• Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior, Graduate Student
• 2.0 cumulative GPA
• Language Pre-requisite: None
• Open to UW-Madison degree seeking students and all degree-seeking undergraduate students at a US college or university. Preference is given to UW-Madison students
• Finalists may be interviewed by the Program Leader or have a reference requested.
• Good academic and disciplinary standing


Anthropology, Archaeology

Classroom Language



Permanent Campsites

Program Duration

Summer: Mid-June - Mid-July

Application Deadline(s)

TermApplication Deadline
Summer 2018  3/2/2018

Future durations will be posted at a later date.

Questions about this program?
Contact a Peer Advisor!

South Africa, Swartkrans
UW Archaeology Field School

Overview | Academics | Cost | Location | Life Abroad | Student Voices | Apply

Experience Paleoanthropology in South Africa

The Swartkrans Cave site has provided the:
•   Largest sample  (> 126 individuals) of Paranthropus robustus in the world
•   First evidence for the co-existence of two different hominin lineages
    o    Homo erectus (direct ancestor of modern humans)
    o    Paranthropus robustus (extinct “cousin” of the genus Homo)
•   First and earliest evidence for controlled use of fire found anywhere  c. 1.0 million years ago
•   First and earliest evidence of tool use with non-stone material (i.e. bone tools) c. 2.0 million years ago

This four-week program offers you the opportunity to participate in a paleoanthropology fieldschool at the famous fossil human locality of Swartkrans, South Africa. Swartkrans, a cave site approximately twenty miles from Johannesburg, is recognized as one of the world's most important archaeological and fossil localities for the study of human evolution, and is part of the "Cradle of Humankind" World Heritage Site. The site's geological deposits span millions of years and sample several important events in human evolution.
The oldest finds at the site date between 2.0 and 1.0 million years old-a time period during which our immediate ancestor, Homo erectus, shared the landscape with the extinct ape-man species Australopithecus robustus. In addition to fossils of these species, Swartkrans also preserves an abundant archaeological record of their behavior in the form of stone and bone tools, as well as butchered animal bones. Most spectacularly, the site contains evidence of the earliest known use of fire by human ancestors, dated to about 1.0 million years old. Younger deposits at the site sample the Middle Stone Age archaeological traces of early Homo sapiens.

You will learn about these fascinating ancestors through a hands-on course that includes instruction in archaeological survey, site mapping, excavation, recording, artifact and fossil analysis (human and animal), and laboratory techniques. Fieldwork will be supplemented with occasional lectures, workshops, and fossil locality tours with internationally recognized paleoanthropologists working at nearby sites.

The program is directed by Dr. Travis Pickering, Professor of Anthropology at UW-Madison. Over his twenty years of working in South Africa, Professor Pickering has cultivated strong relationships with researchers in the area ensuring that students on this program will see original fossils and artifacts and receive site tours from the primary researchers in the field.

Check out this video story for a visual overview of the remarkable work the program does at Swartkrans!

Learning Objectives

We have overall Goals and Expectations for Study Abroad Participants, covering the personal, academic and professional aspects of study abroad. Additionally on this program, you can:
  • Learn archaeological survey, site mapping, excavation, recording, artifact and fossil analysis (human and animal), and laboratory techniques.
  • Participate in excavation research under the guidance of the Program Leader and project staff.
  • Gain extensive training in paleoanthropological excavation and laboratory analyses of fossils and stone tools.