Education Director, Melia Snyder, Ph.D., is proud to announce the launch of Open Sky’s partnership with Crow Canyon Archaeological Center. Drawing on the expertise, passion, and wisdom of local community partners has been a strategic education goal at Open Sky, especially as it relates to cultural awareness and responsibility.
Crow Canyon is a nonprofit headquartered in Cortez, Colorado, and endeavors to make the human past accessible and relevant by conducting in-depth, ongoing research into the archaeological and cultural history of the Four Corners region. The Open Sky winter course area in southeastern Utah is not only striking in its natural beauty, but it is also rich in culture and history. Susan Ryan, chief mission officer for Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, refers to it as a “long-lived landscape,” meaning generations upon generations of humans have utilized the very land on which Open Sky students now intimately live. This exciting new partnership aims to enrich students’ understanding of the history of the landscape and strengthen their awareness, respect, and stewardship of the culture of the native people who inhabited it before us. For all Open Sky students, experiential learning with Crow Canyon is an integral part of their educational experience. The curriculum also meets state standards for science credit for our adolescent students.
Dr. Snyder is particularly excited to see the impact of Crow Canyon’s presence on how students and guides relate to the landscape in which they work and live. “We care for what we connect with,” she says. “Seeing students enlivened through learning and witnessing their sense of curiosity, awe, critical thinking, and appreciation grow in educational sessions and on expedition due to the education facilitated by Crow Canyon has been rewarding.”
Tyson Hughes, Crow Canyon’s education manager, leads the educational programming, with Open Sky field guides providing supervision and management of the team. The curriculum is composed of two modules. The first module is intended to give participants an understanding of what archaeology and anthropology are, as well as the scientific processes used to study human histories and cultures. Students analyze real and replica artifacts, such as pottery shards and stone tools, and learn how to make observations and inferences about them. The goal of this module is to encourage students to start thinking more deeply about these artifacts, what they might represent, and how they are connected to the people who created them.
“We’re trying to bring the past forward for students so that there is significant relevance in how they think about the landscape and their own lives on it,” said Susan. “I think that creates a greater appreciation for the human-environment relationship and how critical certain sources and resources are for human existence in this area.”
Another big priority of the first module is to educate students on the legal, ethical, and moral implications of interacting with the material culture they encounter. It is not unusual for students to come across artifacts throughout the Open Sky course area, and without an understanding of what these objects are, students may want to do things like pick them up and take them home. Therefore, the module culminates in a roundtable discussion about the laws that protect artifacts found on public lands and the importance of preserving their cultural contexts.
“One of our big goals is to get participants to recognize that these aren’t just objects, that they have meaning and importance beyond their aesthetic or tangible qualities,” said Tyson. “They’re important not just to archaeologists, but also to living communities. They’re connected to a culture that is still very much alive today, as well as future generations who will have the opportunity to appreciate and learn from them.”
The second module focuses on the nuts and bolts of archaeological recording. Students learn about the archaeological layout of the region and are introduced to some of the diagnostic indicators and tools used to understand, define, and record artifacts. Together, they apply this knowledge to record and map a section of the course area. Students pay attention to the topography, geography, plants, features, and artifacts of the landscape and fill out detailed worksheets on what they observe. Crow Canyon provides supplementary resources, such as guides on plants and pottery shards, to help the students think about the natural environment and how it connects to the cultural environment. Using their newly developed skills, participants in the Firefly group were recently able to accurately identify a Mancos black on white pottery shard and date the site to 975-1175 AD.
“It was amazing to see students walk around out there, look at an artifact on the ground, and understand that it could be used to pin that archaeological site down to a couple hundred years,” said Tyson. “I think it does good things for their confidence when they’re able to successfully connect these dots and understand and put this information into a larger context.”
In addition to exposing students to an educational experience they would be unlikely to receive in a traditional classroom setting and imparting powerful lessons about cultural history and land stewardship, Open Sky’s partnership with Crow Canyon also helps students contextualize their own position in the world. Susan and Tyson both point out how many of the issues Ancestral Puebloans faced in the past – access to food and water resources, soil depletion and population growth, migration and the impact it has on communities – are not bound to a particular time period. These are issues our society still faces today.
“If you turn on the news today, you hear nothing but stories about the environment, about migration, about social identity,” said Susan. “If teaching students about the past helps them better understand their current position in life and also their larger position in society, then I think they’re more apt to engage in discussions that are for the better of society and can help drive policy-making.”
In reflecting on the recent Crow Canyon education session with team Firefly (for which Dr. Snyder is also the Clinical Therapist), Dr. Snyder recounts, “Many of our students have been disenchanted and disconnected from this vitalized part of themselves, out of relationship with both their inner and outer landscapes. By attuning to the world around them, they begin to sense that they are part of something larger than themselves, that they belong, and that they have a role in caring for this fragile landscape that contains the shapes of people who have come before them, stories from which we can still learn.”
This new partnership has, so far, garnered overwhelmingly positive feedback from students we’re excited to see the ways it can expand and develop at Open Sky. As Susan notes, there are striking similarities between the missions of the two organizations: both seek to empower individuals to learn more deeply about how we are all connected through the human experience.
“The goals and objectives of Open Sky’s programming are a natural fit with the approach that Crow Canyon is taking,” said Susan. “It’s about education, but it’s also about healing and highlighting an appreciation for other cultures, diversity, landscape, and the human experience in general.”
“It’s like putting on a new pair of glasses,” Dr. Snyder says. “Suddenly a whole world opens up. It was always there before you, but you didn’t know what you were seeing. Watching students wake up to the richness and depth of the world around them has been a joy, and we are so excited to see where this partnership leads…and how it inspires students even after they leave Open Sky.”