Archaeology or Ecology: The need of Archaeology in High School

The chance to sit and write is a challenge being a teacher, it usually only happens during the breaks or when I am traveling. Hence this post right after the Annual Meeting of AIA/SCS. This however has been an idea that I have been chewing on since the fall. 

Over my break, I went camping with my girlfriend at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and we were obviously hiking all over the place. She studies public health and its intersection with National Parks so of course the topic of nature, natural beauty and the idea of preserving these landscapes for peoples health came up. This occured while hiking in an area that is managed by the Forest Service and therefore has more diverse activities allowed on the land. There were all types of people out on dirt bikes and ATVs near the entrance gate and we decided to drive further into the conservation lands to escape the noise before starting our hike.

A little hill west of Black Canyon NP

We found a lovely area that seems miles from anyone, but to our chagrin we quickly discovered signs of recent human use in the form of litter (which we picked up). Continuing out hike we came to this hill top. While looking around I of course discovered a rusted beer can, although clearly much older since you still needed the punch openers so clearly at least 50 years old. After a little more investigating and some deductive reasoning we figured that we sumbled upon an old hunting camp. It overlooked a valley, had some trees that seemed to selter it from the wind and a few stones seem to have some signs of burning. No matter how hard we tried to get away from humans we still came upon evidence of them. Humans are everywhere.

The can in question

Of course this camp had been there a number of years and so we left the can there but it still stirred in me the conflict of do we preserve nature and the nostalgic view of what nature should be or leave the evidence of past human use in the area for others to find (or a survey team to document)? At this point there is very few points on this Earth uneffected by humans at some point in our millions of years of evolution, so is there really anything that is “untouched by man” and how do we really teach leave no trace when we are hiking?

LNT is based on the idea of take only pictures and leave only footprints but also tied into it is the idea of help keep the wilderness clean for others. But where is the line for my hunting camp, when is it old enough to be left alone? Furthermore, how is the handling of potentially archaeological sites something not covered in more schools? Everywhere a person goes, even deep in the woods, has the highly likly chance of being affected by another human and possibly being an archaeologically sensitive site. Shouldn’t students understand how to handle themselves when they find something like this? I believe that teaching more about archaeology at the secondary level will allow for more to understand what could be out there in the world and how to approach sites encountered in their outdoor activities. 

Maybe some day archaeology and data discovery will become an important topic to be covered in the classroom. Heck maybe even in my life time. 


About handyatmurlo

I am a Latin teacher at Regis Jesuit High School. I earned my MA at CU Boulder and my BA at UMass Amherst. I have spent my summers working in Italy as an archaeologist at three different sites. One I have worked at for 10 years at Poggio Civitate at Vescovado di Murlo. I have worked at the Villa of Maxentius in Rome for 2 years, before the project ended. I also spent 2 summers at the FSU excavations in Cosa.
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