Carroll College's last class of anthropology students completed their final field school over the past two weeks.
Lauri Travis, an anthropology professor at Carroll, led a group of 10 students through research at two different sites over two weeks near Lincoln in the Big Belt Mountains. She said this would be the last field school for Carroll, which is cutting the anthropology program along with nine other minors and five majors as part of a long-range plan that also includes the creation of a new school of professional and graduate studies.
Students currently enrolled in the anthropology program and all others that are being eliminated will be allowed to finish.
The field school was made possible through a partnership with the National Forest Service. The agency allowed the use of gear and sites, which help the students conduct independent research. For the past decade, Travis has taken 10 students to areas around the Big Belts to study various sites. That data has been complied into a 10-year data set. Most of their research winds up being published in scientific journals.
The students dig a number of sites at each location. They seek artifacts of ancient Native American people and also take soil samples to compare the paleoenvironment of the area. The Big Belts were a well-known thoroughfare for ancient native people moving from west of the Rocky Mountain range to the Great Plains.
This year's two sites included an ancient camp near a lake and a secondary site where pollen and charcoal samples were collected. At the first site, the students managed to find a tang knife. The knife, made some time in the past 1,500 years, is a rare find north of Wyoming. The second site, near the Blackfoot River, helped the students identify two droughts in the area around 2,000 and 8,000 years ago. They also found a possible bison bone, which could indicate a trade route through the area.
Emily McLean, a sophomore sociology and Spanish major, said she originally discovered the field school when taking Travis' Native American studies class. McLean is part of the last class majoring in anthropology.
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"It's really cool to think that under all these layers of dirt are previous civilizations," McLean said. "And to think what we can learn about them from the things left behind."
McLean said she learned a lot about the process of anthropology digs during the field school. You don't always find artifacts, but there are lots of things you can learn from the soil and sediment regarding the history of the area, she said.
Brad Kelso, a junior secondary education major, has attended the field school three years in a row. The first two he was attending as a student, now he is Travis' teaching assistant. Kelso said he loved the school so much he had to find a way to come again.
"I want to take what I learn here into the classroom," Kelso said. He cited the Indian Education For All Act and a desire to teach about the culture. "This allows me to have a better understanding of the culture I'm teaching about," he said.
Kelso cited wilderness experience, interacting with the environment and never knowing what you might find underneath the soil as highlights of the field school. He called the reality of the program's discontinuation "unfortunate."
"Ten years of data is an extremely valuable set," Travis said. "It's widely used in the Forest Service and fire service."
Travis is satisfied with the data the students have collected over the years. She said that although Carroll will no longer continue its anthropology program, many other colleges hope to step into the partnership with the Forest Service.