SHERIDAN — Wyoming will celebrate and recognizes archaeology in September through statewide programs and activities.
While archaeology includes prehistoric artifacts and digs, Bighorn National Forest recreation, lands, heritage and wilderness staff officer Dave McKee said the field of study is much broader.
McKee said it also includes campsites, cabins, fire lookouts and other sites not normally associated with archaeology.
By studying these sites and structures, McKee said the same types of questions are answered, for example: What was the day-to-day life of an average person from that time? What was the economy like? What was that person’s diet?
“Archaeology really is about the study of past cultures through what they left behind,” McKee said, adding that it was originally about cultures from hundreds of thousands of years ago. “But the archaeology of our history is also important and so we want to preserve those sites and those artifacts.”
McKee said he’s also excavated Civilian Conservation Corps camps, World War II prisoner of war camps, logging camps and mining camps with the help of volunteers.
SWCA Environmental Consultants cultural resources lead and Wyoming Association of Professional Archaeologists president Naomi Ollie agreed that a huge aspect of Wyoming archaeology is history, noting the Bozeman Trail, homesteading and wars with Native Americans as examples.
“So we have some amazing really dynamic context period archaeology and historic sites just right outside Sheridan, which I think a lot of people really grow to appreciate,” Ollie said.
Ollie said one area where she feels archaeologists sometimes fail, though, is in relating archaeology’s relevancy to today’s society.
“It’s a science that’s more of a curious pastime for a lot of people and I think that at the root of it, all it really just shows adaptability of humans,” Ollie said. “And I think we can do a lot better job of just showing the importance of archaeology and telling the stories about how people lived.”
McKee said education and awareness is a large part of the U.S. Forest Service’s goal when it comes to archaeology. He said the agency often hosts programs and tours for groups, classes and organizations.
The Sheridan-Johnson County Chapter of the Wyoming Archaeological Society and the USFS will host an interpretive program at the James T. Saban Fire Lookout in the Bighorn National Forest on Saturday.
McKee said it’s the third and final program at the site for the summer.
Additionally, McKee said the USFS has a program called Passport in Time, where national forests list projects with which the public can volunteer.
He said projects range from helping with archaeology excavation to site restoration and research.
Ollie said appreciating archaeology isn’t only important because of what can be learned from past events, but also because of what it says about the relationship between humans and the natural environment.
“The natural environment impacts our lives; it shapes us but also we can really impact it in really positive and negative ways,” Ollie said. “And I think just recognizing that relationship is very important.”