College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Anthropology

Geoarchaeology Laboratory

The Department of Anthropology provides a large suite of labs for earth science research. We concentrate on microscopic analyses of thin sections and the bulk analysis of archaeological sediments for organic matter, carbonate, pH, electrical conductivity, and particle size.  We offer Geoarchaeology services to both commercial and academic institutions as well as students (2012 Geoarchaeology Lab Service Fees).

geoarch test tubesFacilities 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, Ro-Tap shakers, and a substantial reference collection of rocks and minerals. The Wet Lab has a fume hood, centrifuge, and related equipment for chemical analyses such as organic matter, carbonate, and phosphorus determination.  The microscope room has several polarizing (mineralogy) microscopes and digital video camera links for computer analysis and photomicrography of soils, sediments, minerals, and ceramics. We house a large reference collection of soil thin sections from archaeological sites. Our storeroom is USDA approved for foreign soil and sediment samples.

Teaching   Geoarchaeology is introduced to graduate students in Anth 570/570L, which has both seminar and lab sections.  Students gain hands-on experience with formal sediment description, bulk analysis and thin section microscopy. Geoarchaeology students working in the labDiscussion topics include project design, selecting appropriate methods, sampling strategies and related topics.

The Geoarchaeology Labs are available to Anthropology graduate students for their research.

  ANTH 570L Geoarchaeology students processing samples.

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 sediments. We have been conducting experiments on powdered, ground, resin impregnated and intact sediment blocks from South America. In Fall 2013, we are extending these experiments to field contexts as part of our collaboration with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians in Northern Washington.


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 Site 45PO429 Elizabeth Truman is conducting her Master's research in collaboration with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians. Using a simple suite of geoarchaeological methods, she is aiding in relating identified features with behavior, focusing on 'inside' and 'outside' activities related to a housepit.

Site 45PO426 Melissa Goodman-Elgar is working with Anth 570 students and the GeoAnalytical Lab on historic camas processing features. We are seeking to characterize distinctive sediment features of camas processing though bulk, thin section, and XRF analyses.

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 immediate vicinity of local 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 working with Jerry Moore in northernmost coastal Peru for her doctoral degree. She is concentrating on the relationship between changes in the technology of earthen architecture construction and social organization. She will apply the sediment analyses developed in her MA to characterize the sedimentological traces of architectural phases.

Sangayaico, Peru William "Buzz" Nanavati is working with Kevin Lane and Charlie French (U. Cambridge) on the Proyecto de Investigación Arqueológica de la Cuenca de Ica (PIACI) to study terrace systems in the southern Andes. Following his 2013 field season, he will use lab analyses to ask questions regarding how and why the terraces were built and maintained over time.

Taraco Peninsula, Bolivia Melissa Goodman-Elgar conducts geoarchaeological research with the Taraco Archaeological Project with Christine Hastorf (U. California, Berkeley) on Formative settlements. She is concentrating on the technologies of earthen constructions using bulk, soil micromorphological and XRF analyses, as well as ethnoarchaeological and experimental studies. The project has fostered MA and Honors thesis projects for WSU students.


Laboratories in College Hall

Research Projects:

Department Publications

Archaeology site records and department reports are available in the Northwest Reading Room.

Theses & Dissertations

Browse through the title listing of our theses and dissertations.

Heading using the h3tag

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Department of Anthropology, PO Box 644910, Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-4910, 509-335-3441, Contact Us