There is something for everyone. Judy Wolf, State Coordinator for the Wyoming Archaeology Awareness Month, said that is the case for the Archeology Fair that will be held Sept. 8 at the Wyoming Territorial Prison from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“Professional and avocational archaeologists from all over the state will be on hand manning the booths,” Wolf said. “We will have hands-on activities and special attractions for all ages.”
One of the booths that has been popular in the past and will return this year lets visitors try their hand at flint knapping, also called stone tool making. Dr. Todd Surovell, Professor and Department Head of the University of Wyoming’s Department of Anthropology, said tool making is the bread and butter of prehistoric archeology with the discovery of stone tools going back more than three million years.
“Our prehistoric ancestors started using stones as tools and, eventually, figuring out how to make more sophisticated tools by hitting stones together,” Surovell said. “The basics of knapping, the term for tool making, are fairly simple but making more advanced tools takes years of practice. Some people have the perception that our ancestors were very primitive but making stone tools was quite difficult. It was a very valuable skill and took a long time to master.”
The first step in flint knapping is finding the correct type of rock. When granite breaks, the edges are too blunt while sandstone isn’t durable enough to keep a sharp edge.
“To make stone tools, the rock needs to break in just the right way - in what is called a concoidal fracture,” Surovell said. “This is the way glass breaks and finding the right type of stone was hugely important. These types of rocks were some of the most valuable materials out there.”
Our prehistoric ancestors looked for flint, chert and obsidian, to name a few types of rocks, for making “projectile points.” These are commonly referred to as arrowheads, although most were used as spear tips well before the advent of bows and arrows.
At the Archeology Fair, searching for the right type of rock isn’t necessary since suitable rock will be provided. Experienced archeologists will be on hand to offer instruction on how to strike the rock “just so” to make a cutting edge that might have been used as a knife or scraper.
Another activity at the fair is atlatl throwing. An atlatl looks like a very long arrow or spear attached to a stick. The atlatl is considered one of the best primitive weapons of all time and pre-dates the use of a bow and arrow.
In addition to these activities, archeologists will be on hand to demonstrate other skills and offer activities in pottery making, cordage making and hide painting. Wolf said it’s a great opportunity to step back in time and experience Wyoming’s history and prehistoric past.
One of the guest speakers, Willie LeClair, is an enrolled member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. LeClair has a colorful background that includes bull riding, rodeo announcing, cattle ranching and Native American ceremonial dancing. LeClair will give presentations on Native American spirituality and traditional dance.
At each of the half-hours between LeClair’s presentations, Native American historian and author Michael “Badhand” Terry will discuss a variety of topics including horses, buffalo, weapons and clothing. Terry may be recognizable since he’s performed in a number of films and TV shows from Dances with Wolves to Wind River and The Last of the Mohicans.
The Wind River Dancers from the Wind River Indian Reservation will perform a variety of Native American dances from noon until 1 p.m. The troupe performs men’s traditional, grass and fancy feather and women’s fancy shawl, jingle dress and traditional dances. During the performance, the announcer explains the dance styles and music so the audience can appreciate the connection to Native American culture and heritage.
Go to www.wyoarchaeo.state.wy.us for a full list of activities and more information.
Amber Travsky earned master’s degrees in wildlife biology and exercise physiology from the University of Wyoming. She runs her own environmental consulting company, as well as a martial arts school. She authored “Mountain Biking Wyoming” and “Mountain Biking Jackson Hole,” both published by Falcon Books. She is the tour director and founder of the Tour de Wyoming bicycle tour, which crosses the state every July.