The Great Basin Paleoindian Research Unit


The Great Basin Paleoindian Research Unit (GBPRU) is an ongoing research program of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2010, the GBPRU evolved out of the Sundance Archaeological Research Fund, created in 1994 through a generous endowment given to the University of Nevada Reno Foundation. The purpose of the endowment is to support long-term archaeological research in the Great Basin of western North America focusing on the archaeology and paleoecology of the terminal Pleistocene/early Holocene (pre-7,500 14C B.P.) Typically, the GBPRU offers 1-2 graduate research assistantships per year, awarded on a competitive basis. Assistants work with faculty on ongoing research projects as well as undertake independent research of their own.

Students on a dig

Current questions that drive the GBPRU research include:

  1. When did people arrive in the Great Basin and what can that tell us about broader events in the colonization of the New World?
  2. What is the temporal relationship between fluted and Western Stemmed points in the Great Basin?
  3. What does the substantial morphological variability among Western Stemmed points reflect and can such difference be used to consider the spread of people and/or technology across the Desert West?
  4. Did fluted- and Western Stemmed-point users exploit significantly different sources of raw material in the Great Basin?
  5. How can we best account for the apparent dichotomy between Paleoindian lithic technology (large bifacial points) and subsistence remains (a broad array of smaller game)?
  6. What is the relationship between wetland quality/quantity and Paleoindian adaptive strategies?

To address these questions, each summer the GBPRU supports three months of fieldwork in the Great Basin, which is typically carried out in conjunction with other research institutions and federal land management agencies. This work offers graduate and undergraduate students opportunities to gain valuable on the job training and learn the fundamentals of archaeological survey and excavation. We encourage students of all levels to formulate and pursue independent and collaborative research projects and support presentation and publishing efforts.

Students working on an excevation

The GBPRU has a fully-equipped archaeological laboratory in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno that offers both volunteer and paid work opportunities. The lab is where we process materials from our surveys and excavations, conduct artifact analysis, prepare technical reports and publications, and prepare collections for long-term storage in the state-of-the-art UNR Knowledge Center. We also work closely with researchers at the Desert Research Institute and have access to their world-class facilities.

Students working in the lab

For more information about current and past GBPRU projects, please click the links below.

We welcome inquiries from prospective graduate and undergraduate students interested in Paleoindian archaeology in the Great Basin. For additional information, contact Geoffrey Smith.