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Summer 2023 - SFU Archaeology Local Field School

June 15th 2023

Written by: Gemma Reine Rance


SFU field schools are typically broken into two segments, a field methods course taking place at the university and the fieldwork practicum. This year’s local field school ran in the intersession, meaning that the course would be condensed from 13 to 6 weeks. This year’s field school took place in North Vancouver in collaboration with the Squamish Nation’s Rights and Title Department.


Archaeological Field Methods:

Archaeological Field Methods is designed to teach students the ins and outs of fieldwork to prepare them for their practicum and for their future careers. This preparation consists of lectures about the process of archaeology and assignments to reinforce this knowledge. These assignments taught important skills such as: how to create field maps (2D, 3D, and stratigraphic), how to use a compass and GPS, the importance of record keeping, and how to describe sediments.


Due to the convenient location of the field school, the final days of field methods included learning specifically about the archaeology of British Columbia. This included guest lectures from Rudy Reimer and from the Squamish Rights and Title Department. On our final day of field methods, we had the opportunity to take a field trip to learn about Squamish heritage on location in Squamish. On this day, we visited the sites we would work for the next three weeks.


Field Work Practicum:

Finally, after two weeks in the classroom, we set out into the field. The 2023 field school worked on a pile of sediments that had been removed from the Locarno beach site. These materials had been brought to a secondary location where they have stayed for over a decade. Because this site was a confirmed Locarno period excavation, we were able to study previously discovered materials to prepare for the fieldwork. This provided an excellent opportunity to connect our classroom knowledge with our in-field observations.


The first two days of fieldwork consisted of preparing the site for the excavation. This felt a lot like gardening. We pulled weeds, cut back bramble bushes and removed wild grasses from the top of the mound. When the surface was prepared, we put our field methods skills to good use. We measured and roped out excavation units and got to work on the site. For the next week and a half, we dug, screened, applied sunscreen, learned about the importance of record keeping, and celebrated each other’s discoveries. Together we identified flakes, found stone beads, and continually debated the differences between glass and quartz. While by the end of the excavation, we were all dirty and tired, we still found time to stretch and laugh and to screen as much as possible before our time was up.


Our third week was spent in Squamish learning about the other side of fieldwork… Shovel testing. While we had quickly become accustomed to a life of delicately scraping with trowels and using suspended screens. We soon learned how to cut through roots by jumping on shovels, how to keep a hole square, how to dig as deep as your shovel, and the importance of record keeping… Through our time in Squamish, we gained a deeper understanding of how the CRM world functions and the ways in which archaeologists interact with the public.


When our fieldwork was completed, we packed up, hit the showers, and got ready for cataloguing. This is where we finally understood the most critical skill in archaeology… you guessed it, the importance of record keeping. This week put our field notes to the test as we sorted through and catalogued every single flake, bead, and unknown rock sample that we were so excited to find weeks earlier. Over several days we described and recorded every single thing that was put into a bag on site.


Through our time at field school, we learned the frustrations of poorly marked bags, the sadness that comes when your flakes are road fill, and the joy of discovering that the chunk of glass you found is actually a quartz microblade. Most importantly, we learned how to work as a team, how to peer review our questions before we asked our TA or professor, and the importance of celebrating both our wins and losses. The fieldwork practicum is a right of passage for all archaeologists. While regular classes prepare you for the study of archaeology, this is when most archaeologists figure out if fieldwork is right for them. While the idea of uncovering the past is exciting for all archaeology students, the process takes hard work and a willingness to get dirty.


This year’s field school was run by David Burley and Kristin Oliver, in collaboration with Rudy Reimer, and the Squamish Nation’s Rights and Title Department.

If you are planning to work in BC, doing a local field school has some great benefits.

- All of the gear you buy will be relevant for your career.

- You gain hands-on knowledge of the environment you will be working in*

- You gain a better understanding of the types of material you will be finding.

- You have the opportunity to meet and work with future employers.

- You have the opportunity to meet and work with local indigenous groups.

- When you’re out with your friends, you can point into the distance and say, “Hey! I excavated there once!”


*Unless you have perfect weather as we did 😉


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