As a person who had never camped for six weeks or looked extensively into stones, bones, and ecosystems — or even been out West — my choice to attend the Bighorn Archaeology field school this summer may have come as a surprise.
When this amazing class came to my attention, though, this seemed like a challenge I wanted to tackle headfirst. I could continue my anthropology studies (in Wyoming!) and earn class credit for my Certificate in Global Human Diversity. How often does an opportunity like this present itself?
In her class, associate professor and director of undergraduate studies Laura Scheiber focused on teaching us a wide application of archaeological field methods to use in the Absaroka Mountains in northwestern Wyoming.
We focused mainly on areas surrounding Cody, Wyoming, along with a few sites in Montana. Our host was the Heart Mountain Ranch Nature Conservancy, which allowed us to camp, hike and record sites. Besides field methods, we focused on learning about the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
We also spent a handful of days taking trips to places like the Buffalo Bill Center of the West; the Heart Mountain Confinement Site for Japanese Americans in World War II (where we got to dig alongside the granddaughter of one of the former internees); the thermal hot springs in Thermopolis; Spirit Mountain Cave; different types of state parks; national parks (like Yellowstone and Grand Teton); national monuments; the Little Bighorn Battlefield; and even parts of the Crow Reservation in Southeastern Montana. We were even able to fit in a crazy road trip to Yosemite and San Francisco on our tiny session break during the Fourth of July weekend.
Some of my favorite parts during field school were when we learned about the Crow (aka the Apsáalooke Nation), and when I broadened my understanding of Native Americans and Native American culture. Countless times during those weeks, I learned so much more about things I thought I already understood. Going to a powwow, visiting the Chief Plenty Coups State Park Museum, and excavating buffalo bones alongside Crow students at a Buffalo Jump site were just a few of the amazing opportunities that provided an eye-opening experience.
On our last day of the first session, Dr. Scheiber said, “The take-home for field school isn’t anything you’re learning out in the field. The take-home is place; your place.”
Of course, all the material I learned in the field is important. Learning how to map objects and locations, how to take proper measurements, how to write accurate site descriptions, and how to locate previously-mapped points on GPS are extremely valuable pieces of information for future archaeological work. These techniques and information gathered could be applied to not only archaeology, but any type of field application. With a little manipulation, these skills and techniques can be used for a multitude of future plans and careers.
Our “take-home,” though, was so much more than anything technical we could have learned.
Being thrown into a six-week program out West with eight strangers has the ability to change you, if you allow it. Cooking, cleaning, surveying, field trips and even my free time was spent with these people. Going into field school, I knew everyone’s first name, and that was it. We all had to learn how to work with each other, how to use each other’s strengths, and how to become a crew that could achieve the tasks at hand while also having fun.
The take-home was the chance to better yourself, to push yourself, to challenge yourself and your beliefs, and to put yourself out there. And sometimes, you just need to go dig in the dirt for six weeks.