About Us

Introduction to The University of Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist

The OSA is an organized research unit of the University of Iowa established in 1959. The mission of the Office of the State Archaeologist is to develop, disseminate, and preserve knowledge of Iowa’s human past through Midwestern and Plains archaeological research, scientific discovery, public stewardship, service, and education. The OSA conducts archaeological research and public programs around the state, preserves ancient burial sites, and examines and reinters ancient human remains. The OSA also maintains the state archaeological repository, manages data on all recorded archaeological sites in Iowa, and publishes technical and popular books and reports on Iowa archaeology.

The Archaeologists

State law (Chapter 263B) requires the Board of Regents to appoint a State Archaeologist, who shall be a faculty member of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Iowa. As in many other states, the State Archaeologist directs a program of statewide archaeological research, service, and education. These activities align perfectly with the responsibilities of the University of Iowa, so the OSA is part of the University in order to fulfill its mission in the most appropriate institutional environment and to contribute to the University's mission.

The OSA employs 25 permanent staff members, all Professional/Scientific employees. In addition, 20 to 40 temporary staff members are hired every year to serve as field and laboratory technicians.


The University of Iowa, through the General Education Fund, supplies around 15 percent of the funding for OSA's code-mandated activities. The other 85 percent derives from contracts and grants from state and federal agencies, and is for specific projects.

Working Together: Archaeologists and American Indians

Iowa and the OSA have been leaders in promoting cooperative work between archaeologists and American Indians. Since 1976, state law has required the OSA locate and protect ancient burial sites and study and reinter human skeletal remains. This work and related work under federal law is closely coordinated with Indian Tribes and with the OSA Indian Advisory Council.

The State Archaeologist is John F. Doershuk, who reports to the University of Iowa's Vice President for Research. The OSA also meets regularly and consults with two advisory committees, the OSA Advisory Committee and the Indian Advisory Council.

What Archaeology Can Teach Us

Archaeology is the principal way to learn about most of Iowa's human past, which encompasses over 13,000 years. OSA archaeologists have rediscovered the crops grown by Indian farmers as early as 3,000 years ago, found evidence of long distance trade networks that linked Iowa with other regions 2,000 years ago, discovered quarries and workshops where Indians manufactured stone tools, traced the movements of the Ioway Tribe using a combination of archaeological and historical information, and discovered early trading posts and other pioneer settlements that had disappeared from history.

Students and Volunteers

Many University of Iowa students do Independent Study projects and thesis research at the OSA, hold work-study jobs, and are hired as field and laboratory technicians. UI students and students from other colleges also participate through semester-long and summer internships or as volunteers. High school students work at the OSA through directed research programs throughout the year. OSA archaeologists also teach courses in the Department of Anthropology.

Volunteers can participate in spring and summer field schools, when scheduled, where they obtain training in archaeological methods while contributing to important research. Most volunteer projects are coordinated with the Iowa Archeological Society. Volunteers also work in the laboratory and documents collection.