“The annual field school is USD’s primary course for training in field archaeology methods,” said Tony Krus, Ph.D., RPA, assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology & Sociology. “Students in the class learn these skills by actually participating in excavations and other field methods throughout the experience.”

Led by Krus, 12 USD students explored a historic area known as Soapsuds Row on the Bear Butte Creek Historic Preserve. Now in its third year, the project offered an immersive experience in field archaeology, focusing on Fort Meade’s laundress houses from the late 1800s.

During the excavation process, McKenzie Merchant, a rising senior double majoring in anthropology and sociology, found excitement in discovering historical artifacts.

“My favorite experience was when we had two visitors come out to the site on horseback. As they were visiting, two cast iron horses were discovered at the site,” said Merchant. “They seemed to be from the late 1880s, which is on par for when the laundresses were there. The coolest things that I found were a button, pieces of ceramic, and pieces of an old bottle that we were able to identify as an Adolphus Busch Glass Manufacturer Co. bottle that was dated over 100 years old.”

Looking for hands-on learning and insight into what to expect in the field of archaeology, Merchant not only made unique discoveries, but she also walked away from the 10-day field school with invaluable experience.  

“I learned how to excavate a historical archaeological site as well as complete transect surveys, test soil probes, shovel test pits, and clean and catalog artifacts,” said Merchant. “I plan on going on to graduate school for bioarchaeology, and this field school was an excellent introduction to what I would be doing for a career. We were taught the methodology and techniques used by professionals in the field all while having professionals available on site to assist and teach us.”

Excavating the site alongside Merchant was Cole Carlson, a recent graduate in anthropology.

“My classmates and I applied the methods and techniques learned from prior classes relating to archaeology, building upon that with practical wisdom from experienced archaeologists for the duration of the field school, all while helping to uncover artifacts which could help researchers,” said Carlson.

In addition to improving their archaeological techniques, students gained applicable skills that extend far beyond the field.

“There are a number of transferable skills covered in field school that cross over into other disciplines, such as history, geospatial analysis, earth sciences and more,” said Krus.

“My biggest takeaway from the field school was the patience and benefits of collaboration,” said Merchant. “A lot of the work we were doing took a lot of time and had to be done meticulously, but it was so much more fun when working with good friends and colleagues.”

This year’s field school was supported through a grant from the Outside of Deadwood Grant Program. The $6,250 helped cover lodging expenses, field vehicles, equipment and other supplies.

“The Outside of Deadwood grant funding has been absolutely critical for the field school this year,” said Krus. “We are very thankful that the City of Deadwood's Historic Preservation Office provided this funding.”

Press Contact
Hanna DeLange
Contact Email usdnews@usd.edu
Contact Website website