Topic ID #26507 - posted 1/24/2013 3:09 PM

2013 Fort Massachussetts (CO) Historical Archaeology Field School


The field school offers 6 credits in history or archaeology at the graduate or undergraduate level.  Training is provided in a number of areas:

Archaeological survey:  Students will be introduced to standard techniques used to find, recognize, evaluate, and record archaeological sites.

Archaeological Excavation:  Students will be trained in the basic procedures of excavation, including:
1. Laying out an excavation unit
2. Using standard excavation tools to dig the unit to professional standards
3. Filling out excavation forms
4. Completing unit level and profile sketches
5. Photographing the unit

Geospatial Data Management           Students will receive training in the recording, management, and analysis of spatial data with an array of devices often including but not limited to optical transit, electronic total stations, Global Positioning System (GPS), and a selection of geophysical devices as appropriate to the work. As data is collected, students will be introduced to concepts of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as they apply to archaeology.

Artifact Processing:  Students will learn the basic field procedures for cleaning, cataloging, and preserving artifacts for later analysis.

          In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo officially ended the Mexican War and the lands of Southern Colorado, including the San Luis Valley, were ceded to the United States.  The San Luis Valley was already the location of several Hispanic settlements that represented the northernmost reaches of the Mexican frontier in this region.  Five years later, the United States Government established a military presence in the San Luis Valley with the construction of Fort Massachusetts.  This fort was occupied for approximately five years before it was relocated further south and renamed Fort Garland.  Those five years represent a period of poorly documented changes for the US military.  Many of the details we would like to know about that time are only contained in the archaeological record, a record that is particularly well preserved at the Fort Massachusetts site.

Location of Fort Massachusetts:   The layout, and features of Fort Massachusetts have been lost to history.  Simply identifying, and mapping the outlines and features of the post would be a significant contribution to local history.  It has puzzled modern historians why the Fort was located where it was.  The location does not seem to make complete military sense.  We hope to gain some insight into the thought process of the Fort planners.

Fort construction:  Every fort on the frontier was constructed differently yet conformed, more or less, to general conceptual models used by the Army.  Specific details of construction for Fort Massachusetts are sketchy.  There is only one official map of the Fort that is known to exist.

Military organization:  The 1850s was a time of reorganization and change for the U.S. Military.  For instance, the typical mounted troops at the time were dragoons, not cavalry.  Historical records indicate that both dragoon and infantry units made up the Fort garrison.  It is unclear how these units were expected to function and what types of uniforms and equipment were being supplied to frontier troops at this time.  It is anticipated that the archaeological record present at the fort will supply some of this kind of information.

Lifestyles at a frontier outpost During the 19th century, little was documented about daily life at military posts, especially those on the frontier.  For example, military posts rarely were populated entirely by military personnel.  Investigations at Fort Garland revealed the presence of a number of civilians, a considerable number of whom were women and children.  However, since Fort Massachusetts was the first post in this area, it is unclear whether the same kinds of non-military personnel would have been present. 

Existing studies of women at military posts usually focus on upper middle class and upper class women who were wives of the officers.  Working class women have been largely ignored in historical and archaeological studies.  Yet, such women were present in the form of “laundresses.”  Our studies of this class at Fort Garland have been particularly revealing .  We know that they were present at Fort Massachusetts since the only existing map of the fort identifies laundress quarters. 

 Students as young as 16 will be considered for the field school.  Volunteers may attend free and receive the same training as students, but only on a space-available basis.  They will not receive academic credit.

For More Information and/or online application please go to 

Applications will be accepted until all slots are filled and confirmed.


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