Since my first course with associate professor Dr. Laura Scheiber during the spring of my junior year, I have been involved in lab work, including analyzing materials that come in from the field. After a couple of classes—and many hours spent in the William R. Adams Zooarchaeology Laboratory, which is directed by Dr. Scheiber—I decided to postpone my graduation to attend the Bighorn Archaeology field school in the beautiful mountains of Wyoming.
Dr. Scheiber has been opening doors to students through the Bighorn Archaeology Field School for more than 12 years. The course allows students to explore and experience an environment before applying an anthropological or archaeological lens.
Our time in Wyoming began at The Heart Mountain Ranch Nature Conservancy in the Bighorn Basin near Cody, where we mapped, recorded, and surveyed the
sites to gather a better understanding of who was inhabiting or passing by Heart Mountain.
We were fortunate to visit so many spectacular sites: the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Spirit Mountain Cave, the World’s Largest Mineral Hot Springs of Thermopolis, Legend Rock Petroglyphs, the Buffalo Bill Dam, areas along the North and South Fork of the Shoshone River, the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, Oregon Basin Rock Art, and the Medicine Wheel.
We also engaged with the public both in person and through social media. During our session at Heart Mountain, we hosted an elementary school class for a program called “The Heart of the Mountain.” Staff and students participated in a public seminar; a hike; a Native American Crow pipe ceremony as part of the 7th annual Return to Foretop’s Father event—which has been featured in the Chicago Tribune—followed by representation at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s Plains
Indian Museum Powwow.
At the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, we surveyed and recorded sites constructed by incarcerated Japanese-American citizens during World War II, later featured by Tom Brokaw on The Today Show, in the Washington Post, and in the New York Times. Field school participants also explored rock art at the Nature Conservancy’s Ten Sleep Preserve, evaluating the potential for future collaboration at this former Girl Scout National Center West.
The skills we acquired and knowledge we gained at Heart Mountain were put to the test once we hiked into the backcountry of the Shoshone National Forest. In the forest, we surveyed and recorded a new site. Our experience as archaeologists was growing, and so were our survival techniques. We all grew proficient at chopping and sawing wood, building fires, preparing food, purifying water, and above all, bear safety.
My favorite part of field school was our time in the backcountry. For one week of our six-week adventure, I learned to love living in survival mode, rising and sleeping in accordance with the sun, completely unplugged from the world. The days were long and the mornings were cold, but everything we did led to its own reward.
When days felt long, I often thought of what Crow elder Grant Bulltail said during the Return to Foretop’s Father seminar: “Work with nature to feel the power and energy in nature, and feel different.”
It’s wild to think of all that we learned while living in the mountainous west.
A crucial point for us was to familiarize ourselves with our geographic location and apply cultural aspects of the land to see where we were as a social landscape. While doing so, we learned more technical skills—how to map and record sites, draw in perspective, code and knap lithics (stone tools), utilize GPS equipment—and we learned to have patience with one another. The experience we gained and the skills we learned created an incredible introductory course for archaeological field work and set the standards high for an ideal crew. Though not all of us were anthropology majors, we all walked away richer with knowledge that we could apply to our fields of interest.
I left Indiana for Wyoming with five other students who were total strangers. In Wyoming, we slept in tents only two meters apart from one another and lived every waking moment together. By the end of the field season, we returned to Indiana as an odd group of roommates.
I can’t completely put into words what field school is like. From my time out west, I gathered that patience, team work, and an open mind are key to survival. I went into this experience worried about how I would fare in the wilderness. Those worries faded as I learned how to survive physically and mentally.
The field school, though academically challenging, pushed me beyond what I believed my limits to be.