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Anthropology | Geoarchaeology Lab

Geoarchaeology lab In the large suite of geoarchaeological laboratories in College Hall, we have facilities for thin section microscopy, and bulk analysis of archaeological sediments for organic matter, carbonate, pH, electrical conductivity, and particle size. The research approach developed in the lab is grounded in tracing natural and anthropogenic processes that leave characteristic traces in soils and sediments by integrating different methodological tools. The labs are used for teaching and research and we provide analyses to commercial and academic institutions (2014 Geoarchaeology Lab Service Fees).

The Geoarchaeology Laboratory has separate facilities for sample processing, chemical analyses, and microscopy. The main lab houses a fume hood, a large range of sieves for particle size analysis, a drying oven, precision scales, and a reference collection of rocks and minerals. The Wet Lab has a fume hood, centrifuge, and related equipment for chemical analyses. The microscope room has polarizing (mineralogy) microscopes with digital video cameras for microscopic analyses of soils, sediments, minerals, and ceramics. We house a large reference collection of soil thin sections from archaeological sites. Our facilities are USDA approved for foreign soils and sediments.

Graduate Studies in Geoarchaeology

Geoarchaeology lab The geoarchaeology labs offer students theopportunity to develop a broad background in geoarchaeological methods including bulk physical and chemical analyses, geochemistry and sourcing, and thin section analysis (soil micromorphology). We have access to other analytical methods such as scanning electron microscopy (SEM) within the university. The Geoarchaeology Labs are used for the Anth 570 laboratory course, and are available to Anthropology graduate students for their research.

Prospective students in geoarchaeology can prepare by taking undergraduate classes in earth surface processes and geomorphology, introduction to soils, and inorganic chemistry. Chemistry is particularly important for geochemistry and sourcing studies, such as XRF. Students wishing to learn soil micromorphology should try to take classes in petrography. Basic thin section analysis is presented online by the University of Grenada.


Geoarchaeology is introduced to graduate students in Anth 570/570L, which has both seminar and lab sections.  Students gain hands-on experience in the field and lab including profile and sediment description, bulk analysis, soil microscopy, and X-ray fluorescence analyses.Lectures and seminars address earth surface processes, soil formation, anthropogenic influences on earth systems, and bioturbation as applied to archaeological questions.

If you have questions on the Geoarchaeology Lab, please contact Dr. Melissa Goodman Elgar ( Questions on our graduate program can be directed to Dr. Colin Grier (, and please contact Ms. Kam Spelman ( for information on the application process.

Current Research in the Geoarchaeology Laboratory


X-ray fluorescence

Melissa Goodman-Elgar and Nichole Bettencourt are collaborating with the GeoAnalytical Lab on the use of portable XRF for archaeological sedimentssediments (Conrey et al. 2014, Goodman et al. in press). We are currently completing experiments on powdered, ground, resin impregnated and intact sediment blocks from South America. We have begun applying our XRF methods to North American sediments in our work with the Kalispel Tribe.


Nagre Kataa, Ghana

Melissa Goodman-Elgar is working with Amada Logan (Northwestern U.) on a geoarchaeological study of occupation deposits and architecture from a 11th Century archaeological site with a parallel study of contemporary earthen constructions. This is the first soil micromorphological study of Ghanaian archaeological deposits.

North America

Kalispel Indian Reservation, WA

This collaboration applies geoarchaeological analyses to sites identified within the Kalispel Tribe’s cultural resource management targets. The project has fostered student projects including Elizabeth Truman’s MA research (2014) on an historic residential site, and a class project for the 2013 Anth 570 class on a bone processing site. Our current research concentrates on a small structure that burnt to the ground in antiquity and will be the focus on Molly Carney’s M.A. research. There is potential for further degree research within this collaboration.

Dionisio Point, Galiano Island, B.C., Canada

Nichole Bettencourt is working with Colin Grier and Adam Rorabaugh to elementally characterize lithic materials that were available in the vicinity of archaeological sites in order to determine whether secondary raw material deposits contain utilized toolstone.

South America

Cajamarquilla, Peru

Melissa Goodman-Elgar and Nichole Bettencourt are working with Izumi Shimada (S. Illinois U) and Rafael Segura-Llanos (U. Pontificia, Peru) at this massive urban Lima-Wari-Ichma site on the Peruvian coast. We are reconstructing water management and sediment use at this site over a dynamic period of cultural and climatic change.

Department of Tumbes, Peru

Nichole Bettencourt is conducting doctoral research with Jerry Moore (California State U., Dominguez Hills) in nort coastal Peru concentrating on Inca earthen architecture and mural pigments. She will apply the sediment analyses developed in her MA to characterize the sedimentological traces of architectural phases.

Sangayaico, Peru

William “Buzz” Nanavati is completing his M.A. research on terraces systems in the Southern Andes within the Proyecto de Investigación Arqueológica de la Cuenca de Ica (PIACI) with Kevin Lane and Charlie French (U. Cambridge). He seeks to determine to what extent past and present agricultural strategies affected soil fertility between the documented occupation of the Early Intermediate Period (200 B.C.-A.D. 700) through to the Spanish Colonial Period (A.D.1532-1821).

Taraco Peninsula, Bolivia

Melissa Goodman-Elgar conducts geoarchaeological research with the Taraco Archaeological Project with Christine Hastorf (U. California, Berkeley) on Formative settlements. Her research concentrates on technologies of earthen architecture, structured deposition, and pyrotechnology using a broad suite of analytical methods with ethnoarchaeological and experimental studies. The project has fostered MA and Honors thesis projects for WSU students.