Dig deep this summer. University of Oregon archaeologist Patrick O'Grady specializes in Paleoamerican studies in the Western United States. Join him for a six-week field experience at Rimrock Draw Rockshelter, a site where researchers are finding stone tools in association with Ice Age animal remains. 
Learn survey, excavation, and mapping techniques and explore the region's natural and cultural history through lively on-site lectures and discussions. Noted lithic analyst Dan Stueber will teach a weeklong lithic identification and flintknapping workshop during the second week of the session.
The 2020 archaeology field school at Rimrock Draw has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please stay tuned for announcements about the 2021 field school, and get in touch with any questions. 




June 22 through July 31, 2020 

UO archaeologist Patrick O'Grady specializes in Paleoamerican studies in the Western United States. Join him for this six-week field experience at Rimrock Draw Rockshelter, a site that recently produced what may be the oldest stone tool west of the Rocky Mountains. 

The 2020 field school program is divided into four sections: 1) establishing regional context, 2) lithic identification, 3) beginning excavation techniques, and 4) advanced excavation techniques.  The first week will include lectures and field trips to Sagehen Gap Clovis site, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, French Round Barn, and other locations of archaeological and historic interest; a tour of the Harney Basin and surroundings to establish geographical context; and walking tours of the area surrounding Rimrock Draw Rockshelter to provide environmental and cultural context for the site and setting. Week two will consist of a five-day lithic workshop conducted by lithic analyst Dan Stueber. Each day of instruction will be followed by field trips to nearby Paleoindian sites of interest where you can practice newly developed skills and delve deeper into the archaeological context of Rimrock Draw.

You'll get hands-on training in three phases of archaeological investigation, including pedestrian survey techniques, test excavation, and data recovery. During week three, we'll begin our excavations in 1x2m units across the stream channel from the rockshelter and in 50x50cm units near the shelter. Weeks four through six mark the transition from introductory to advanced excavation, with work in rockshelter interiorthe oldest and most archaeologically challenging portion of the site. 

8 credits

Rimrock Draw Rockshelter Archaeology Field School




The University of Oregon summer archaeological field school was established in 1937 by Luther S. Cressman, who is known as the father of Oregon archaeology. In 1938 the field school, excavating at Fort Rock Cave in Central Oregon's Northern Great Basin, recovered many sagebrush bark sandals from below a layer of volcanic ash. The ash was laid down nearly 7600 years ago by the climatic eruption of Mount Mazama that created Crater Lake in the southern Cascades. The Fort Rock type sagebrush sandals have since proved through radiocarbon dating to be more than 10,000 years old.

This evidence, and other data gathered in pioneering applications of multidisciplinary research in archaeology, allowed Cressman to demonstrate that humans have been living in the Great Basin much longer than previously thought. Since Cressman's time, the UO has maintained an active program of research and training in archaeology.

For the past 26 years, the University of Oregon field school has returned annually to the Northern Great Basin to resume Cressman's earlier research. The ongoing work of the Northern Great Basin Prehistory Project Archaeology Field School emphasizes reconstruction of past lifeways, paleoclimatic investigations, and human responses to changing environmental conditions.

Recent Fieldwork

Rimrock Draw Rockshelter (35HA3855): A Summary of Recent Fieldwork at a Stemmed Point Site Near Riley Oregon
by Kelsey Provost, Jessica French, and Pat O'Grady

Rimrock Draw Rockshelter is located near Riley Oregon in Harney County. During the period from September 12 to September 23 of 2011, test excavations occurred at the site to determine its potential for use as a field school research project. This paper is a summary of the recent fieldwork, some artifacts that were found, and plans for future research at the location.

Discovered during surveys by the Burns Bureau of Land Management and volunteers from the Oregon Archaeological Society, the surface finds included 26 stemmed points, a Black Rock Concave Base point, a crescent fragment, Northern Side-Notched points, biface fragments, including a fluted biface, overshot flakes suggestive of Clovis technology, a small number of Elko Series points, and a bedrock mortar. The stemmed points are, by far, the dominant group of projectile points recovered on the surface and they account for all of the diagnostic artifacts collected within the excavation units that are described in greater detail below. Most have rounded bases, but six have squared bases and the majority are representative of Parman Type 1 and Parman Type 2 points, respectively. The fluted biface, in association with the overshot flakes, is of particular interest because, through proximity, they point to the possibility that Clovis-age artifacts might be deposited within the rockshelter itself. Crescents are unique and somewhat enigmatic stone tools that are more frequently found in lakeside settings, so the recovery of a fragment along the stream drainage was surprising. Black Rock Concave Base points are uncommon anywhere in Oregon, but the 10,000 - 12,000 year old points are found more commonly in the area around Riley and Wagontire than elsewhere. All of the surface-collected artifacts were found within a 300 meter radius of the rockshelter.

Encouraged by the finds and noting 6 to 7 feet high sagebrush around the rockshelter apron which is an indicator of deep sediments, Burns BLM Archaeologist Scott Thomas recommended the use of an auger in front of the rockshelter. The auger pulled up an obsidian flake at 180 cm, and reached 200 cm before bottoming out on rock. Thomas decided to promote the excavation at the rockshelter as a means of exploring early Holocene climate change, and funding for the project was approved by the BLM state and national offices.

A crew composed of BLM and U of O archaeologists put in two 2x2 and one 1x1 test units at the site to assess the potential for understanding climate change issues, and with the hope the site could eventually become a University of Oregon field school location. The excavations revealed the presence of two cultural components, including an upper component furnished with a hearth and ground stone implements, and a dark, midden-like lower component that terminated in a compacted occupation surface at 180 cm.

The stratigraphy in Units 1 and 2 indicated water borne silt to coarse sands. The sediments also indicate gradual accumulations over time, consistent with the idea that the small drainage that passes the site today was once perennial.

Unit 1 was located against the rockshelter face. Excavations in Unit 1 ended at 200 cmbd with only a small exposure of sediment at that point. The sediments became extremely dark and rich in charcoal at level seven. A hearth feature was identified in the sidewall, on top of the bedrock that eventually encompassed the majority of the unit. The hearth feature contains two charcoal lenses interbedded with fire affected earth. Obsidian flakes are present in the sidewall in both the charcoal lenses and the fire affected earth. After excavating the feature, sediment samples were taken from both charcoal lenses. Large amounts of charcoal were recovered throughout Unit 1 in level 7. The hearth feature ties in well with an upper cultural component that was equally prominent in Unit 2 just north of Unit 1. There, a mano and a metate were found in levels 5 and 7 along with an abundance of lithic debitage. Pollen analysis is pending on the ground stone.

Auger probes were put in across the site in order to obtain a better sense of the sediments. At about one meter, Auger Probe 2, located northwest of Unit 2, pulled up extremely black sediment, much darker than the previous. The auger work served as a guide to what might be found in the excavation units. The same sediment appeared in Unit 2 at the same depth and was determined to be a distinct cultural component due to the high quantities of artifacts found within. This lower cultural component, distinct from the upper component with the hearth and groundstone, is approximately 50cm thick, made up of loosely consolidated silt, charcoal, and other cultural material. The lower cultural component transitions into a thin, well compacted and discrete occupation surface that displays a clear change from the previous sediments. The occupation surface sloped in a dish shape to the southeast, towards the back of the shelter. Underlying this surface at an abrupt transition is an orange to medium brown sand and gravel layer, in which artifact counts are sharply reduced. The orange layer may prove to be sterile with depth, but our time was too limited to explore this deposit beyond the initial discovery.

The lower component represents a distinct cultural deposit for several reasons. First, the dark color and texture are consistent with other Great Basin examples of concentrated habitation. Second, already consistently high counts of debitage increased within the cultural component, especially at level 12. Third, fifteen tools were collected throughout, including bifaces, scrapers, EMFs, and ground stone. On the deep occupation surface, a cache of debitage was found at 170-180 cmbd in Quad A. The cache was 25 cm x 13 cm in size at 170 cmbd. It was located on a narrow rock ledge that suggested site furniture. The cache consisted of 88 obsidian flakes, an obsidian scraper, and a biface with overshot flakes removed from it. Also found on the occupation surface was a stemmed point preform with weak shoulders, near a ground stone artifact of indeterminate use.

Early in the project, it was decided that a third unit would be opened 10 meters to the west of TU-1 and 2 in a smaller alcove of the rockshelter. Tools were recovered in levels 4-7. They included a scraper, two hammer stones, and a chopper. A stemmed point with an intact base and resharpened blade was recovered from level 2. The unit was so rocky that it was not possible to delineate any cultural components beyond the tool concentration.

Built up against the wall of the rockshelter between Units 1/2 and Unit 3 is a packrat midden that holds the potential for producing perishable cultural material. To illustrate, a pair of feathers bound with sinew were found on the ground surface below the midden after a strong windstorm passed through. Attempts to date the feathers will be made following species identification. Their existence is a positive sign that the packrat midden could hold more artifacts. Future plans includes disassembly of the midden in hopes of finding more perishable material.

The test excavations at Rimrock Draw Rockshelter were extremely successful in demonstrating how important this site could be to Northern Great Basin Archaeology. There is solid evidence for extended habitation of considerable antiquity that carried across two weeks of excavation. Cultural deposits extended to 2 meters and auger probes indicated at least another 50 cm of untested sediments lie below.

At this stage, artifacts are being submitted for analyses of various kinds. The buried lithic tools will be sent for protein residue analysis, and then forwarded for obsidian sourcing and hydration. The ground stone objects will be sent for pollen and macrobotanical analysis. Charcoal from the hearth and from in situ recovery is being identified in preparation for radiocarbon dating, and the feather bundle will be sent away for identification and eventual dating. The University of Oregon plans on running an archaeology field school at the Rimrock Draw Rockshelter beginning next June. A paleobotany field school will also run for three weeks and offer four credits of instruction. The abundance of cultural material makes Rimrock Draw Rockshelter an exciting new site with great potential for multiple lines of research.

Items recovered from the 2012 excavations at Rimrock Draw Rockshelter:

Pleistocene megafauna tooth enamel fragments
Pleistocene megafauna tooth enamel fragments
CCS flake tool
CCS flake tool
Haskett stemmed point
Haskett stemmed point


Faculty and Staff


O'Grady is a third-degree Duck, having earned his BS (1996), MS (1999), and PhD (2006) from the University of Oregon. He has served on eighteen University of Oregon field schools since 1994, first as a student, then as an assistant, supervisor, and instructor. His primary research interests include hunter- gatherer subsistence practices, late Pleistocene/early Holocene cultural trends in the Great Basin of western North America, zooarchaeology, patterns of mobility, and remote sensing applications in archaeological contexts.

His master's research "Human Occupation Patterns in the Uplands: An Analysis of Sourced Obsidian Projectile Points from Playa Villages in the Fort Rock Uplands, Lake County, Oregon" was an exploration of highland village settlement and mobility patterns in the uplands between the Fort Rock and Summer Lake basins in south-central Oregon. His PhD research "Before Winter Comes: Archaeological Investigations of Settlement and Subsistence in Harney Valley, Harney County, Oregon" is an examination of mid to late Holocene multi-elevation land use patterns encompassing wetland to upland settings within a large, well-watered valley in the Great Basin. Master's and doctoral researches were conducted under the direction of professor C. Melvin Aikens.

O'Grady is a staff archaeologist at the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History. He was an archaeologist for the Oregon Department of Transportation from 2002-2005, and has also worked for the Burns District Bureau of Land Management, which was instrumental in funding his dissertation research during the 2000-2002 field seasons. Recent publications include "Zooarchaeological Analysis of Cultural Features from Four Early to Middle Holocene Sites in the Fort Rock Basin" in Early and Middle Holocene Archaeology in the Northern Great Basin, edited by Dennis L. Jenkins, Thomas J. Connolly, and C. Melvin Aikens (University of Oregon Anthropological Papers 62) and "Housepits in the Chewaucan Marsh: Investigations at the Gravelly Ford Bridge Site" by Brian L. O'Neill, Dennis L. Jenkins, Charles M. Hodges, Patrick O'Grady, and Thomas J. Connolly in Beads, Points, and Pit Houses: A Northern Great Basin Miscellany, edited by Brian L. O'Neill (University of Oregon Anthropological Papers 66). He taught the 2007 through 2015 field schools at the Sage Hen Gap, Sheep Mountain Clovis, and Rimrock Draw Rockshelter sites and looks forward to continuing challenges at Rimrock Draw Rockshelter in the future.

Rimrock Draw Rockshelter Archaeology Field School



Enrollment and Fees

Field sessions are open to graduate and undergraduate students. Post-baccalaureate students may register for graduate credit even if they are not yet enrolled in a graduate program. 

2020 Course Fees: 
ANTH 408/508: Archaeology Field Methods at Rimrock Draw Rockshelter: $3650.00  

Archaeology Field School students will enroll for 8 credits in ANTH 408/508. A course fee of $3650, for both in-state and out-of-state students, covers tuition, field transportation, and food. Students that have completed their bachelor's degree may take this course for graduate credit, with the expectation that graduate level effort will be required. Most tools and other materials are provided for the course. Students are required to bring expendable equipment (including a towel, measuring tape, and level) costing approximately $60.

Questions? Email Pat O'Grady at pogrady@uoregon.edu.

Health and accident insurance is required for all students. 


Limited partial scholarships are available through the museum's Aikens Field School Endowment. Scholarships are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. To learn more, email pogrady@uoregon.edu



Applicants must be able to meet the strenuous demands of hiking and excavating in the rugged conditions and heat of the Oregon high desert. With students and instructors working and living closely together under rigorous conditions, the ability to get along with others is essential.

Archaeology students are accepted from a broad range of backgrounds. The only prerequisites are a serious interest in archaeology and some level of personal preparation involving classes, basic reading in archaeological field methods, or previous participation in an organized archaeological project supervised by a professional archaeologist such as a Passport in Time (PIT) project. All applicants should provide a one-page statement of their interest and experience in archaeology.

The field school is a University of Oregon activity and students are expected to understand and follow the University's Student Conduct Code.

Enrollment is limited. Places not confirmed in a timely fashion are offered to applicants on the waiting list according to level of qualifications and priority of application.


The 2020 archaeology field school at Rimrock Draw has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please stay tuned for announcements about the 2021 field school, and get in touch with any questions. 


The project area can be hot and dry and full of plants that grab at skin and clothing. At other times, it can be windy and cold or stormy. Clothes and bedding suitable to a wide range of conditions are recommended. Here is a list of suggested items:

  • Sturdy Tent - 3-5 person capacity recommended
  • Bedding - sleeping bag, pillow and extra blanket(s) (in addition to a sleeping bag and extra blanket(s) many students choose to have a sleep mat or cot)
  • Sunshower - 3-5 gallon capacity
  • Towels/washcloths/soap
  • Personal toiletries
  • Backpack - for day use (or functional equivalent)
  • Wide-brimmed hat
  • Sunscreen - at least SPF 25
  • Bug spray
  • Sunglasses
  • Pocket knife
  • Clothing for 2 weeks - Laundromats are available in a small town 50 miles from camp. Note: clothing for a variety of weather conditions is recommended. Since night temperatures are often cold, warm clothing to sleep in is essential.
  • Canteens - you will need to carry at least 3 quarts
  • Field notebook and pencils
  • Personal entertainment - books, cards, Frisbees, music, sketchpad, camera, spending money, personal ice chest, folding chair, games

Field school students leave directly from a predetermined location on the meeting date, so everything must be brought at that time. Students pack a lunch and snacks on the first day to eat on the way to field school camp. Private vehicles should be filled with gas and ready to travel.


Upon acceptance, students are responsible for purchasing these items before field school.

Item Approx. Cost
Marshalltown Masonry Trowel (6" x 2¾") $6.50
Stanley Line Level (metal) $4.00
Stanley Powerlock Tape (5 m x ¾") 
Paintbrush (2-3") $3.00
Whiskbroom $7.00
Forceps $5.00
Hand Lens or Loupe (10x) - optional $6.00
Clipboard $2.00
Sharpies (2 @ $1.25) $2.50
Mechanical Pencil and Lead (0.7 mm) $1.50
Plastic Tool Box - optional $6.00
Work Gloves - optional $4.00
Total: $59.00
without optionals: $43.00
Setting and Living Arrangements

Participants will live in tents at a field camp. Located at about 4500 feet, typical summer temperatures range from 90 degrees Fahrenheit (and higher) in the day to 45 to 60 degrees at night. The camp will have rustic kitchen, dining, laboratory, and bathroom facilities. Students prepare the meals and work to maintain the campsite and support facilities with the instructors.

Students must provide their own sleeping bags or bedding and personal tents (for a full list of required gear, see the equipment list). Transportation is furnished between Eugene and the field camp, but students are encouraged to bring personal cars if possible, as trips into the nearby town in university vehicles will be infrequent. Mountain bikes are welcome, and there are extensive biking and hiking opportunities in the vicinity. On weekends students may go to town, explore other parts of the Northern Great Basin, or just relax in camp. No dogs are allowed at the field school.

More photos

Questions? Contact Pat O'Grady at pogrady@uoregon.edu or 541-346-0671.


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