Find Your Summer Dig

Not everyone’s vacations are the same. In fact, many archaeology students and others interested in the field look forward to spending their summer vacation months in the dirt at an archaeological dig, sponsored by universities, museums, and historical societies all over the planet. Most trips are organized through universities or university-related programs. In HEARTS IN RUIN, a Southwestern university initiates a dig as an instructional site for a number of years and then abandons the project. That summer, a Midwestern college takes up the project to continue the dig. Following is an excerpt of HEARTS IN RUIN, providing just a taste of the project and the conflicts in play. Following that is a list of some of the archaeological digs expected to be conducted in the West and Southwest this summer.


The following scene takes place as routines are beginning to set in at the dig. Andrea and Daniel have had an intimate moment recently, but have not discussed it since. Andrea is skeptical of Daniel’s theories about the age of the site. But in this scene, Andrea discovers something she does not expect–in fact, something far outside her expectations that changes the course of conflicts in the story.

Under the mid-morning sun, Andrea helped Chloe and Courtney with an interesting shard. She noted the position and strata evidence and corrected Chloe’s photographic technique. But the item seemed, even though the evidence was sound, to be in the wrong place.

She scanned the area. The strata was clear. She decided to check it against the vertical. Daniel was there, lost in thought. “You mind?” she interrupted.

He looked slightly startled. “No, of course not.”

Andrea stepped past him.

He jotted notes in a field book, closed it, and walked away toward the lab tent.

Is he trying not to talk?

Andrea shrugged it off. She reviewed the strata and crouched at the two-thirds point. A strata mix caught her eye. Where the lines should have continued consistently from one side to the other, a gap appeared, line after line, creating a very thin column of earth-tone that interrupted the lines. It appeared to be a hole—a hole that had been carefully dug and filled ages ago. Only the smallest part of it showed. The vertical trench had either almost completely dug up what had been the fill in the ancient hole, or, if she was lucky, had only barely sliced into it. She scraped slightly. The column broadened. Most of the hole and its fill were still there, intact. Yes! These were the nuggets of the past archaeologists lived for. She took photos and notes, meticulously recording all pertinent data, and then traced the column to its bottom, searching for whatever had been, hopefully, buried there.

In her experience, not many things were buried during the Clovis period. She might find remains. That would be a score. She might find trash. Also a score from an archaeological perspective. But when she located the bottom, she noted an object that might not be either. She brushed away at it, taking notes and photos as she progressed.

Finally, the nature of the small object was clear. A small vessel. A bowl. It was wrapped in something, leaves, large leaves, something organic. But the entire setup was puzzling. Even the top of the hole was too low according to Daniel’s numbers. But there it was. There were clear, unbroken strata directly above it. The hole had been dug unbelievably early. Pre-Clovis.

She studied the artifact in place. It appeared to have artwork, but also…no, that wouldn’t be possible, not for something this old. It had to be something else. But its markings had the unmistakable characteristics of…written language?


Many of the following digs continue from year to year. Some are certain to take place again this summer, while a few are merely highly probable. This list focuses on the west and southwest. But there are digs all over the United States and the world and it would not be hard to find a dig close to you, wherever you are, with a little diligent internet searching.

Chaco Stratigraphy Project (New Mexico)
University of New Mexico. Chaco was the center of an unprecedented cultural development between ca. AD 800 and 1200 known as the “Chaco Phenomenon.” During this period, people living in and around the canyon experienced an explosive episode of economic growth that culminated in the construction of large masonry buildings called “great houses.”

Cooper’s Ferry (Idaho)
Oregon State University. Cooper’s Ferry is an early Paleoindian site in the Salmon River valley of Idaho since 2009. The site has a long record of repeated human occupation, beginning with a Western Stemmed Tradition/Paleoarchaic artifact assemblage. See the article Fieldwork in Focus: Cooper’s Ferry for additional information.

Crow Canyon Archaeology Adventures (Colorado)
The Crow Canyon Archaeological Center continues its on-going research on ancient Pueblo Indian communities with weekly dig programs for adults, teens, families, teachers, and other groups.

Greater Yellowstone (Montana)
Indiana University. This field school is a holistic, field-based program in the social history and human ecology of the Northwestern High Plains and Middle Rocky Mountains with a special emphasis on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. If you like camping, hiking, and archaeology, this field school is for you

Rock Art Ranch (Arizona)
University of Arizona. Rock Art Ranch contains some of the most spectacular rock art in the Southwest, dating from 6000 BC to AD 1400, all of which has been documented. The ranch lies in the high desert at 5100’ elevation, in an area used over the past eight thousand years by mobile hunting and gathering groups, early farmers, and later, after A.D. 500, by more sedentary farmers representing archaeological cultures of the adjacent Mogollon Rim and Colorado Plateau regions.

Totah Archaeological Project (New Mexico, USA)
San Juan College and B-Square Ranch. The Totah Archaeological Project Field School is being offered and supported by San Juan College in partnership with Tommy Bolack and the B-Square Ranch. The goal of the project is to provide archaeological educational opportunities for San Juan College students, local community members, and visitors to the region, and to contribute to research on the Anasazi culture in the Totah area.

Wind Wolves (California)
Institute for Field Research (UCLA). Since 2005, the Enculturating Environments Project has been investigating rock-art, habitation, and special-purpose sites throughout the Wildlands Conservancy’s Wind Wolves Preserve. This field school will continue this work throughout the preserve with particular focus on the only known Chumash cache cave having extensive perishable material remaining in situ.


Following is what some of the early readers of HEARTS AND RUIN have to say about the archaeology in the story:

  • “…a realistic view of the challenges involved with an archaeological dig”
  • “…a wonderful portrayal of sexy archaeologists doing a legitimate archaeological dig.”
  • “This is an entertaining and informative novel where the author has taken us on a dig with him. Never had an idea of how complex this is as a long, arduous task where dedication and discipline (and some times years) is required.”
  • It is that rare combination read of intelligence, suspense, and a building love story(ies) that makes you snarl at family members who break in on your reading time because it’s time to fix dinner. It also made me chew over my life choices as to why I didn’t become an archaeologist and is it too late to start a new career.”
  • Use of details about how a dig comes about and is managed entertain and move us through the plot to become an integral part of the story.”



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