Rocky Mountain students learn archaeology for summer school

The tipi resting on school grounds just east of the Rocky Mountain football field in Cowley was erected two weeks ago as part of a hands-on summer school program.

Rocky Mountain Middle School summer school students assist Johnny Tim Yellowtail (kneeling) and Chris Finley (center right) with setting up a tipi on the Rocky Mountain school grounds on June 29. Pictured are (l-r) Tori Simcox, Kooper Thompson, Hayden Walker, Michael Escalera, Addy Poole, Jenna Booth, Kendrick Beckman, Finley, Mason McCollam and Jonelle Yellowtail. Ana Baird photo
Rocky Mountain Middle School summer school students assist Johnny Tim Yellowtail (kneeling) and Chris Finley (center right) with setting up a tipi on the Rocky Mountain school grounds on June 29. Pictured are (l-r) Tori Simcox, Kooper Thompson, Hayden Walker, Michael Escalera, Addy Poole, Jenna Booth, Kendrick Beckman, Finley, Mason McCollam and Jonelle Yellowtail.
Ana Baird photo

Ryan Boettcher, a math teacher at RMHS, started the outdoor-oriented program seven years ago with former teacher Freda Miller, and officially affiliated with Project Archaeology six years ago. RMMS math teacher Justin Moss now works with Boettcher to teach the four-week program.

Project Archaeology is a curriculum the Bureau of Land Management developed through Montana State University-Bozeman to teach middle school level students.

“With all of the cultural resources we have in this area, we decided to use this curriculum for our summer school program,” Boettcher said, noting that he often learns as much as the kids do.

“It’s a more project based program,” he said. “We study the past by looking at shelters and how people lived, comparing them to modern dwellings.”

For instance, archaeology can tell students how a tipi was used, where the family slept, ate and the like. Students are taught to spot the clues, he said.

The program incorporates math, English, science and history, he noted, the traditional components of a summer school program, but in a hands-on and invigorating way that engages the students.

Each year the students engage in different projects and enjoy field trips to sites such as stone circle and tipi ring sites. This year the students worked at the Two Eagles interpretive trail in the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area and spent a week at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis working on an actual dig.

Archeologist Chris Finley (right) assists Johnny Tim Yellowtail during the Project Archaeology tipi raising on June 29 on the RMMHS grounds east of the football field in Cowley. Ana Baird photo
Archeologist Chris Finley (right) assists Johnny Tim Yellowtail during the Project Archaeology tipi raising on June 29 on the RMMHS grounds east of the football field in Cowley.
Ana Baird photo

Last summer the students worked on a dig at the Last Canyon Cave site near Warren, Mont., with a University of Wyoming archaeology professor.

The program runs four days a week for four weeks, and Boettcher has often engaged longtime area archaeologist Chris Finley to help with the instruction and hands-on work. Last week, for instance, Finley instructed students how to lay out a grid and catalogue items found. Students visited Pompey’s Pillar National Monument in Montana and the BLM Curation Center in Billings.

As for the tipi in Cowley, the Rocky Mountain students helped Finley and Johnny Tim Yellowtail with the setup on Wednesday, June 29. The process was instructional, Boettcher said, noting, “There’s a reason for every pole and the way it faces. It’s part of the cultural side we try to teach the kids, as well.”

He said the tipi used the traditional Crow structure of four poles but has a Sioux cover.

Between 10 and 15 students participated in Project Archaeology this summer, depending on the week, Boettcher said.

By David Peck