Budding archaeologists sort through artifacts

Nov 3rd, 2011 | By | Category: 23-2: Climate Commitment, Tribal College News
By Lorna Thackeray

IN TOUCH WITH THEIR PAST. Nathan Young Swallow and Allison Taylor screen dirt at an archaeology site in the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. Photo by Casey Page/Billings Gazette

Crow and Northern Cheyenne archaeology students last August cleared rustcolored topsoil from a Bighorn Canyon hearth that likely dated back 2,000 years. Stones from the ancient fire pit were clustered together at the bottom of a survey square barely a foot below the surface and near a buffalo jump discovered by National Park Service (NPS) archaeologist Chris Finley two years ago.

The students—two of them Northern Cheyenne, seven of them Crow—were in the last days of a six-week program through Northwest College in Powell, WY. All were either students or potential students at Little Big Horn College on the Crow Reservation or Chief Dull Knife College on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana.

With 300 hours of classroom and field work behind them, they earned six college credits and certificates that qualify them to work on archaeological projects.

Finley suspects there will be plenty of work for them. Both the Northern Cheyenne and Crow Tribes want to bolster their historic preservation offices, and archaeologists are needed prior to development of new power lines and oil and gas wells in the region. “Most contracts will require Native American monitors. We’ve given them the skills to participate, not just monitor,” he says.

Bighorn Canyon was traditionally Crow Country and was at one time part of a vast reservation that sprawled across the two states. Stone tipi rings thickly scattered throughout the national recreation area have been identified as Crow.

Other tribes hunted in the canyon, too. Artifacts as old as 8,000 years have been identified. Native people probably made annual visits through the canyon area, following the migration of huge herds of bison from the Wyoming plains to the prairies of Montana.

Both Montana tribes asked NPS to develop training programs that would qualify tribal members as archaeology technicians—that move is part of a larger program to improve historic preservation efforts on their reservations.

Family history came to life for Crow student Johnny Tim Yellowtail, who has decided to enroll at Northwest College and study archaeology. “When I was younger, I used to go on this side of the mountain with my grandpa and grandma,” he says. “They showed me tipi rings and said our people used to live here.”

Burdick Two Leggins, the Crow Tribe’s cultural director, was with the students during the entire six weeks. He says he’s encouraged by the fire he sees growing in the tribe’s future cultural leaders.

“They don’t even want to take a break for lunch,” he says.

Reprinted with permission from the Billings Gazette. To see the complete story, go to http://trib.com/news/state-and-regional/ article_cda4d308-a575-5c94-8941- dff0eacb5c96.html.

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