Home Field Schools Range Creek Archaeology Field School




The next Archaeological Field School will be held in June/July 2015.

The University of Utah's summer program in archaeological field techniques will be held at Range Creek Canyon in east central Utah. Jointly sponsored by the Department of Anthropology and the Natural History Museum of Utah, this course offers students the opportunity to learn modern archaeological field and lab techniques in an ongoing field research program. Under the direction of Dr. Duncan Metcalfe, participants in the program will also receive training in archaeological method and theory.

Range Creek

Preference will be given to applications received prior to March 1, 2015.
APPLICATIONS will be accepted until late May and students will be placed on a waiting list as needed.

Please direct all questions to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and put "Field School" in the subject line.

Further Information

Course Description Calendar June/July
Location and Living Arrangements Instructors
Research Agenda Photo Gallery
Course fee and Equipment Recommended Reading
Enrollment UMNH Range Creek Website

Course Description

The University of Utah's summer program in archaeological field methods will be held at Range Creek Canyon. Sponsored by the Department of Anthropology and the Natural History Museum of Utah, this eight-week field course is designed to teach basic archaeological field methods. Under the direction of Duncan Metcalfe (Associate Professor of Anthropology), participants will receive training in a variety of field techniques including survey, mapping, soil identification, and aspects of paleo-ecological research. No previous experience is necessary, but some exposure to basic archaeological and anthropological concepts is recommended.

Admission to the field school is limited to 12 students. Admission is by application only. Priority for admission will be given to those pursuing a professional career in archaeology or a related discipline. Applications are welcomed from both current University of Utah students, non-students and students from out-of-state. Students will earn 8 semester upper division credits upon successful completion of the field school (Anthr. 5712).

Participants must provide their own health insurance, a small tool kit, basic personal camping equipment, and transportation to the University of Utah.


Location and Setting


Range Creek Canyon (Map)

The University of Utah's 2015 summer program in archaeological field methods will be held in Range Creek Canyon for the twelfth year. Range Creek is a tributary of the Green River on the West Tavaputs Plateau in east-central Utah. Extremely remote due to the rugged character of the plateau, Range Creek is bordered by Nine Mile Canyon to the north, the Book Cliffs to the east and south, and Desolation Canyon to the east. The canyon heads at about 10,200 feet in elevation and descends rapidly until it merges with the Green River at an elevation of about 4,200 ft. The canyon itself is extremely rugged, consisting basically of a narrow, sinuous canyon floor at the base of canyon walls that tower in places nearly 3,000 feet overhead. The dozen or so named side-canyons that open into Range Creek, as well as the many unnamed ones, provide even the casual visitor with breathtaking vistas.

A long section of the lower canyon floor was a privately-owned ranch until it was transferred to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 2002. Although the ranch in the lower canyon includes only about 1,500 acres, it provides access to nearly an additional 50,000 acres in the canyon. In 2004, ownership of the ranch was transferred to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) which, with the assistance of the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation (DPR). In 2009 the ownership of the lower Range Creek Canyon floor transferred again, to the University of Utah. The Natural History Museum of Utah currently manages the property, which has been established as the Range Creek Research Station. Because of the long and vigilant efforts of the family that owned the ranch, and the dedicated efforts of the staff of the BLM, DWR and DPR, the archaeological sites in the area are in excellent condition. The vast majority of the sites recorded to date are associated with the Fremont archaeological complex, which dates between about A.D. 500 and A.D. 1350. During the first four years of work in the canyon, we located and recorded over 300 archaeological sites.

Simply stated, Range Creek Canyon shares many similarities with world-famous Nine Mile Canyon, but without the 100 years of overt vandalism, visitor wear and tear, and the impacts of intensive ranching. We are unaware of another region in the state of Utah that has the sheer number and density of essentially untouched archaeological sites. See the Natural History Museum of Utah's Range Creek website - opens new window - external link for more information.

Living Arrangements

Expect comfortable but relatively primitive living conditions. We will be camping at the Wilcox ranch, which was a working ranch until a few years ago. Students are expected to provide their own camping equipment (personal tents, sleeping bags and pads, etc.). Meals during the ten-day work sessions will be prepared by a professional cook. Water, toilets, and archaeological field equipment (aside from the personal tool kit) will be provided by the field program. All students will be expected to assist in the daily camp chores required to keep a field camp running smoothly. Additionally, one day of each field session will be devoted to maintaining the ranch, and will include such activities as landscape upkeep, cutting firewood, painting, mowing, etc. It is a small price to pay for having access to the main ranch house for cooking facilities, the bunkhouse and a log cabin for research facilities. Students will also assist with cooking on a one-day rotational basis.

Currently at Range Creek we are surveying randomly chosen quadrants. In the past, all survey blocks have been located near the main road, which runs through the canyon. Crews could return to camp at the end of each work day. Now we're ready to survey more distant blocks that take a day's hike to reach. Crews will be required to camp overnight on location. All equipment, water and food wlll be packed in on horseback. We recommend that each crew member have a small, lightweight backpacking-type tent in addition to the tent he/she pitches at the ranch. This will be lighter for the horses and crew members won't have to break down their tents at the main ranch site.

The ranch is in an extremely isolated part of Utah. Access is by a dugway (a dirt road cut into the side of a canyon wall by a bulldozer) that crosses an 8,700 foot pass. When wet, the dugway is all but impassable. In good weather, it takes about 2 hours to travel from the ranch to the nearest major town, Price. For safety reasons, students are discouraged from bringing personal vehicles to the field. Cellular phones do not work in the canyon, although a satellite phone is available for emergencies. Due to the remote location of the field camp and the limited access by permit only, students are not allowed to invite guests to visit the field school.

The course will consist of four 10-day field sessions separated by 4-day breaks. One or two vehicles will return to Salt Lake City at the beginning of each break and students have the option of staying in camp or going to Salt Lake City. Students wishing to remain in camp will be responsible for their own food and general camp management during the breaks. This option must be cleared and arranged with the site Manager, Corinne Springer. Students that stay in camp will have to help with camp maintenance and visitors/tours. Hiking and camping on your own is not allowed with in the locked gates.

The weather tends to be unpredictable and can change dramatically without notice. In general, expect hot days and warm nights, and dry weather punctuated by afternoon thunderstorms. This field season is sufficiently late that insects should not be a major problem, but students should be alert for rattlesnakes and black bears. The major problems are likely to be injuries due to falling, sunburn, dehydration and sore muscles. Bear in mind that this is a field school working out of a field camp: storms can blow down tents, flood sites, and trench roads; vehicles break down and get stuck; medical facilities are quite some distance away. Much of the success or failure of the field season will be a function of everyone cheerfully pitching in to overcome the adversities that are guaranteed to arise.


Research Agenda

At Range Creek Canyon, the field school will continue identifying and recording sites in the canyon. We use the IMACS form and associated database for recording sites. In addition to survey, students will make detailed surface maps of several of the larger occupational sites. We plan to test-excavate one or two of the larger sites for depth, stratigraphic integrity, and artifact preservation each year. Students will be introduced to total stations used for detailed site mapping; ArcGIS, Pathfinder, TerraSync and Surfer computer software for ensuring data quality; basic excavation techniques; the feature system for organizing excavation notes; and the field specimen cataloging system.

Field schools provide a unique educational opportunity to train students in modern field techniques by investigating actual sites. Since archaeological sites are finite resources, are protected by federal and state laws, and represent the sole source of knowledge about the past before written records, field schools are a blend of education and basic research. Research designs (the basic questions to be addressed through survey and excavation) are written, permits obtained and contractual obligations formed before entering the field. This is as true for a field school as it is for a professional archaeological investigation. Experience indicates that during the first part of a field school, training students is the foremost goal; during the last part, achieving research goals is the higher priority. This means that at first every attempt will be made to give each student experience with each field activity, but as the season progresses students will be assigned to tasks they perform best. See the Utah Museum of Natural History's Range Creek website - opens new window - external link for more information.




There will be no special fee this summer! Transportation and food are included.

Students are responsible for paying full tuition as assessed by the University. For the full tuition schedule for the current academic year, click here - opens new window - external link. Students should figure tuition according to the Resident fees, as there is no Non-Resident tuition assessed for summer courses. Note that tuition amounts are subject to change without notice. The exact tuition amount for Summer 2015 (which is part of the 2014-2015 academic year) will not be available until some time during April 2015, but there is usually a 10% increase between one academic year and the next.

Required Equipment

Most field equipment will be provided. However, field school participants are required to assemble a small personal tool kit. This includes the tools and other equipment that are frequently used during survey and excavation. Many of the items are fairly common and students may find that they already own some of them.

Required Field School Tool Kit:

Item Approx Cost
5 meter tape measure $10.00
clipboard $1.00
protractor $1.00
Triangular scale - opens new window $13.00
leather work gloves $10.00
Trowel - opens new window (Marshaltown brand recommended) $14.00
We require a METRIC triangular scale that comes in the graduations
1:10, 1:20, 1:25, 1:50, 1:75, 1:125. You may be able to find this at an
engineering or architectural supply store, but if you have problems
you may order one by clicking on the following link: Order item #45980 - external link
compass, Silva Ranger or MC-1 $55.00
We require you to have a compass and we recommend the Silva Ranger
or Suunto MC-1. If you get a different brand it must have a mirror and
360 degree dial. Silva Ranger - external link or MC-1 - external link
total ca. $104.00

Optional Additional Field School Tool Kit

Item Approx Cost
pocket knife, preferably fixed large (3") blade $20.00
folding metric ruler $17.95
We recommend you get a folding METRIC ruler. You can usually find these at
any hardware store. They generally have inches (English) on one side and centimeters
on the other. You can also order item 7111 - external link from this link.
total ca. $37.95

Personal Equipment. Expect hot days, cool nights, and lots of time in the sun.

Tent and ground cloth
Additional lightweight backpacking tent
Warm sleeping bag, sleeping pad or cot
Day pack
Camelbak with at least a 3-liter (100 oz.) bladder
Work or hiking boots
Rain coat
Warm jacket
Clothing for 12 days
Long and short-sleeve shirts
Insect repellant
Comfortable camp shoes
Toiletries and medications
Spending money
Small portable table for personal use
Other camping equipment: folding camp chair,
ice chest, etc. Large tables will be available for group use.


Enrollment and Application


Admission to the field school is limited to 12 students and applicants must complete the APPLICATION. Please complete the application form and submit it along with a one page statement of interest and transcript. Applications can be emailed to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or mailed to:

Shannon Arnold Boomgarden
301 Wakara Way, Room 4000
Salt Lake City, UT 84108


No previous field experience is required for admission to the field school, but some exposure to the basic concepts of archaeology, anthropology or earth sciences is recommended. Applicants must also be able to meet the strenuous demands of archaeological survey and excavation in the rugged but scenic conditions of the Colorado Plateau.


University of Utah students accepted to the program should register for ANTHR 5712 for 8 credit hours. The class (index) number will be provided to accepted participants in time for them to enroll for Summer 2015. If you are not a current University of Utah student you must apply to the University of Utah for non-matriculated status before you can enroll in the field school. Check University webpages for deadlines click here.

Credit hours and fees

All students must participate in the full eight-week field school and will receive 8 semester credits (for tuition costs, click here). In addition, there is no special fee this year for transportation and food. Documentation of payment of tuition must be completed by May 29, 2015. Note that tuition amounts are subject to change without notice. The exact tuition amount for Summer 2015 (which is part of the 2014-2015 academic year) will not be available until some time during April 2015, but there is usually a 10% increase between one academic year and the next.


Participants must provide their own health insurance. Student health insurance plans are available through the University of Utah. Please contact:

Student Insurance Office
Wasatch Clinic
555 Foothill Blvd.
Salt Lake City, Utah 84112


Documentation of payment of insurance must be submitted on June 11, 2012. Documentation may include a receipt or a current insurance card.


Students must provide their own basic equipment in the form of a small tool kit. Arrangements can be made through the University of Utah Archaeological Center to borrow required high-cost field equipment.

Financial Assistance

Financial assistance must be obtained through the office of Financial Aid and Scholarships. There are also scholarships available through the College of Social and Behavioral Science every year for undergraduates.


Students must provide their own transportation to Salt Lake City, Utah. Transportation assistance in the Salt Lake area (i.e., from the airport, bus station, etc.) to the University of Utah is available. Students should make arrangements at a local hotel or hostel in Salt Lake City on the breaks and for early arrival before sessions begin.

Application Form

Application PDF>>



Duncan Metcalfe Associate Professor of Anthropology and Curator of Archaeology, Utah Museum of Natural History.

Shannon Arnold Boomgarden Assistant Director/Field Supervisor.

Corinne Springer Site Manager/Archaeologist

Larry Coats Department of Geography: Paleoenvironmental Field Methods course joins the first session of field school each summer  GEOG 5712 - opens new window

Teaching Assistants

Isaac Hart

Alexa Hudson - opens new window

Erik Martin - opens new window  


Recommended Reading

The following reading is recommended. Many of these articles are available for download from the Marriott Library. This reading and more will be available in our field library for students to check out. 

Prehistory of Utah

Kelly, R.L. (1997). Late Holocene Great Basin Prehistory. Journal of World Prehistory 11: 1-50.

Madsen, D.B. and Simms, S.R.
(1998). The Fremont Complex: A Behavioral Perspective. Journal of World Prehistory, Vol. 12, No. 3: 255-336.

Simms, S.R. (2008) Ancient Peoples of the Great basin and Colorado Plateau. Left Coast Press: California.


Binford, L. (1980). Willow Smoke and Dogs' Tails: Hunter-Gatherer Settlement Systems and Archaeological Site Formation. American Antiquity 45: 4-20.

Metcalfe, D. (2008)Range Creek Canyon in The Great Basin: People and Place in Ancient Times, eds. C.S. Fowler and D.D. Fowler, School For Advanced Research Press:Santa Fe.

Metcalfe, D. and Barlow, K.R. (1992). A Model for Exploring the Optimal Tradeoff between Field Processing and Transport. American Anthropologist 94: 340-356.

O'Connell, J.F.
(1993). What can Great Basin Archaeologists Learn from Prehistoric Site Structure? An Ethnoarchaeological Perspective. Utah Archaeology 1993: 7-26.

O'Connell, J.F.
(1987). Alyawarra site structure and its archaeological implications. American Antiquity 57: 74-108.

Spangler, J.D. (2000). One-Pot Pithouses and Fremont Paradoxes: Formative Stage Adaptations in the Tavaputs Plateau Region of Northeastern Utah. In Intermountain Archaeology, Eds. Madsen and Metcalf, University of Utah Anthropological Papers, No. 122.

Spangler, J.D., S.Arnold, and J. Boomgarden (2006). Chasing Ghosts: A GIS Analysis and Photographic Comparison of Vandalism and Site Degradation in Range Creek Canyon, Utah.


Bird, D. and O'Connell, J. (2006) Behavioral Ecology and Archaeology. Journal of Archaeological Research.

Climate and Geology

Benson et al. (2006) Possible impacts of early-11th, middle-12th-, and late-13th-century droughts on western Native Americans and the Mississippian Cahokians. Quaternary Sciences Reviews.

Cook et al. (2007) North American Drought: Reconstructions, Causes, and Consequenses. Earth Science Reviews 81:93-134.

Stokes William L. (1986) Geology of Utah UMNH and Utah Geological Survey: SLC