By Katherine Hodge, Project archaeology’s Public Education Coordinator

You’ve heard a lot about Investigating Medicine Rocks over the past few weeks, and the curriculum is almost here! You’ve listened to testimonials from experts, read the words of a late president vouching for beauty, been included in the author’s thoughts about the area, and seen photographs of the park and the rock art itself.

I’m an archaeologist, so I value context above most things. Whether at my desk or in the field, I need to understand what came before to interpret what I see today. It provides a necessary clarity. So today, how about some context?

Investigating Medicine Rocks is a regional investigation, which is Project Archaeology speak for a smaller part of a bigger whole. It is a case study within the overarching curriculum, Investigating Rock Art, a relatively new curriculum that was published in 2018. In Investigating Rock Art, students learn the tools of archaeology and studying rock art. Students then apply these tools to a real archaeological site with authentic data like Medicine Rocks. Students will learn about cultures of southeastern Montana through carved images, such as the famous Lady of the Rocks. After looking at carved images, students create their own rock art and styles with different hands-on methods. Students will also further explore how archaeologists study and understand rock art at Medicine Rocks State Park by learning more about the history of the area ranging from thousands of years ago to more modern sheepherding.

Let’s take another step back and think about rock art within the United States. Native Americans have created rock art for tens of thousands of years. Rock art is found in caves, on bluffs, and decorating other geologic surfaces around the country. This art is beautifully detailed in the motifs, colors, and meanings behind the symbols. Rock art isn’t something that people haphazardly carved or painted, but an artistic expression that was deliberate and meaningful. It takes time, care, and effort to carve something into stone or mix up ochre paints. The conviction it takes to decorate panels is something beautiful and special, and Investigating Rock Art brings that to the classroom for students to learn.

Rock art is perhaps one of the most “human” actions archaeologists get to study. It is one of the earliest forms of self and cultural expression. It isn’t even necessarily something unique to homo sapiens. There is evidence for forms of rock art that are 60,000 years old, making their creators, possibly, Neanderthals instead. Rock art is a technique so pervasive that it can be found on every continent. This is something students should get to learn about, and Project Archaeology can help you!

Look forward to next Friday’s blog, which will have a free lesson as well as a link to purchase the new Investigating Medicine Rocks.