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Class Notes: Geoarchaeology

Saturday: September 10, 2011

Week 1: Archaeological Sediments


We simply covered the syllabus and expectations in the class. The course objectives are to enable students with the abilities of:

  • Theoretical and methodological foundation for interpreting the physical remains of human activities
  • Use earth-science concepts to answer archaeological research questions in both the field and lab
  • Generate topographic and archaeological site maps
  • Identify earth materials like rocks, minerals, and native metals used by prehistoric peoples in Indiana
  • Locate and identify archaeological sites, interpret site formation processes, and reconstruct prehistoric human behavior
  • Participate in an on-going research project

The book assigned for class is: Practical and Theoretical Geoarchaeology. (See the Library page for bibliography information.)

There are 8 people in my class, which is cross-listed with undergrads (four to four ratio). The main separation is that we (the grads) read more articles and have essays due every week.

There is also a field trip involved to participate in the on-going research project which is scheduled later in the semester.


We had a geology lab to identify minerals, and igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks. This was not one of my best classes as an undergrad (colors are much too subjective for me!) so hopefully the focus quickly changes to something I am better at.

Minerals can be identified by: luster, color, hardness, cleavage, streak, and sometimes special properties. We identified: copper, halite, quartz, calcite, chert, k-feldspar, galena, hornblende, biotite, muscovite, kaolinite, pyrite, hematite, magnetite, and fluorite.

Igneous rocks can be identified by: color, texture, and the essential mineral or accessories mineral components. We identified: pink granite, basalt, obsidian, gabbro, rhyolite, and pumice.

Sedimentary rocks can be identified by: origin, texture, particle size, composite or diagnostic features, and likely sedimentary environment. We identified: shale, conglomerate, fossiliferous limestone, arkose, lithographic limestone, bituminous coal, dolostone, sedimentary breccia, siltstone, peat, travertine, rock salt, and coquina. Other possible ones we looked at were: chalk or claystone and quartz-sandstone or oolitic limestone (the lab has not yet been graded so I am not sure what I was actually examining).

Metamorphic rocks can be identified by: color, texture, grain size, and diagnostic minerals. We identified: marble, quartzite, slate, schist, and gneiss.

The grads were paired with undergrads and I worked primarily with Lori. Having just taken a geo class as a pre-req to get into this one, she taught me well!

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