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National American Indian Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month. For many people, archeology makes the distant past and its people into real, breathing communities not unlike their own. High school students in archeological field schools are learning just that, and are becoming connected with their ancestral heritage while gaining skills in science.

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian (EBCI) students from the Cherokee and Snowbird communities excavated at a 10th-century structure in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Among the features were ceramic vessel fragments, hickory and black walnut hulls, quartz and chert for stone tools, groundstone tool fragments for pulverizing and grinding plants, and a small gaming stone.  Together, their finds pointed to a time when communities settled to care for large-scale agriculture of beans, corn, and squash. Learn more about the project at National Parks Traveler.

Students from the Mescalero Apache Reservation and elsewhere excavated at the Pine Spring Camp in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Excavations took place with the Warriors Project, a program for African Americans and American Indians to discuss their shared history on the western frontier. The Pine Spring Camp was primarily occupied by the 9th and then the 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers in the 1870s during the “Apache Wars,” a series of skirmishes during the United States expansion into the traditional tribal lands of the Apache tribes and their allies. Read more about the project here and here.

Descendants of Crow excavated tipi rings associated with their ancestors in the southern portion of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. The Crow built four-poled tipis covered in hides weighed down at the edges with stones. As the camps moved, the stone rings point to where tipis sheltered families or animals, or ceremonies and community activities. The field school was developed cooperatively between the NPS and members of the Crow tribe to ensure that future generations understand their history and its culture. In addition to learning about archeology as a science, the students tried their hands at throwing atlatls and flintknapping. Find out more at Documenting Tipi Rings along the Bad Pass Trail.

Between 1998 and 2000, the Golovin Heritage Field School, composed of high school students from Golovin and from Nove (New) Chaplino, Chukotka (Russian Federation) excavated at the Qitchauvik site on the shore of Golovin Lagoon. At the end of the field seasons, the field school students held an open house to tell people about research findings to date. Several community members brought forward artifacts that had been removed from the Qitchauvik site; one household eventually donated a significant collection of objects, which added a new dimension to the artifact assemblage.

In another effort to encourage local communities' participation in archeological research and stewardship, NPS archeologists included students and young adults in their field investigations in the northwest Alaskan parks. During the summer of 2004, several agencies came together in the village of Anaktuvuk Pass to study the prehistoric archeology at the Tuktu-Naiyuk site. The proximity of the site to the village facilitated the involvement of local students in the scientific process.

Want to get involved? Try a field school, volunteering, or becoming an amateur archeologist and site steward. Visit the Explore, Learn, Participate page for more information.

  • (NPS photo) The excavated tenth century ancestral Cherokee house.
  • (NPS photo) Students from the Mescalero Apache Reservation mapping artifacts at the Pine Spring Camp in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
  • (NPS Photo) Students documenting tipi rings in Bighorn Canyon.
  • (NPS Photo) Golovin Field School students excavate the qarigi.
  • (NPS Photo) Susan Bender and Millie Booth set up an excavation grid at Napaaqtualuit.