Harvard Summer Program in Acre, Brazil (Amazon)

Dates and tuition for the program will be posted here by November. 

An archaeological exploration of the Amazonian past.

The program takes you to the Brazilian state of Acre, deep in the Amazon, to conduct a systematic archaeological exploration, survey, and excavation of the intriguing network of radial villages and earthworks dating to the pre-Columbian era. You will have the opportunity to investigate some of the most exciting questions in the field of pre-Columbian archaeology and anthropology alongside local Brazilian students.

Program Structure

The program will be centered on the excavation and mapping of a number of archaeological features and structures previously discovered by archaeologists in the state of Acre in 2014. These include artificial mounds, ditches, and long “causeways,” or roads, that run for great distances across the forests and savannahs.

Field survey and excavations will be under the direction of the co-director of the program, Dr. Eduardo Goes Neves, of the University of São Paulo. Dr. Neves has conducted decades of field research and archaeological excavations in the Acre region.

In the evenings, students will have classes on South American archaeology, including lectures by the program leaders and visiting archaeologists. Field trips to archaeological sites in the region of the border of Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru will occur during breaks in the fieldwork.

Course information to be announced

The 2018 Acre, Brazil program courses will be announced here when available. 

This course introduces the basics of archaeological excavation techniques, including how to recognize and record archaeological features, settlement structures, and other architectural remains in a landscape that is virtually devoid of stone, and where the dark Amazonian soil was the principal raw material for construction.

You will also learn how to recover soil samples and plant remains, how to make topographical maps, and interpret maps and drone and satellite images. Such training and experience may raise in some students an interest in pursuing further studies of Amazonian archaeology, eventually at the graduate level. For others, the experience of intense engagement with the Amazonian environment may provide a strong grounding for ecological and environmental studies. For all students, the program will provide a unique encounter with landscapes and peoples virtually unknown to most North Americans. The program will also qualify you to do archaeology in other settings.

The special feature of the course is a unique opportunity to work in an Amazonian archaeological site, particularly the earthworks of Acre, whose study in recent years has been changing deeply held ideas about the nature and forms of urbanism in the South American tropics.

Where You Live and Study

Fieldwork will be conducted in an area of the Amazon basin located one hour east of Rio Branco, the capital city of Acre State. Rio Branco is a late-nineteenth-century city of 300,000 inhabitants and the birthplace of the socio-environmental movement in the Brazilian Amazon. It developed initially as a trade outpost during the Amazonian rubber boom but became isolated during most of the twentieth century.

Today, Rio Branco is connected by road to the rest of Brazil and also to Peru and Bolivia, whose shared borders with Brazil are located 200 miles to the west. The city is drained by the Acre River and has a picturesque historical downtown that stretches along both sides of the river. The city is inhabited by different groups of Amazonian indigenous peoples, Brazilians from other parts of the country, and a sizeable population of descendants of Lebanese people who immigrated during the rubber boom.

Although most of Acre is covered by tropical rainforests, the area of fieldwork was mostly cleared for pasture in the 1980s. Such deforestation allowed for the identification of hundreds of Pre-Columbian-era earthworks, several of which will be the focus of the field school research.


You will be lodged in houses rented in Campinas Village, located next to the Rio Branco–Porto Velho road. The village has roughly 2,000 people and is a district of Placido de Castro county. It is a typical frontier settlement of the Amazon: a local center for the farms in the area hosting a gas station, a supermarket, a few restaurants, one public school, and an internet cafe.

Food is provided by a local restaurant, consisting of typical Brazilian country staples such as rice, beans, manioc, and meat.

Rio Branco is located 60 km away and is reached along a fully paved road in less than one hour. From Rio Branco, there are daily flights to the major Brazilian cities.

Physical requirements 

Archaeological fieldwork is physically intense and often rigorous. You will be working in the field, excavating under the sun, climbing among excavation units from Monday to Saturday. Since some of the most interesting, little-explored, and pristine sites are remote—traveling to such sites will require hiking and passing over fairly rugged terrain.

No special training is required, but a good level of fitness is advisable. However, a lighter schedule can be arranged for those with physical challenges.

June in Southwestern Amazonia is the beginning of the dry or summer season—that means temperatures reaching 90ºF on average. Mosquitoes can be also a small nuisance for those not used to it.

How to Apply

The application will be available in early December 2017. 

Review How to Apply before submitting your application.

Application materials include: 

  1. A statement of interest in the program
    • Include information on relevant coursework and travel experience abroad (previous travel is not a prerequisite) 
  2. Transcripts
    • Harvard College applicants: You may submit an unofficial transcript accessed from my.harvard.edu
    • Non-Harvard applicants: Submit an official transcript from your university
  3. A $50 nonrefundable application fee

Note: Interviews may be requested.

All application materials are due January 25, 2018. You will be notified of admission decisions by mid- to late-February.


The program fee, to be announced, includes tuition, accommodation, scheduled excursions and activities, and some meals.  

See Payment and Funding for information on how to submit payments and funding options. 

Student budget

In addition to the program fee, you will need to budget for a number of personal expenses: 

  • International airfare ($1,400 to $1,600)
  • Local transportation ($100)
  • Some meals ($250)
  • Personal expenditures, laundry, communications, and miscellaneous ($400)

Note: The amounts are approximate, and you may incur additional expenses not listed here. Your actual expenses will depend on a number of factors, including your personal spending habits and currency exchange rates. If you have specific questions about budgeting, please contact the program directly.

Additional information