High School Students Get Taste of Archaeology, Cultural Heritage

A group of Tucson high school students participated in archaeological digs and spent time in Arizona State Museum labs.
June 21, 2013

Tucson-area high school students are learning about Hispanic heritage and getting hands-on archaeology experience through a new program designed to give them broader cultural understanding through a lens of archaeology.

The 10 high school juniors are participants in the first year of the Linking Hispanic Heritage Through Archaeology program, an American Latino Heritage Project funded by the National Park Service, developed by Environmental Education Exchange and facilitated by the University of Arizona.

Participants in the program, which is the brainchild of Stan Bond, National Park Service director of archaeology, have been exploring Hispanic heritage this month through field trips, lectures, workshops, tours, field archaeology, hands-on activities and multimedia journaling. They have visited National Park sites across the state and worked closely with staff at the Arizona State Museum.

While the program officially began this month, Arizona State Museum archaeologists and educators began in March to provide opportunities for the high school students  to experience real-world, hands-on work conducted in the field and in the museum.

The students, from six different high schools around Tucson, spent two days over spring break as part of a field school under the co-direction of museum zooarchaeologist Barnet Pavao-Zuckerman at Mission Los Santos Ángeles de Guevavi, an early 18th-century site south of Tucson. The experience at Guevavi, a National Historical Park, connected students directly to Spanish, Mexican and Native cultural heritage.

The students eagerly participated in the excavation of two prehistoric pit houses, a historic-period adobe structure, and a mission-period midden, or domestic waste dump. They sifted and troweled alongside UA undergraduates to learn the basics of archaeological data collection.

"LHHTA students showed particular interest in cattle bone and carbonized peach pits they found at the mission midden," said Pavao-Zuckerman. "They realized that people living at Mission Guevavi in the 1700s ate peaches and beef, just like we do today."

This month, the same students fired up their iPads, provided as part of the LHHTA program, and embarked on the Arizona State Museum's newly developed "Discover Arizona State Museum Quest." Starting in the lobby, they scanned QR codes to reveal clues, details and insights into museum exhibits.

Lisa Falk, the museum's director of education and developer of the "Discover Arizona State Museum Quest," said students enjoyed using iPads and smartphones as part of their museum experience.

"Enthusiastically they read, heard and saw more than they would have without the technology challenging them, prompting them and reinforcing key messages. In the end, they found that museum visits can be fun and modern as well as illuminating," she said.

The students also engaged in a dialogue about immigration inspired by Alejandra Platt's photographs in the Arizona State Museum exhibit "A World Separated by Borders." That part of the museum experience was co-facilitated by Falk and Tadeo Pfister of the UA's Center for Latin American Studies. Pfister said the main goal of the dialogue was to build awareness about immigration issues and to develop a sense of empathy for those directly impacted.   

The high school students also got the chance to tour the museum's conservation lab with conservators Nancy Odegaard and Teresa Moreno, to have a discussion with archaeologist and musuem director Patrick Lyons, to study in the zooarchaeology lab with Pavao-Zuckerman and to spend a day in the bioarchaeology lab with assistant curator James Watson.

Trica Oshant Hawkins, founder of and education director for the Environmental Education Exchange, said she hopes the LHTTA program will broaden students' perspectives and understanding of their own culture as they look at human occupation in the Southwest through a lens of archaeology.

"We are very fortunate to have such amazing resources as the UA School of Anthropology and Arizona State Museum to partner with on this project. The opportunity has certainly brought archaeology to life for the students," she said.

Of his experience, Josh Estrada, a junior at the Academy of Tucson High School, said: "Without history and without archaeologists to interpret people from the past, we would forever lose valuable knowledge that is a benefit to us all. Future generations need to know about the past and will be richer for knowing their family histories and cultural traditions. Knowledge improves our ideas not only of ourselves but of others, too."

Jovannah Delgado, a junior at Tucson High School, described LHHTA as "an experience of a lifetime." She said she appreciates the opportunities the program has given her "to be able to get out in the summer and have a hands-on education in an area I would otherwise never be exposed to."