Lesson Plan

Scouts and Shovels: “Crashing the Gates” with Bertha Dutton

Bertha Dutton.
Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
60 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
6-8.RH.1, 6-8.RH.3, 6-8.RH.4, 6-8.RH.7, 6-8.RH.10, K.RI.7

Essential Question

Who was Bertha Dutton? What were her methods to study and preserve archeological resources? Why is her legacy important to both women’s history and archeological preservation?

Este plan de clase con actividades incluido también está disponible en español.


“Crashing the Gates” is a series of lesson plans about three of the earliest female archeologists who worked with the National Park Service. Students will learn about Bertha Dutton, one of the first female archeologists who worked with the National Park Service. This lesson plan emphasizes her original methodologies and why her work was so important to both women’s history and cultural resource preservation.

This lesson plan and activities are available in Spanish.


In the last two centuries, societal gender biases have proved challenging for American women. Around the turn of the 20th century, this was especially true for women seeking to enter the traditionally male-dominated field of archeology. Those that did often had their work become overshadowed by that of their male counterparts. This lesson plan focuses on Bertha Dutton, one of the early pioneers who cracked the traditional “women’s work” ideology and paved the way for future female scholars by becoming a successful archeologist in her own right. She and the other two women featured in this lesson plan series made important contributions to the field of archeology and their original methods are still used today.

“Crashing the Gates” is a series of lesson plans about three of the earliest female archeologists who worked with the National Park Service: Ann Axtell Morris, Florence Hawley Ellis, and Bertha Dutton. The lessons within this series accomplish three goals. First, they contribute to the wider theme of women’s history by noting the difficulties these three and other 19th- and 20th-century women faced when choosing a career path. Second, they promote the National Park Service mission of resource management and education by teaching about women’s lasting impacts on cultural resource preservation and public education. Third, through activities based on archeological methodologies, they enhance students’ own analytical skillsets. After completing these lessons, students will have learned who these three women were, applied some of their techniques, and gained understanding about why their work was so important. These lessons can be completed as a series or stand-alone lessons.


Students will need pencils or pens and scrap paper.


Download Bertha Dutton Student Handout

Download En Español: Scouts y palas: rompiendo barreras con Bertha Dutton

Download En Español: Materiales educativos para estudiantes


Step 1: Provide each student with a printed copy of the file, "Bertha Dutton Student Handout."

Step 2: Have students read the provided background information about traditional 19th- and 20th-century women’s roles, archeology as a field, and Bertha Dutton and her methods either out loud or silently. After each section, talk with the students about the main points.

Step 3: Have the students complete the activities focusing on archeological methods. Review their answers as a group.


Archeology: the study of people within the past

Artifact: an object made and used by people within the past

Context: where an object was found in the ground including depth and surrounding objects

Ethnography: scientific study of people and culture, especially through direct observation

Feature: as opposed to portable artifacts, these are the non-portable parts of an archeological site such as walls, hearths, or trash pits

Supports for Struggling Learners

Teachers can ask students to read the text out loud. After each section, teachers can review the main points with the students.

Enrichment Activities

Ask students to research one of the following women and write their own short biography of them:

  • Sarah “Sallie” Pierce Brewer Harris: the first permanent female Ranger in the Southwest, one of many National Park Service’s “Honorary Custodians Without Pay” who lived at and interpreted archeological sites.
  • Jean McWhirt Pinkley: chief of interpretation at Mesa Verde and one of the managers for the largest-ever National Park Service archeological excavation
  • Virginia Sutton Harrington: the first female Ranger-historian employed by the National Park Service who championed archeological education for the public at Jamestown Fort

Additional Resources

The National Park Service and the Girl Scouts of America have partnered to create the Girl Scout Ranger Program. Learn more at the NPS Girl Scouts webpage.

Babcock, Barbara A. and Nancy J. Parezo. Daughters of the Desert: Women Anthropologists and the Native American Southwest: 1880-1980. Edited by Barbara A. Babcock and Nancy J. Parezo. University of New Mexico Press (1988).

Bloom, Jo Tice. “Dr. Bertha Dutton and Her Dirty Diggers.” In Sunshine and Shadows in New Mexico’s Past Volume 3: The Statehood Period, 1912-Present, Richard Melzer, editor, Historical Society of New Mexico Centennial Series (2012).

Cohen, Leslie. “Dutton’s Dirty Diggers: A Special Kind of Public Archeology.” Archeology Southwest 19 (4):4.

Cohen, Leslie. “Dutton’s Dirty Diggers: ‘She Taught Us to Be Bold.’” In El Palacio 111 (2):34-37.

Dutton, Bertha P. American Indians of the Southwest. University of New Mexico Press (1983).

Dutton, Bertha P. “The Diggers Complete their Fifth Season of Senior Girl Scout Archeological Mobile Camps.” El Palacio 58 (11):354-371.

Fowler, Catherine S. "Bertha P. Dutton and the Girl Scouts in the Southwest, 1947-1957." In Threads, Tints, and Edification: Papers in Honor of Glenna Dean, edited by E.J. Brown, K. Armstrong, D M. Brugge, and C. Condie. Papers of the New Mexico Archaeological Society No. 36. Albuquerque (2010).

Leckie, Shirley A. and Nancy J. Parezo. “Introduction.” In Their Own Frontier: Women Intellectuals Re-Visioning the American West, Shirley A. Leckie and Nancy J. Parezo, editors, pp. 1-44. University of Nebraska (2008).

Leyit Kin. Chaco Sites. Chaco Research Archive.

Morris, Elizabeth Ann and Caroline B. Olin. “Obituary: Bertha Pauline Dutton (1903-1994).” In American Antiquity 6 (4):652-658.

Parezo, Nancy J. Hidden Scholars: Women Anthropologists and the Native American Southwest. University of New Mexico Press (1993).

Wilson Gordon P., Leslie Goodwill Cohen, Carole Gardner, and G. Stuart Patterson. “Pueblo Largo (LA183) Including the Excavations of Bertha Dutton; 1951-1956, and unpublished manuscripts from David M. Brugge, Lyndon L. Hargrave, Richard Honea, Thomas W. Mathews, and Erik K. Reed.” Maxwell Museum Technical Series No. 23. Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, University of New Mexico (2015).

Related Lessons or Education Materials

Explore other lesson plans in the "Crashing the Gates" series:

Art and Archeology: “Crashing the Gates” with Ann Axtell Morris

Middens and Math: “Crashing the Gates” with Florence Hawley Ellis


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Last updated: December 9, 2021