Disarticulated skeletal remains



Whether in the lab or in the field, students learn by doing.  Under the direct supervision of faculty, students learn how to conduct archaeological excavation and analyze human remains and artifacts. The program begins with workshops on the culture history of the region and research methods, after which students will spend 5 days a week in field and lab. Students will work at Jose Olaya, a fishing village (200 BC to AD 200) with well-preserved households, tombs, trash middens, and a wide array of artifacts and ecofacts. Through excavation, lab analysis, readings, site tours, and discussions, students learn how archaeologists and bioarchaeologists study social status, class, and economic relationships.  In addition, students learn about the prehistory of Peru and the central Andes.

The program includes tours of world-famous archaeological sites on Saturdays and ends with a 3-day tour of Cajamarca, high in the Andes Mountains.

There are 2 options for students:

* Primary Focus on Excavation & Artifact Analysis

* Primary Focus on Bioarchaeology

By the end of the course, depending on which options students take, students should be able to do the following by the end of the course:

  • Learn how to estimate age, sex, and health from human skeletal remains.
  • Excavate and map human burials and other features such as rooms, hearths, and trash deposits.
  • Document archaeological excavations by filling out excavation and feature forms.
  • Draw and describe the stratigraphy of archaeological deposits
  • Process artifacts and flotation samples
  • Conduct analysis of stone tools and pottery
  • Explain the types of information that can be gained from human remains and various different types of artifacts and organic remains
  • Discuss some of the ways that ethnicity, class, and economic relationships are manifested in household remains
  • Describe the main cultural periods in the prehistory of Peru and the major sociopolitical and economic developments that occurred in each period

Course Work

The course is taught by Dr. Brian Billman, Dr. Celeste Gagnon, and Dr. Gabriel Prieto.  The course consists of fieldwork, lab work, workshops, talks, group discussions, and site tours. Fieldwork involves excavation and mapping of ancient burials, households, and trash middens at the site of Jose Olaya, a fishing village (200 BC to AD 200) located within the town of Huanchaco.  Because of hyperarid conditions on the coast, the site has exceptionally well-preserved households, tombs, trash middens, and a wide array of artifacts and ecofacts.  Organic remains include textiles, basketry, feathers, desiccated plants, coprolites, shell, and bone.  Excavations at Jose Olaya in 2017, yielded numerous pieces of pottery, metal artifacts, beads, and a wide variety of tools.  

Excavation, mapping, and laboratory analysis are conducted five days a week. At the sites, student excavated teams. The team excavates, maps, and records burials and other features. In the lab, students wash artifacts recovered from their investigations, Several workshops are presented on artifact analysis and database design and management.  

Those students who opt for the bioarch program will begin by excavating burials at Jose Olaya and then move to the bioarch lab. They will spend the majority of their time in the lab, analyzing human burials recovered from the site.  

Students also gain an understanding of the prehistory of Peru through site tours and talks. Dr. Prieto conducts tours of archaeological sites and museums, including Chan Chan, Huaca de la Luna, El Brujo, Museo Tumbas Reales de los Senores de Sipan and Tucume. Brian Billman and project staff present regular talks on the prehistory of Peru. For more information please email Dr. Brian Billman or Dr. Celeste Gagnon.


Students will receive a Course Reader, consisting of select articles on methods and the culture history of the Moche Valley and the north coast of Peru.

Primary Bioarchaeology students are also required to bring the following texts:

The Human Bone Manual (2005) Time White & Pieter Folkens, Academic Press

ISBN -13: 978-0-12-088467-4

Standards for Data Collection from Human Skeletal Remains (1994) Jane E. Buikstra and Douglas H. Ubelaker (eds.), Arkansas Archaeological Survey Research Series No. 44 ISBN 1-56349-075-7