Project Archaelogist brings life to artifacts for summer school students

Patti Carpenter Archaeologist Chris Finley gives a unique lecture about the importance of garbage to a group of students at Rocky Mountain High School on July 8 as part of a summer program teaching the students to appreciate the historical story told through items left behind.

Patti Carpenter
Archaeologist Chris Finley gives a unique lecture about the importance of garbage to a group of students at Rocky Mountain High School on July 8 as part of a summer program teaching the students to appreciate the historical story told through items left behind.

Archaeologist Chris Finley talked trash to a group of students at Rocky Mountain High School this summer. Literally.
In an effort to show students how things uncovered from as recently as 50 to 100 years ago can tell a story of the past, Finley brought a selection of old cans and bottles he found in trash dumps and antique stores over the years and used them as an example of how archaelogists uncover information about the past by analyzing items left behind.
“I do this talk on historical trash and everyone always likes it,” said Finley. “We actually learn a lot from the trash sites that are still around. We learn a lot about the people who were here by how they actually handled their garbage.”
The special lecture piqued the interest of students who had just spent a few weeks taking day trips into the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area with Finley learning about items uncovered in the area that reveal the rich cultural history of the area.
The program was started by Rocky Mountain summer school teachers Ryan Boettcher and Freda Miller. It incorporates the curriculum from a program called “Project Archaeology” into the school’s summer program in an effort to enhance student knowledge of the history of the area.
The curriculum provided by Project Archaeology uses archaeological inquiry to foster understanding of past and present cultures, improve social studies, promote science education and enhance citizenship education, while at the same teaching students to preserve the legacy provided by archaelogy.
Boettcher said the program teaches students to appreciate the value of what remains of cultures past and how important it is to preserve it. It also teaches them how what remains tells a story and gives students a realistic look at what the job of archaeologist involves.
Students had the opportunity this year to work side by side with members of both the Cheyenne and Crow tribes, who shared information about the cultural significance of the ancient Native American sites in the area.
Boettcher and Miller have been working together for several years to develop a summer school program that would be interesting for their students. This year about seven students from the middle school and eight from the high school participated in the program.
By using their math skills to measure teepee rings and to learn how to use GPS devices, students learned how to use the data they gather in the field to learn about their environment.
The program consists of mostly field trips to multiple significant historic sites in the area. The students had the opportunity to help record the Bad Pass Trail this year.
“The trail is probably the best marked prehistoric trail in North America and the kids had the opportunity to get involved with helping us mark the trail,” said Finley. “It’s been disturbed a lot by historic activities. The ranchers came in and used it as a wagon road, the miners used it to access their mining claims, the power administration came in and used it to build the power lines. When the park took possession they destroyed part of it making the park road, and natural episodes like weather events and flash floods destroyed part of it, too.”
Finley pointed out that the pass is a significant cultural property for the Crow people and stressed the need to treat it with respect.
“Our students in the program spent three days working on the trail and also had the opportunity to work on stone circles,” said Finley. “They got tours of historic ranch sites and learned a lot about the historical significance of the area.”
“We hope an experience like this teaches our students how important it is to preserve an archaelogical site like this, and teaches them how to use the equipment associated with preserving it,” said Boettcher. “We’re excited to be able to do something like this.”
Finley said he hopes the program teaches students the value of preserving what’s left behind and helps them understand the importance of preserving the history of the area.
“We learn about the people that lived here by what they leave behind,” said Finley. “Most of the time we learn about things discarded in the past because the items were no longer of any use. Essentially, we learn about those who came before us through the garbage they left behind. We can identify when and where people were here through these items. Most of the time that’s the only way.”

By Patti Carpenter

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