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Field School students excavating and mapping. 

CANCELLED for Summer 2020 and 2021.
Have you ever wanted to participate in an archaeological excavation? This course will give you the opportunity to do just that while earning six (6) hours of college credit. This year’s Research Laboratories of Archaeology (RLA) field school, taught by Drs. Heather Lapham and Steve Davis, will take place during Summer Session 1 (May 13–June 18, 2020). Excavations will be based at the Spratt’s Bottom site, a Colonial-period Catawba Indian town in York County, South Carolina (just south of Charlotte). This field school will continue the RLA’s Catawba Project begun in 2001 to understand the emergence and endurance of the modern Catawba Nation.

Map of the RLA’s Catawba Project area showing excavated Catawba sites.

Spratt’s Bottom

Native peoples resided at Spratt’s Bottom during the Coalescent Period (1716–1759) of Catawba history, a time when disparate groups from across the North Carolina Piedmont moved south to settle among the Catawba. By amassing peoples from surrounding regions, the Catawba replenished their population that had been depleted from disease- and warfare-related deaths. Strength in numbers combined with a strategic positioning as allies of Carolina’s English government cemented the Catawba’s privileged status as guardians of the Colony’s northern frontier and brought crucial resources to the nation, including guns and ammunition. In 1759, a smallpox epidemic decimated Catawba communities and their power and influence began to wane as they struggled to remain relevant in a rapidly changing cultural landscape increasingly  populated by English settlers. Embracing resilience and creative adaptation, Catawba peoples turned to making and selling pottery, basketry, and other goods to nearby White settlements and later to leasing land to White farmers. They also served briefly as soldiers who fought alongside colonists in the Revolutionary War (1775–1783). Today, people of the Catawba Nation comprise a vibrant and flourishing community centered in their historic homelands in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Previous testing and excavations the Spratt’s Bottom site have revealed postholes where houses once stood and storage pits that became a convenient place to dispose of refuse such as broken ceramic pots and food remains (represented by animal bones and charred plant materials). During the 2020 Field School students will recover artifacts and reveal traces of houses and other features that document Native American occupation at Spratt’s Bottom during the apex of Catawba strength and influence in the eighteenth century.


Metal artifacts recovered from nearby Charraw Town during the 2011 Field School.

The Field School is open to undergraduate students and anyone with a college degree. Participants must enroll in Anthropology 451 for 6 credit hours. This course fulfills the Experiential Education, Historical Analysis, and World Before 1750 general education requirements and the Archaeology Major/Minor requirements for a field school. There are no formal prerequisites, but potential students must fill out an Application Form by MARCH 15. Enrollment will be limited to about 10-12 students. Applicants will be informed as to whether they have been accepted into the course by April 1. The course will be taught by Drs. Heather Lapham and Steve Davis, with additional instruction from graduate assistants.

Field school students will learn the basic techniques of archaeological excavation, as well as mapping, surveying, photography (including 3D photography), and artifact identification. Although some classroom and laboratory instruction will be given, most of the students’ time will be spent actually excavating.

Students who successfully complete the course will be prepared for a variety of future research and employment opportunities, including paid positions on other archaeological projects.


The 2017 Field School and crew at Old Town.


Tuition for undergraduates is estimated (based on last year’s amounts) as follows: $1,530 for North Carolina residents ($255 per credit hour), and $3,960 for out-of-state residents ($660 per credit hour). These estimates may change by the time of registration.

Housing arrangements will be made by the instructors, but students are required to pay for their housing in advance of the field school. We plan to stay in a suite-style dormitory on the Winthrop University campus in nearby Rock Hill, South Carolina. Rooms come with a microwave and refrigerator, and there are shared kitchen facilities. You can expect to pay about $780-$1,250 for housing depending upon whether you choose a single or double occupancy room. These costs are comparable to UNC’s summer session housing rates. Students must submit payment for their housing by May 1, 2020, via check to the RLA.

You will also need to arrange and cover the costs of all your own food (breakfast, packed lunch for the field, and dinner).

Schedule, Transportation, and Equipment

The Field School will run from May 13 to June 18, 2020 (Summer Session I). Daily transportation to the site, as well as all field equipment, will be provided by the University.

Inquiries, Applications, and Deadlines

Recovering artifacts during the 2017 Field School excavations at Old Town.

Interested in learning more? You can read about the Catawba Project and watch a video about the 2015 Field School at the Wall site in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Also, be sure to check out the RLA’s exhibit on Catawba pottery past and present in the lower level of Alumni Building.

Inquiries about the Catawba Project Field School are welcomed, and should be made to Dr. Heather Lapham (Email:

Because enrollment is limited, students must apply in advance by filling out an Application Form and obtain permission to register. UNC applicants must arrange for a brief interview; non-UNC applicants should submit at least one letter of reference. In order to be guaranteed full consideration, potential students should apply no later than MARCH 15, 2020.

Visiting students may obtain additional information from the Summer School (Tel: 919-966-4364).