Archaeological Field School, White Mountain Apache Tribe Forge New Partnership

Lori Harwood
June 23, 2003

The University of Arizona anthropology department's archaeological field school, an established institution for more than eight decades, has taken a new direction in field research and training. Funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Sites Program will allow 16 students to participate in a six-week program in heritage preservation with the White Mountain Apache Tribe.

The principal investigators of the three-year NSF grant for $200,000 are Professor Barbara Mills, director of the UA archeological field school, and John R. Welch, archeologist and historic preservation officer for the White Mountain Apache Tribe Heritage Program. Welch, who has a doctoral degree, is an alumnus of the UA anthropology department.

The project aims to provide students with field training while also benefitting the heritage goals of the Apache tribe. Students are helping to preserve Kinishba, a fourteenth century ancestral pueblo site, and conducting site survey, mapping and damage assessment in an archaeologically important zone of the reservation called the Forestdale Valley. Students will present the results of the summer research projects to the tribe at the end of the summer, to assist the Apaches in managing their archaeological resources.

Students at the field school come from all over the country. Ten undergraduate students are supported by the NSF REU grant. An additional six students are taking the course for graduate credit. One of the graduate level participants this year, Nick Laluk, is a White Mountain Apache Tribal Member. Graduate student staff members are all graduate students in the UA anthropology department.

Last year's field school was interrupted by the Rodeo-Chediski fire that raged through the Fort Apache Indian Reservation and the Sitgreaves National Forest. The field school's research station on the Sitgreaves National Forest was evacuated for nearly two weeks while fire fighters battled the flames, and save the station, including several structures on the National Register of Historic Places.

This year, students also are working with the Forest Service to collect information on a burned site affected by the Rodeo-Chediski fire. Students rotate into excavations at a remote site in the severely burned area. The results of their excavations will provide the Forest Service with information on how burning affected the site, which dates to the early twelfth century.

In addition to the field research, and as a further indication of the field school's commitment to preparing students to pursue community as well as academic agendas, the summer program also includes an ethics component funded by NSF. Coordinated by Dr. T.J. Ferguson, the ethics component entails a series of lectures and panel presentations engaging tribal representatives in discussions about the rapidly changing relationships between archaeologists and living communities. This summer's topics include Apache perspectives on archaeology, repatriation, and cultural and intellectual property rights.

The UA archeological field school, located in Pinedale, Ariz., is one of the longest running and most respected archaeological field schools in the country. And its new direction is unique in the Southwest. No other field school has a program that teaches heritage preservation, despite this being one of the fastest growing areas in archaeology. Archaeologists are becoming more engaged in working with descendent communities and in the preservation of archaeological sites. Excavations are more limited to sites that have been damaged in the past or that are threatened by impending development. The field school curriculum reflects this changing environment for archaeological research.