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Center for American Archeology, Kampsville, Illinois 

The Center for American Archeology (CAA) lies along the banks of the Illinois River in rural Calhoun County, Illinois, approximately 80 miles northwest of St. Louis, Missouri. First established in 1953, the Center is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to research and education in archeology and the natural sciences. Each year, hundreds of students of all ages travel from across the country to join in our education and public outreach programs. What brings them to Kampsville? The opportunity to work with our staff of professional archeologist/ educators and the chance to explore the rich cultural resources of the lower Illinois River valley region — an area that was first settled by prehistoric families over 10,000 years ago.

The main focus of our programs is hands-on, minds-on learning; our goal is to give our students the chance to "get their hands dirty," from learning how archeologists do their science at our research site to recreating the skills used by prehistoric Native Americans to provide for themselves and their communities. Through learning by doing, our students have the opportunity to apply critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and imagination to real-world situations. All of our sessions are designed to be engaging, inspiring, and …fun!

The CAA’s Education Program has two main features, the Past Lifeways Program and our Summer Excavation Field Schools. During the spring and fall of each year, the Past Lifeways Program brings students (grades 2-12) and teachers from public, private, parochial, and homeschooling backgrounds to Kampsville for an immersion experience in prehistoric skills and technology. Blending archeological knowledge with the natural sciences (botany, biology, geology, ecology) and historical insights, CAA staff provides guidance and instruction in sessions including flintknapping (stone tool making), traditional pottery, basketry & weaving, firemaking, soapstone carving, ecology hikes, and night hikes (to name a few!). Each session focuses on a particular challenge and/or skill set used by prehistoric peoples, and then gives students the opportunity to tackle that challenge. A key ingredient in each session is the exploration of the delicate relationship between people and their environment, and how this relationship has changed through time. For example, during flintknapping, students discuss where suitable stone is found, how people would transport it back to their work areas, and how different groups used different types of rock for their tools, all of which highlight the value of knowledge, skills, and local resources. Then, students are shown some of the basic steps involved in making a useable tool of stone; after being outfitted with the appropriate gear (hammerstones, chipping tools), they select a piece of chert (flint) and get started. In a matter of minutes, students are "talking strategy" with each other, experiencing the particular joys and sorrows of watching their tools take shape (or break), and are transforming their understanding and experience of life before modern conveniences.

Groups who wish to participate in the Past Lifeways Program have several options, including Day Visits, Overnight Visits, and Multiple Day Programs. Working with our Director of Education, group leaders select the length of the program, the day(s), and the activities for their students. Day Visits are designed to give students a sample of the Past Lifeways curriculum; we ask that groups book a minimum of 2 activities ($10/student), and may choose to schedule 3 activity sessions ($15/student) or 4 activity sessions ($20/student). The length of each session is determined by the group’s schedule. For a more in-depth experience, Overnight ($90/student, $45/chaperone) and Multiple Day programs ($85/student, $45/chaperone) are also available; residential programs typically include a room/board package. Our residential programs give students the chance to participate in extended versions of the activity sessions and to experience sessions like the Night Hike, an evening program that takes students up into the local hills, without flashlights, to observe and listen to the night, as well as our Campfire/Storytelling session.

The CAA switches gears during June, July, and August when we offer our Summer Excavation Field Schools. Since our founding, the CAA has advocated research, preservation, and stewardship of the fascinating prehistoric cultural resources of our region. In 1971, the CAA offered its first archeological field school for junior high school students, becoming one of the first organizations in the country to encourage young people to work side-by-side with professionals. Since then, we have continued to offer a wide variety of archeology camps for both young and old alike, hosting individuals and groups from across the United States and several foreign countries. During Summer 2005, we are offering several residential programs, including a Middle School Field School (June 27-July1) for students ages 12-14, a High School Field School (July 4-15) for students ages 15-17, a Family Dig It Weekend (August 13-14) for parents and their children ages 8-12, an Adults 50+ Field School (June 6-10) for grown-ups who always wanted to be archeologists and never found the time to do so, and an Adult Field School (July 18-August 12) for people 18 and over who are looking for a more intensive field experience. Currently, our research focuses on a 2000 year-old prehistoric village site that dates to the Middle Woodland/Hopewell time period (ca. 50 BC to AD 250), a cultural period characterized by moundbuilding, nearly full-time horticulture (growing of local seed-bearing plants like goosefoot and sumpweed -- no corn yet!), and the presence of an elaborate trade network that brought "exotic" items like native copper from the upper Great Lakes, marine shell from the Gulf of Mexico, obsidian (volcanic glass) from Wyoming, and various goods and raw materials into Calhoun County. Our excavation programs emphasize learning and using appropriate techniques in the field and in the laboratory, where students work with the artifacts and soil samples removed from the site. Our staff of professionals works closely with the students to ensure that they understand and apply their skills correctly; this level of interaction also encourages student contributions to the interpretation of what is currently being discovered. Because archeologists themselves learn by doing, sessions from the Past Lifeways Program are incorporated into the program during the evenings, which helps students to better visualize what human and environmental actions produced the site.

A variety of options are available for people interested in joining our excavation team. Tuition rates, which include instruction, project-related supplies, and room/board packages, vary by program, so please contact our office for more information. While in Kampsville, participants stay at one of our bunk house-style dormitory facilities, which are fully modernized but intentionally without TVs or internet. All of our programs are co-ed, but the dorms have separate sleeping quarters and restroom facilities.

For more information about the Center for American Archeology and its programs, please call our office at 618/653-4316 (Mon-Fri, 9am-4pm CST), email us at, or visit us on the web at