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High school students help preserve Montana's past

Students observe stone circle
Posted at 7:12 AM, Dec 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-05 09:12:26-05

HELENA — In June and July, four high school students had the opportunity to play Indiana Jones, recording evidence of past human activity for the Montana Historical Society’s Youth Archaeological Survey Program.

The program was a partnership between the Montana Historical Society (MHS), Montana Discovery Foundation, Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, and Montana Department of Natural Resources (DNRC).

Field instructor Libby Zorn, DNRC Archaeologist Patrick Rennie, and Laura Marsh, the community engagement specialist for the outreach and education department at MTHS, led the team.

Students measure historic site

She said, “Students seemed to be very excited and engaged about being able to really interact with the resources that had been left behind by people so many years ago. They really expressed interest in asking questions about what did this mean, why would this have been left here, [and] what is this telling us about the story of the past.”

For six weeks, the team surveyed, identified and measured two to three square miles of land near Augusta, MT.

Students also got lab experience and presented their findings before friends and family, members of MHS, and a few professional archaeologists.

“The first day when we took them out in the field as we were walking along, you’d sort of have to point them in the right direction. Like, “Hey, do you see that over there?” and by the end of it, they’d be walking along and seeing things that we hadn’t seen yet,” said Marsh.

Those running the program hoped it would bring a new generation to archaeology, provide students with field experience, and gather accurate, usable data from the sites.

DNRC Archaeologist Patrick Rennie assisting students

Marsh said, “It really had came through how much they had thought about these things and how interested they were in continuing these things in their daily lives. If they’re out on a walk with their family, wondering what they could find.”

The group found over 100 stone circles, which were believed to be used by Indigenous people to secure tipis or other structures.

If you come across a historic archaeological site, Marsh says to take pictures, make a geopin of the location, and forward your findings to MHS. However, she urges people not to disrupt the historical site by moving pieces.

The program will start looking for field instructors and interns entering grades 10 to 12 for their 2024 season in February and March.