Field Experience in Bioarchaeology in Ohio

This exclusively field-based program, now in its third year, aims at familiarizing participants with the professional excavation of human remains from archaeological contexts. Participants will work side by side with professional archaeologists and bioarchaeologists in the excavations of a historic cemetery in central Ohio (HTCC).
The cemetery, located just 20 minutes away from downtown Columbus, was originally established as early as 1804 to serve as a burial ground for the local community. Due to its proximity to the Ohio-Erie canal, the site was subsequently used as a resting place for victims of the infectious disease cholera – an infection of the small intestine that killed tens of millions of people worldwide through various pandemics since 1815. The cemetery remained in use until 1859.
Preliminary investigations at the site have revealed the presence of several single burials with predominant east-west orientation, which appear largely undisturbed and lined up in the western two thirds of the cemetery. Several tombstones or simple markers are scattered throughout the field, but evidence of vandalism and consequent removal and restoration attempts by the township administration suggest that their current location does not mark any specific graves and does likely not correspond to the original layout of the cemetery.

The excavation of the HTCC site is a multifaceted project with potentially important implications for reconstructing relatively unknown events in the history of the county, for shedding new light on the lives of individuals too poor to be visible in official histories, and for gaining insights on a disease that reaped millions of lives during the 19th century and that persists in the developing world today. Specifically, the primary goals of the research projects are:

  • Locating individual and mass graves, which, following years of neglect and several episodes of vandalism, are no longer marked. If gravestones can be found, they will be erected to mark actual grave locations, thus restoring the cemetery’s original appearance.
  • Reconstructing the life conditions of the individuals buried at the site (for both cholera victims and non‐epidemic burials);
  • Providing accounts of the life and social identity of canal and farm workers, who are often stereotyped and almost invisible in historical accounts due to their low socioeconomic status;
  • Investigating the presence of Vibrio cholerae at the site by conducting soil analyses aimed at amplifying and identifying ancient DNA, ultimately with the goal of studying human/pathogen interactions;
  • Comparing skeletal and genetic characteristics of cholera victims and non‐victims to determine whether certain factors predisposed individuals to perishing from the disease and possibly improving modern approaches to treating the disease.

The field experience is designed to provide participants with first-hand experience of the archaeological and bioarchaeological field methods applied in a professional excavation. Typically, participants will work alongside researchers in a variety of activities, including survey, excavation of human remains, and documentation of findings. Given the research focus of the project, no formal lectures will be held and the didactic components of the field experience will be limited to hands-on excavation and work under the supervision of senior personnel.
Excavation will take place daily, Monday through Friday, between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm, with a short lunch break. All participants will be required to attend a general orientation at the beginning of the program, and daily briefings in the morning prior to starting fieldwork. IRLAB does not provide meals, lodging or transportation as part of this program, and participants are expected to make their own arrangements.

While this is a field-based program, lectures may be offered in times of inclement weather or to supplement learning objectives.

JUNE 1st TO JULY 10th

The program accepts a limited number of participants and welcomes applications from undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students in archaeology, anthropology or allied disciplines from any country and institution. Current enrollment in a university is not a requirement. Local high school students and other members of the local community are also welcome to apply. All applications are evaluated equally and acceptance decisions are primarily based on merit.


1,500.00 USD

Participation fees cover general excavation equipment, personnel costs, and participant insurance; a personal excavation kit will also be provided to each participant. Fees do not include lodging, meals, transportation, personal gear and equipment, or any other costs not expressly specified.
Additional documentation and/or payment processing fees (not to exceed $50) may be applied to the final invoice.

Dormitory Lodging
New this excavation season, dormitory style housing (1-2 per room, shared common areas) is available on the Ohio State University’s Main Campus, about 20 minutes north of the cemetery in downtown Columbus. Each room has a microwave and mini-fridge, and shared cooking and on-site laundry facilities are included. Cafeteria style dining and plenty of local restaurants and delivery options are also available. Participants will still be responsible for their own meals and transportation to/from the cemetery but can take advantage of car-pooling and shared meal preparation. The cost of this lodging option is $800 per participant for the entire 6 weeks (May 30th – July 11th), or roughly $19 per night! Please indicate on your application if you are interested in this option.

The program has no formal prerequisites and participants will be fully trained for all the activities they experience. Individuals interested in applying for the field experience must fill out and submit the online Application Form.
The application deadline is April 30, 2020. However, applications are reviewed as soon as they are received and successful applicants accepted on a first come, first served basis.
Curriculum vitae and/or reference letters (e-mails) may be requested. The staff reserves the right to verify any of the information reported in the application form and request supporting documentation (e.g., advising reports; references) in its sole discretion. Staff will make final decisions regarding enrolment.
Acceptance will be communicated by e-mail.

This program welcomes professional archaeologists, students from any US and international institution, and interested community members. Although run independently of a specific university, participants may obtain academic credit for their participation in the program through independent study. We have a decade of experience working with students, their advisors, and administrative staff to develop customized independent study plans.

If you are interested in obtaining academic credits, please indicate your preference in your application. If you would like to obtain academic credits for the program, please consult with your advisors regarding the option to enroll in independent studies or an equivalent course at your university and having your advisor assign a grade based on our evaluation of your performance (as well as any additional requirements they may deem appropriate). If your advisor agrees to this arrangement, at the end of the program, IRLAB will send them a written evaluation and grade recommendation.

Program Requirements

Participants must provide information on their health and complete a physical examination.

Participants must have valid health and injury insurance and must provide the insurance provider’s contact information, as well as the policy number, including a proof of tetanus vaccination (or booster) within the last 10 years.

All participants must read and accept the terms of the IRLAB Participation Agreement to participate in the program; a signed release form must be submitted prior to the start date of the field experience.

Participants will be required to pay fees in full within 15 business days of receipt of the invoice in case of admission. In case of participant withdrawal, all fees minus a non-refundable deposit of $300 will be refunded until April 30, 2020. After April 30, 2020 fees will not be refunded. In the unlikely event of program cancellation, fees will be refunded in full (any applicable processing fees may not be refunded). Failure to provide any of the above-mentioned documents and payment within the terms specified at the time of admission will constitute an automatic forfeiture of the participant’s place in the program.

The IRLAB Sexual Harassment Policy applies to: faculty, staff, student employees, students, and volunteers. The University administration, faculty, staff, student employees, and volunteers are responsible for assuring that the University maintains an environment for work and study free from sexual harassment (read more…)


The Ohio State University


JUNE 1st TO JULY 10th

For OSU students only

A joint excavation session in collaboration with OSU will take place May 4-29. Interested OSU students, please contact Dr. Jules Angel for details.

Tuition and Fees

1,500.00 USD

Participation fees cover general excavation equipment, personnel costs, and participant insurance. Fees do not include lodging, meals, transportation, personal gear and equipment, or any other costs not expressly specified.
Additional documentation and/or payment processing fees (not to exceed $50) may be applied to the final invoice.

Dormitory Lodging
Dormitory style housing is available at roughly $19 per night ($800 for May 30th – July 11th). Please indicate on your application if you are interested in this option.

Discounts and Scholarships

Loyalty Discount – A 10% discount ($150) is available for students participating in more than one of IRLAB’s 2020 field-based programs (i.e., discount is not applicable to laboratory-based programs and short courses) and for individuals who have previously participated in other IRLAB programs. Discounts cannot be combined – the greatest discount available will be applied to the invoice upon receipt of supporting documentation.

“Archaeologist for a day” Outreach Program – Members of the local community (i.e., residents of Fairfield, Fayette, Franklin, Madison and Pickaway county) interested in learning more about the practice of archaeology may also participate in the excavation for a day at no charge, provided they will meet all other program requirements. If you are interested in joining us in the field for a day, send us a message.


Upon successful completion of the program, participants will receive a certificate of completion from IRLAB. No academic credits are offered, but IRLAB is open to working with a participants’s own institution on credit recognition for the experience. To this end, upon admission in the program, participants will need to make arrangements to enroll for independent study with an academic sponsor at their own university, who will then assign a grade based on IRLABs staff recommendations.


Executive Director / PI
Giuseppe Vercellotti, Adjunct Assistant Professor, OSU

Francesco Coschino, Università di Pisa (Italy)

Project Manager
Alessandro Cariboni

Field Supervisors
Letizia Cavallini, Alan Farnocchia