What We Do: Investigations

Preservation Archaeology Field School at Mule Creek, New Mexico

The Preservation Archaeology Field School will return to Mule Creek and the Dinwiddie site May 27–July 5, 2015. Applications will be due March 6, 2015. Watch this space for updated program and application information.

2014 Field School

The 2014 session ended on July 5. Read about student projects here.

This unique program provides undergraduate students with an opportunity to learn excavation, survey, and analysis methods in a beautiful, remote, and archaeologically rich part of the American Southwest. As many as twelve undergraduate students will be supported by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. Students from traditionally underserved communities and institutions will be prioritized.

Our innovative curriculum highlights the goals, ethics, and practice of Preservation Archaeology, which integrates research, education, and preservation within a community-based framework. Together, students and staff explore ethically responsible and scientifically rigorous field and research methods while investigating compelling questions about our shared past.

In 2014, students will participate in test excavations at the Dinwiddie site near Cliff, New Mexico. People likely lived at Dinwiddie during the Classic Mimbres period (A.D. 1000–1130), and perhaps earlier. A group with origins in northeastern Arizona, the Kayenta, may have established an enclave at Dinwiddie in the late 1200s. It is also possible that various local groups coalesced (came together) to form this settlement. An adobe pueblo community then developed around A.D. 1300, lasting until about 1450. Community members participated in a new ideology that we call Salado. Our research is focused on recovering and interpreting archaeological evidence from the 1200s–1400s. Key questions include what kinds of pottery the site’s residents made and used and how this changed over time, how they used local plants and animals, and where they obtained raw material for stone tools, particularly obsidian.

The 2014 field school will begin at Archaeology Southwest’s Tucson headquarters, where students will take part in a three-day orientation to the principles of Preservation Archaeology.

Project Location and Amenities

Our base camp lies at 5,200 feet above sea level in the scenic valley of Mule Creek, New Mexico, between Safford, Arizona, and Silver City, New Mexico. Students and staff camp on the Rocker Diamond X Ranch, a working cattle ranch with basic, yet comfortable accommodations. Amenities include solar showers, portable toilets in camp and at our work site, and a camp house with electricity, running water, and kitchen. A full-time cook prepares all project meals; we eat out on days off and on field trips. We also provide transportation between Tucson and Mule Creek at the beginning and end of the field school. During orientation in Tucson, field school students reside in UA campus housing.

Course Goals and Activities

Through immersion in a five-week experiential learning program, students learn the fundamentals of Preservation Archaeology and archaeological fieldwork, as well as research design and implementation. The program fosters critical consideration of how various communities value archaeology and history, and we explore diverse means of sharing research results with host communities and the broader public. As active participants in fieldwork, laboratory analysis, and write-up activities, students contribute to Archaeology Southwest’s long-term study of demographic change, migration, and community organization in the southern U.S. Southwest during the late precontact period (ca. A.D. 1200–1500).

In addition to excavation skills, students learn how to locate and document sites on survey and assess their condition, and how to process and analyze artifacts. Lectures, field trips, and public events expand these essential skills and present real-world opportunities to practice the principles of Preservation Archaeology. Students work in small groups throughout the program, rotating through training modules that offer different but complementary skill sets. Instructors evaluate students on participation in field and lab activities, and on completion of a field journal, excavation unit summary, short essay, and research project.

Students interact with local experts and distinguished faculty from several academic institutions. Field trips include tours of major archaeological sites in the region, such as Chaco Canyon and the Gila Cliff Dwellings, and visits to the modern pueblos of Zuni and Acoma. Days off include optional trips to Silver City or other nearby attractions, such as the Gila River.


Karen Gust Schollmeyer is a Preservation Archaeologist at Archaeology Southwest. She received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Arizona State University in 2009. Her research interests concern long-term human-environment interactions; food security and landscape use; and how archaeologists’ long-term insights can be applied to modern issues in conservation and development. Her research has been published in American Antiquity, the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Kiva, and several book chapters. She has directed numerous field schools in southwest New Mexico.

Jeffery J. Clark is also a Preservation Archaeologist at Archaeology Southwest. He received his Ph.D. at UA in 1997. Dr. Clark has worked extensively in both Southwest Asia and the southern U.S. Southwest. His primary research interest is assessing the scale and impact of ancient migration using archaeological data. He has written extensively on the topic, including one monograph, an edited book, several book chapters, and articles in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, American Antiquity, Kiva, Journal of Field Archaeology, and Journal of Archaeological Research.

Application and Registration (enrollment closed as of April 2014)

In order to be eligible for this REU opportunity, undergraduate student participants must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States or its possessions. An undergraduate student is a student who is enrolled in a degree program (part-time or full-time) leading to a baccalaureate or associate degree. Students who are transferring from one college or university to another and are enrolled at neither institution during the intervening summer may participate. High school graduates who have been accepted at an undergraduate institution but who have not yet started their undergraduate study are also eligible to participate. Each REU student will receive a stipend of $2,860. Graduate students and foreign students will be considered for admission to the field school, but are not eligible for financial support through the REU program.

Student Testimonials

Going to Archaeology Southwest and University of Arizona’s Field School at Mule Creek was one of the best decisions I’ve made and a great experience. And if you’re nervous about living in a tent, trust me, it’s really not that bad. When you go back home, you’ll actually miss it. — Kelly S., 2012, Rutgers.

I attended the Mule Creek field school after my sophomore year of college. The six weeks I spent in Mule Creek were some of the most exciting weeks of my life! The staff and ranch owners were amazing, and their passion and enthusiasm for archaeology were very apparent. The skills I gained allowed me the opportunity to be part of a bioarchaeological excavation team in Peru the summer after. Not only did I learn proper excavation skills, but I also learned the intricate processes at play when running an archaeological excavation in terms of community, landowner, and project member interactions. — Zoe M., 2011, UVM

One of my best experiences at field school was the chance to experience some experimental archaeology. Working with instructors, we learned how to quickly identify and classify points, flakes, and techniques. In addition to seeing the artifacts, we also had the opportunities to perfect our own point-making skills by knapping the abundant obsidian in the area while having the aid of experienced instructors nearby. — Nathan T., 2012, U. of Arkansas

The field trips we went on were wonderful. Acoma Pueblo and Chaco Canyon are both memorable and awe inspiring, to say the least! — Jordan T., 2012, Eastern New Mexico U.

I had a great time at the Mule Creek Field School. The staff members created a positive atmosphere and were always willing to answer questions. I learned a great deal about field methods, the lives of ancient Puebloan peoples, and the ins and outs of archaeology in the Southwest. The staff kept things interesting with activities like flintknapping, outreach to local schoolchildren, and field trips to nearby archaeological sites. The trips to Chaco Canyon and Acoma Pueblo were particularly spectacular. I feel my experiences at Mule Creek will be valuable throughout the rest of my archaeological career. — Tom S., 2012, Arizona State U.

I attended the field school after earning my BA in Anthropology. It was my first foray into the world of archaeological fieldwork. After five weeks, I had acquired the skills I needed to be hired on with several cultural resource management firms. I cannot recommend the Preservation Archaeology Field School enough. — Jake M., 2011, Hendrix College

I have nothing but good things to say about my field school experience with Archaeology Southwest. My six weeks there were informative and truly prepared me for my future education and career. In the classes I’m taking now, I have less stress and understand concepts much faster because of my field experience. — Madeline W., 2012, Grand Valley State

The field school offers an accurate field experience alongside academia. There were multiple field trips, including sleeping under the stars at Chaco Canyon! It was a very comprehensive experience that has aided me in my career. — Elizabeth N., 2012, U. of Colorado, Boulder

I can honestly say that the Preservation Archaeology Field School was one of the greatest experiences of my entire life thus far. Mule Creek is a beautiful location. With the rolling hills in the distance and the roaming wildlife all around, you forget that there is a much crazier world out there. I learned more than I ever thought I could and had fun doing it. It can be hard work at times, but I loved every second of it. — Dan W., 2011, SUNY Binghamton