Research Above the Tree Line: CSU students participate in Alpine archaeological research

Emerald Rawls, Emily Engelbert, and Stevie Shock walking an archaeological survey transect in the Wind River Range, Wyoming.

Three Colorado State University undergraduates assisted archaeologists studying the prehistory of Wyoming’s Wind River Range last summer. The students spent eight days at a camp near the tree line doing fieldwork and studying different prehistoric sites.

Anthropology major Emily Engelbert, English major Emerald Rawls, and psychology major Stevie Shock drew artifacts, mapped prehistoric sites in the Alpine zone, filled out site forms, and helped with camp chores.

Undergraduate student Stevie Shock displays a Late Prehistoric artifact. The stone tool was not collected.

The trio assisted archaeologists Matt Stirn and Rebecca Sgorous of the PaleoCultural Research Group and retired archaeologist Richard Adams. Research in the northern Winds River Range started in 2000 and continues today. The research goal for 2018 was to collect porous artifacts that might contain food residue. Previous research showed some lipids (fats) adhering to soapstone bowls, grinding stones, and clay pottery but the team was looking for more direct evidence of what foods were being prepared at these sites during prehistoric times.

During the 2018 session, a broken, but nearly complete, soapstone bowl and collapsed wooded wickiup were found. This finding was the highlight of the trip and will further archaeologists’ understanding of the prehistoric Alpine village.

The archaeological research at the Wind River Range was not the first hands-on learning experience the students have participated in while at CSU. Each demonstrated strong interest and a background knowledge in archaeology before joining the research team.

Undergraduate student Emily Engelbert consults a map.
Undergraduate student Emerald Rawls records the remains of a prehistoric dwelling.

Two summers ago, Shock spent 30 days backpacking through the Wind River Range in a National Outdoor Leadership School program. In April of this year, Engelbert volunteered for CSU’s Prehistorically Correct Technology (PC Tech) Day and Wyoming’s Archaeology Fair, but this was her first taste of fieldwork. Rawls was new to high altitude living, but having participated in the PC Tech Day as well she knew how experiential archaeology could be.

Interested in getting similar hands-on research experience? The Department of Anthropology hosts three summer field schools and will help place students in other field school opportunities throughout the world. The application deadline for the summer 2019 paleontology field school is Feb. 14. The application deadline for the summer 2019 archaeology and ethnographic field schools is March 1.