Geoarchaeology involves the application of analytical techniques, concepts, and field methods from the earth sciences to help solve archaeological problems. Issues that geoarchaeologists study include human and environmental processes involved in site formation, the sedimentary context of archaeological remains, soils and sediments relevant to archaeology, the relationship between past settlement and landscape evolution, paleoclimatic reconstruction, human impacts on the environment, geological sourcing of artifact proveniences, and remote sensing of the physical environment, to give only a partial list.
Geoarchaeology is one of several focal areas for our faculty and students in the Departments of Anthropology and Earth & Planetary Sciences. We emphasize interdisciplinary research involving faculty in Anthropology, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Art History and Archaeology, and Classics. Geoarchaeological studies complement and enhance existing research strengths at Washington University, including ongoing programs in paleoethnobotany, zooarchaeology, Pleistocene and Holocene climatic reconstruction, and the archaeological study of pre- and post-contact societies in North and South America, eastern and northern Africa, and the Near East. We have ongoing geoarchaeological research programs in North Africa and North America and are collaborating with researchers at universities and government agencies in the United States, Africa, Europe, and Canada. Graduate students interested in studying geoarchaeology at Washington University can take a Ph.D. in Anthropology or in Earth and Planetary Sciences; undergraduates can study geoarchaeology within the context of the major in Anthropology, Archaeology, or Earth and Planetary Sciences.
Resources for Studying Geoarchaeology at Washington University
The Department of Anthropology has numerous resources for field and lab analysis, including a fully equipped Archaeology lab, a geoarchaeology lab for sediment analysis, field equipment (including laser transit, standard and differential GPS receivers, GIS software, and computers), paleoethnobotany labs, and zooarchaeology labs. The Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences has modern laboratory facilities for rock processing, microscopy, analytical and isotopic geochemistry, (including XRF, INAA, ICP-MS, and EMP) and molecular geomicrobiology). The Tyson Research Center, a 2000-acre field station just outside the St. Louis metropolitan area, provides numerous opportunities for experimental studies of taphonomy or landscape evolution in a fluviokarst environment.