(August 15, 2016)—On Saturday, September 17, 2016, Project Discovery will host its third annual Stewardship Day (opens as a PDF) in Nine Mile Canyon, Utah. Project Discovery is a nonprofit education program birthed by education specialist Margie Nash. The program operates on a series of grants and donations from various foundations and organizations.
Intended to educate high school-aged students, Project Discovery occurs in three phases. The first phase walks the students through a series of labs and lectures designed to convey archaeological principles through scientific, artistic, and critical-thinking lenses. The second phase involves a field visit to Nine Mile Canyon, Utah, where the students work for four days as professional archaeologists—they complete forms, photograph sites, read topographic maps, and develop a deep love for sunscreen and bug spray.
The third phase brings the entire program full circle and revolves around this Stewardship Day event. Students are paired with professional archaeologists at various well-known and frequently visited sites throughout the Canyon. Our intent is to foster an evolution within the teens where they leave their student roles behind and step into more of a teacher role. We have found that this practice not only solidifies our program concepts, but it instills within the participants an ownership of the past.
Stewardship Day also contains an interactive component. We want folks to mentally and physically engage with what we’re doing. To that end we host a series of activities, including atlatl throwing, corn grinding on authentic metates, Dogbane cordage making, split-twig figurine crafting, and much more. There are tables with prehistoric and historic artifacts, some of which can be touched and held. Our goal is to immerse visitors in all things archaeology, and provide an opportunity for the young ones to run, play, and get their wiggles out.
What is so neat about this event is how many people we can reach with our message. On any given day, Nine Mile Canyon receives about 25 visitors. The first year we hosted this event, we documented roughly 80 visitors, and by the second year we clocked just under 200 visitors. This year we are hoping to attract at least 300 visitors.
Visitorship to archaeological sites doesn’t have to be perceived in a negative light. With the proper instruction and education, we believe that anyone can enjoy Utah’s rich cultural past. Each year we conduct a survey of participants, asking them to describe their attitudes towards protection and preservation of archaeological sites. Visitors are asked these questions prior to touring the canyon, and again at the end of the canyon. There is a notable and positive change in visitor attitudes after participating in this event. Most leave Stewardship Day with an understanding of why these archaeological sites are important, what actions constitute vandalism, and why protecting and preserving these resources is so critical.
Museums throughout the Southwest house priceless and fantastic archaeological collections, and to us at Project Discovery, Nine Mile Canyon is no different—except this museum has no walls and no doors. It is ruled by nature and provides a very real and very tangible link to the past. The art and artifacts are not protected behind panes of glass or velvet ropes; they are on the sandstone cliff faces and in the dirt. The more people we can expose to these unique and finite resources, the better chance we have at battling the tide of ignorance and looting.