Topic ID #42352 - posted 4/23/2020 11:36 PM

2020 Online Field School: Backyard Archaeology

Backyard Archaeology: A Social Distancing Online Archaeology Field School
Hood College, MD
Directed by: Dr. David R. Hixson

This year the director of the Hood College archaeological field school will be excavating the historic Hendricks House Farm, a middling Shenandoah Valley farmstead founded in 1790.  This property saw the Civil War and slavery, located between the two infamous battlefields of Antietam and Harper's Ferry.  This also happens to be Dr. Hixson’s back yard. He will be working alongside everyone virtually, using online video conferencing technology and online video hosting.  He will be demonstrating proper procedures, while supportively coaching the independent archaeological excavations and background research of each student in their own respective back yards.

Class Hours: Monday through Thursday, 9am – 1pm
Dates: May 25 through July 3 (Six Weeks) 
Location: Online via Zoom and Blackboard

Credits: 3 to 6 Credit Hours
Often taken in conjunction with ART 380 (Laboratory Analysis) for a total of 6 credit hours.
May be repeated.

Class requirements

·         Ability to conduct moderate to strenuous physical activity.

·         Access to an outdoor area large enough to practice pacing and mapping (such as a backyard).

 A 2 x 2-meter area (minimum) that can be disturbed by excavations to a depth of less than 1 meter. Backyard gardens are perfect options (or you can convert your excavations into a new garden).

·         Verification that there are no utilities or other hazards within that 2 x 2-meter area.

·         Express legal permission to excavate on this land. Hood College is not responsible for any permitting that may be required under local HOA or residential codes.

·         The ability to conduct this fieldwork while maintaining proper social distancing guidelines.

·         Home internet with capability of basic live streaming of video files and zoom sessions.

·         Ability to print paperwork.

·         Cell Phone / Tablet / Portable Laptop that can be used outside.

PREREQUISITES: 12 Credit Hours in archaeology or anthropology at the 200-level or above, and/or permission of the archaeology concentration coordinator (in this case, contact Dr. David Hixson for permission to register).

COURSE DESCRIPTION from the Hood College Course Catalog:

Opportunity to learn archaeological field methods through hands-on experience at an archaeological site selected in collaboration between the student and archaeology concentration coordinator.  Students are expected to observe and learn both survey and excavation techniques, recording, drawing and analyzing finds.


Archaeological Surveying: students will gain experience using essential mapping and surveying techniques to locate archaeological sites, select excavation loci, and place archaeological features within an established grid.

Archaeological Excavations: students will learn and practice how to conduct archaeological excavations, including the proper use of various tools for excavations, interpretation of soil stratigraphy, and the recognition of natural and cultural features.

Artifact Recovery: students will be trained in and execute proper techniques for artifact recovery in the field, such as screening (wet-, dry-, or fine-), piece plotting, and bagging and tagging. 

Field Documentation: students will practice proper field documentation techniques, including daily field notes, excavation forms, field photography, and plan/profile drawings.

Report Writing: students will write their own summary field report, including background research and data from their excavations and artifact analyses.

Class Organization:

Each Lesson will be presented as a video demonstration by the professor.  Some demos may be live, but others will be prerecorded and then viewed together with the class live on Zoom. These video demonstrations will also be uploaded to our class Blackboard site to be viewed and reviewed at any time.

Students will then follow the directions provided in the demonstration, applying the techniques to their own back yard excavations.

Classes run Monday through Thursday, 9am to 1pm Eastern (we can negotiate times for those not living in the eastern U.S.). Students will also be expected to conduct research, process artifacts, compose notes, and access Blackboard outside of these hours as homework.

Mondays and Wednesdays: Video Demonstrations and discussion of the daily lessons. Then students break off to perform the weekly tasks, with regular video check-ins via zoom and Blackboard to the professor, who will be monitoring their progress in real time while performing his excavations “alongside” the students.

Tuesdays and Thursdays: Field work.  There will be no formal lectures or presentations on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Instead, students will be expected to do a virtual “tailgate meeting” to start the day.  We will all meet via Zoom to discuss the day’s operations and any potential hazards or concerns (best practice with any archaeological crew). Then students will continue with their application of the week’s lesson, with regular check-ins in via Zoom and Blackboard throughout the day.

The first week to two weeks will be spent conducting the necessary preparatory work before excavations. This will also provide time for students to collect or purchase the required equipment for excavations and verify the safety of their chosen dig site.


Students will be collecting data throughout the project on the history, pedology (soils), and archaeology of their back yard. By the end of the semester, students will have accomplished the following tangible goals: demonstrated safe work practices; researched their property; mapped their excavation site; excavated at least one shovel test pit; stratigraphically excavated at least one 1x1m test excavation unit; recorded any features or disturbances; created orthographic plan and profile drawings; taken all proper measurements, notes and photographs; and processed, categorized and cataloged any artifacts. The final exam will be the creation of a site report for their backyard archaeological project utilizing a standard format used by many state and federal agencies.

Dr. Hixson has created a CGI video explaining the tasks that will be covered in this class, available on YouTube here:





First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit

1 Shovel

1 Flat “Transfer” Shovel
1 Rounded “Digging” Shovel


1 Flat “Transfer” Shovel
1 Rounded “Digging” Shovel

1 short D-handle Garden Spade

1 Masonry Trowel
(Hood College will supply one trowel for each Hood student)

1 Marshalltown Masonry Trowel

1 Bastard File

1 Marshalltown Masonry Trowel
1 Flat Margin Trowel
1 Pointer Trowel

1 Bastard File

¼ inch hardware mesh and wood to make your own Sifting Screen OR any prebuilt Sifting Screen

Any Prebuilt Soil Sifting Screen with ¼ inch hardware mesh.

1 Box Screen (portable)

1 Shaker Screen (larger)
Both ¼ inch hardware mesh

1 or 2 Buckets for soil

Two 5-gallon sturdy Buckets with handles.

Several 5-gallon sturdy buckets with handles

2 Tape Measurers

2 Folding Rulers (metric)
1 Long Pull-Tape (metric)

1 Tape Measurer
2 Folding Rulers
2 Long Pull-Tapes

Metric, English and Engineering

Plastic, Ziplock, or Paper Sandwich Bags (for artifacts)

Boxes of different sized Ziplock Bags (sandwich, quart, gallon) with write-on surfaces

Special 3mil or 4mil Ziplock Bags with write-on surfaces in a variety of sizes.

Permanent Markers, Pens, and Pencils

2 Sharpie Permanent Markers,
2 Mechanical pencils
1 Ballpoint Pen

Box of Sharpies,
both Fine and Regular Point
Box of Mechanical Pencils
Ballpoint Pens

Clipboard (or similar writing surface)


Aluminum Storage Clipboard

Graph Paper (could print some)

Millimeter ruled graph paper

Millimeter ruled graph paper

At least 10 meters / yards of strong string

Large Spool of Nylon String

Large Spools of Brightly Colored Nylon String

Work Gloves

Work Gloves

Light form-fitting work gloves

AND heavy leather work gloves

6-10 Large Nails, Bolts, or Spikes (or be able to fashion stakes from other common materials)

Pack of 20-Penny or 40-Penny 5-inch or longer nails, or similar metal spikes.

Pack of 20-Penny or 40-Penny 5-inch or longer nails, plus Datum Spikes and 2 or more Chaining Pins

1 String Level (bubble level)

1 String Level (bubble level)

2 or more String Levels

Compass (cell phone app ok)

Magnetic Compass

Sighting Compass and/or Pocket Transit

Hand Brush and Dust Pan (like you use to pick up broken glass)

Sturdy Hand Brush and very sturdy Dust Pan (the dust pan will receive heavy use)

Hand Wisk Broom (natural straw), and very sturdy Dust Pan

Plastic tarp OR plastic sheeting OR a large piece of plywood to cover the excavations at night and during rain

Heavy-duty plastic tarp to cover excavations at night and during rain

Heavy-duty plastic tarp AND plastic sheeting AND a large piece of plywood to cover the excavations at night and during rain


Pin Flags (may not be necessary for backyard excavations)

Many Packs of Pin Flags


Flagging Tape (may not be necessary for backyard excavations)

Many Assorted Colors of Bright Flagging Tape (Pink, Orange, Red, Yellow)


Registration is open until May 18th. Students should sign up for Summer Session 1.


For students of Hood College and its partners in Frederick, MD, there is a $500 tuition per credit hour.

Art 370 Tuition:                 3 Credit Hours                   $1,500
Art 370 & 380 Tuition:    6 Credit Hours                   $3,000

For students outside of Hood College, there is a $1,180 tuition per credit hour.

Art 370 Tuition:                 3 Credit Hours                   $3,540
Art 370 & 380 Tuition:    6 Credit Hours                   $7,080

You may choose to Audit the class for no credit, providing you interactive access to all of the online materials and zoom sessions without any grading requirements. The tuition for auditing this class is $585 per credit hour.

Art 370 Audit:                 no academic credit          $1,755

There is a $195 registration fee per semester for Hood College.

For more information on Hood College summer school, please visit:

For more information on the Department of Art and Archaeology at Hood College, please visit:


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