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Kansas Archeology Training Program Field School -- June 5-20, 2015

In January 2016 check back on this page for the announcement of the 2016 KATP field school.


People, Technology, and Environment in Transition
2015 KATP Field School to Focus on a High Plains Prehistoric Site

Between 500 and 1100 CE the treeless western plains of Nebraska and Kansas were inhabited by people who made pottery and used both spear throwers and the bow and arrow. While deer and bison were common prey for them, pronghorn also were important, as were fish and small mammals. They built small temporary houses with round packed-earth floors that left only a faint impression for archeologists to discover. They buried their dead in a variety of ways and settings but often included grave goods of freshwater mussel shells or shell ornaments.

For many years State Archeologist Bob Hoard has had a particular research interest in this transitional period between foraging Archaic-period populations and semi-sedentary farmer-hunters of the Central Plains. He will serve as principal investigator for the Kansas Archeology Training Program (KATP) field school at the Kraus site (14EL313) in Ellis County, June 5-20, 2015.

The Kraus site and several related sites were discovered by Charlie Kraus, who farms land owned by Kenneth and Dorothy Kraus near Yocemento. He found a small corner-notched arrow point and a piece of thick cord-roughened pottery, along with substantial amounts of mussel shell and bone in several locations along the steep hill slopes that lead to Big Creek. This material indicates several occupations of the site by people with technologies that archeologists have labeled Keith phase.

The general distribution of the Keith phase and the location of the Kraus site are shown on the map. Most Keith phase sites that have a published record of excavation are in southwestern Nebraska. Although few have been excavated, there are numerous Keith phase sites in Kansas--so many, in fact, that a substantial population increase is implied. The Keith phase is contemporaneous with horticultural Late Woodland complexes from the forested regions farther east and represents the earliest High Plains culture with evidence of residential structures, pottery, and arrow points. While many have been recorded, only a small number of intact Keith phase sites remain, and none have been excavated using modern techniques, such as dry screening, water screening, and flotation, much less geomorphological, stable isotope, pollen, or phytolith analyses. Further investigation is needed to fully understand the timing and nature of the significant technological and behavioral changes that took place.

Hoard and Kraus recorded sites on the Kraus property in June 2013. In August 2014 a small team of professional and avocational archeologists tested the Kraus site to determine its areal extent, depth, and nature. Artifact density is not high and is dominated by bone (fragmentary and some burned) and mussel shell. Arrow points, scrapers, and debitage (the waste product of making chipped stone tools) were recovered, as well as thick, cord-roughened pottery sherds, small quantities of charcoal, burned earth, and hematite (a red pigment). Evidence, including diagnostic artifacts and a radiocarbon age determination, suggests that the Kraus site represents a late Keith phase occupation. Excavation of this site has potential to reveal what factors influenced cultural changes during the technological and cultural shift from a ranging lifestyle, dependent on wild foods, to farming and living in small villages.

Hoard has identified a number of topics that will focus field investigations at the Kraus site and guide subsequent laboratory analysis. Evidence from the Central Plains suggests increased rainfall 1,500 to 1,000 years ago. Could this be a factor in the large number of Keith phase sites found in Kansas? Did it make the High Plains an easier place to live, and does that explain why more sites occur at this time? To study the climate during this time period, soil samples will be collected and sediment grain size (an indication of erosion and sediment deposition) and stable elemental isotopes that are sensitive to changes in climate, especially temperature and precipitation, will be analyzed. Soil also contains pollen and phytoliths (mineral structure in plant cells that persist long after a plant has decayed) that can reveal what kinds of plants were present. Animal remains—those eaten by site residents and those unrelated to human occupation, such as rodents—can provide evidence about climate because they represent the animal and plant communities present at the time. The diet of the people who lived at the site will be investigated by recovering and analyzing plant and animal remains, using fine-grain recovery techniques and examining the scorched remains of food on the insides of pottery cooking vessels. The structure of the site itself will be evaluated. Are one or more houses present? Are there storage pits? Will there be surprises, like the canid—wolf or dog—burial found at the Keith phase Forrest site in Pawnee County? Finally, laboratory analysis of the artifacts will aid in understanding the rapidly developing technologies of this time period, and any raw materials from distant areas will elucidate the range of trade or travel for these people.

The KATP field school headquarters for registration, artifact processing laboratory, classes, and some camping will be at Hays Middle School, 201 W. 29th St., Hays. Additional accommodations for lodging, programs, etc. are listed in the registration packet (see links above).


Suggested Reading

Bozell, John R.
2006    Plains Woodland Complexes of Western Kansas and Adjacent Portions of Nebraska and Colorado. In Kansas Archaeology, edited by Robert J. Hoard and William E. Banks, pp. 93-104. Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka, and University Press of Kansas, Lawrence.

Bozell, John R., and James V. Winfrey
1994    A Review of Middle Woodland Archaeology in Nebraska. Plains Anthropologist 39(148):125-144.

Kivett, Marvin F.
1952    Woodland Sites in Nebraska. Publications in Anthropology No. 1. Nebraska State Historical Society, Lincoln.

Mandel, Rolfe D.
1994    Holocene Landscape Evolution in the Pawnee Valley, Southwestern Kansas. Bulletin No. 236. Kansas Geological Survey, Lawrence, and Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka.


Registration Packet - Part 1

Registration Packet - Part 2 


The KSHS and the KAA do not discriminate on the basis of disability in admission to, access to, or operation of their programs. The KSHS requests prior notification to accommodate individuals with disabilities or special needs. To make special arrangements, contact Virginia Wulfkuhle at 785-272-8681, extension 266.