New ways to see old stuff: CMU’s archaeology minor is growing
Tuesday, September 1, 2015 10:00 AM
John Seebach, PhD, says most of western Colorado is an untouched archaeological paradise. The region surrounding Colorado Mesa University has been virtually untouched by academic archaeologists. That’s why the university is perfectly poised to become a hub of archaeological happenings. This fall, an archaeology laboratory opened in Houston Hall — the first step in the assistant professor of archaeology’s plans to expand the existing minor into a program of study that will train students for in-demand jobs in the field.
“The [CMU] administration and the department saw that this is a program that we can really grow intentionally and they were kind enough to find me a space to devote entirely to the program,” said Seebach. “I’m very grateful for that.”
Within a year, the lab will be completely functional and will include analysis tables, space for research, a photo stand and other tools of the trade. It will eventually be open to community researchers, but in the meantime it’s a vital resource for CMU’s archaeology students and one they’ll take advantage of soon.
Seebach is planning a January term class in which students will gain a hands-on understanding of the crude tools used by early peoples. They will make and use prehistoric-style pottery without the benefit of modern tools and they’ll conduct a series of experiments by throwing stone spears. They may even carve up an animal carcass with stone tools, then analyze the marks left on the stones in the laboratory.
This summer, the program will hold its first field school, a four- to six-week course designed to complement an existing course in fieldwork. Students will split their time between Bureau of Land Management property in Dominguez Canyon, the Colorado National Monument and possibly a site on privately owned land in Glade Park. They will also take field trips to sites such as the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park; Dinosaur, Colo.; and to see rock art near Moab, Utah.
“They’ll see the amount of patience that it takes to actually do this for a living and if this is something they can handle over the long term,” Seebach said. “Because ultimately you can sit in a hole for a day and think it’s super fun, and then you sit in a hole for six weeks and it’s not so fun anymore.”
The field school will be open to students from all disciplines. “The cool thing about archaeology is that the skills that you learn in terms of observing patterns of human behavior, mapping landscapes and how we go about our work allows you a nice amount of versatility to do a lot of other things,” said Seebach.
Criminal justice students will find many similarities between crime scene investigation and archaeological investigation. Seebach said forensic anthropology students could also benefit from the field school.
In the near future, the university will offer a certificate in cultural resource management. “The federal government instituted a series of laws involving impacts to archaeological sites on public lands,” said Seebach. “Any time there’s a new oil pad or logging road or something, if there’s a chance that it’s going to disturb the ground, archaeologists have to go in and clear the area of potential impact of any potential cultural resources. Is there stuff that’s going to be lost? If there is, how are we going to manage that loss? Having this kind of field federally mandated requires you have workers that can go out and do this stuff.”
The cultural resource management certificate will train students for this work. Thanks to the Western Slope’s energy extraction industry, there’s plenty of work to be had. The social and behavioral science department plans to develop a heritage management track within the certificate to allow students more flexibility.
Seebach said the time is right for archaeology studies to grow in the region. “I think western Coloradans are hungry for this kind of information and this kind of program,” he said.
Dana Nunn, Director of Media Relations