE: This class is currently under review at Indiana University and should be available for Summer 2014. Registration will be handled through the Department of Geological Sciences in order to avoid late registration fees.


Join our field team as we learn about rockshelter formation, 10,000+ years of human occupation, and environmental change!

DATES: July 20-August 9, 2014 3 credits

During our 3-week, 3-credit field course we will introduce graduate and undergraduate students to geoarchaeological methods through hands-on work at the Rockhouse Hollow Rockshelter in the Hoosier National Forest (Perry County, southern Indiana).

PARTICIPANTS: Undergraduate and Graduate Students interested in sediments, stratigraphy, past environments, and rockshelter formation processes.

PREREQUISITES: Students are required to have taken an introductory class in geology or archaeology. Mapping skills are beneficial, but not required.


  1. how to decipher sediments, stratigraphy and depositional environments
  2. how rockshelters form
  3. how stratigraphy develops within a rockshelter
  4. what kinds of data can be collected for paleoenvironmental reconstructions

STUDENTS WILL GAIN hands-on experience with the methods and techniques most commonly used to understand sediment deposition, weathering and soil development, and depositional and human occupational chronologies in rockshelter landscapes. Rockhouse Hollow Rockshelter has one of the longest human occupation records in the Midwest, and provides a very rare opportunity for students to work in a rockshelter!


The goal of the course is to provide a curriculum and setting where students can learn field methods that facilitate an understanding of sediment analysis, depositional histories, weathering and soil formation processes and the genesis and taphonomy of anthropogenic sediment. Because much of the instruction is field-based, the learning environment includes a practical hands-on component. The course will be focused on understanding the complicated stratigraphy of rockshelters. The field course work and resulting data will become part of a geoarchaeological investigation of the Rockhouse Hollow rockshelter, which was last investigated in 1961. The results of that investigation indicate the site consists of about 10,000 years of occupation within deposits ~200-250 cm thick. The site provides a unique opportunity for students to experience natural and archaeological sediments and stratigraphy in an important Midwestern rockshelter.

The nature of the field work is multidisciplinary with contributions from archaeologists, geoarchaeologists and geologists and the investigations will involve a broad range of opportunities for students to gain experience in many different specialties. The goal of the project is to better define the rockshelter sediments, soils, stratigraphy and paleoenvironmental signatures using modern methods and concepts. Students will be exposed to geoarchaeological (geophysical and archaeological) methods used by field researchers. We will obtain soil samples and organic matter samples from the profiles walls for paleoenvironmental reconstruction and radiocarbon dating.

To that end, the class will be rigorous and require that students participate in evening classes after field work. (We will conduct a mandatory 1-2 hour meeting before the start of fieldwork where we will distribute literature and discuss important topics. This will build a foundation for students prior to reaching the field.) Participants will read selected relevant articles and participate in discussions related to:

  1. geoarchaeology
  2. sediments
  3. soils
  4. weathering
  5. depositional events
  6. rockshelter geomorphology
  7. formation processes (archaeological site and rockshelter)
  8. stratigraphy
  9. chronology
  10. paleoenvironments

In addition, and due to their importance in rockshelter contexts, concepts of human modification of rockshelter sediments will be covered. This will also require that students learn to recognize lithic debitage, prehistoric stone tools, and lithic raw materials. The class will stress multidisciplinary earth science research and use geoarchaeological methods in the excavation of an important rockshelter.

Most of the field school time will be spent working within the rockshelter. Participants will practice applying what they have been exposed to during evening classes to practical problems they experience during the day in the field. Students will learn excavation methods including the use of trowels and spades, field photography, sediment mapping, coring, profile construction, micromorphology, geophysics, documentation techniques and sketching. We will identify formation processes related to the stratigraphy of unconsolidated sediments within the rockshelter and the consolidated rock material that makes up the rockshelter. The practical learning experience will require students to integrate interdisciplinary concepts during class and in the field in order to understand the complicated stratigraphy of Rockhouse Hollow rockshelter.

Graduate students will undertake an independent project of their choosing that focuses on one aspect of the geoarchaeological investigations at Rockhouse Hollow rockshelter. The project should provide evidence that the student has mastered the skills necessary to make geoarchaeological, geological or paleoenvironmental interpretations. Potential projects include stratigraphic depositional history (by unit or by profile), sediment analysis (focused on grain size, genesis, mineralogy or paleoenvironmental indicators), rockshelter geomorphological history, micromorphology, or other paleoenvironmental indicators (geochemistry, paleontology). Graduate students interested in consolidated rock and structural geology might choose a project related to rockshelter formation, exposure, or preservation. Geochemistry students will have an opportunity to sample sediments for stable isotope analysis, and geophysical students might choose to use ground penetrating radar or resistivity analysis to study subsurface stratigraphy. All project proposals must be approved by instructors.


The field work will require that students be housed locally either in a designated hotel or campsite in Tell City, Indiana in Perry County. Rockshelters are remote and require physically fit participants to hike to the site, move earth and potentially, to help remove large rocks from prehistoric roof fall. The full range of typical Indiana insects will be present and participants should bring appropriate footwear, clothing and repellant.