Elementary school students studied the “bones” of Wild West outlaws for clues about age, gender, height and, ultimately, the identity of the “deceased,” just as professionals would.
The bones – really plastic casts – provided a crash course in anthropology, a science rarely explored at the Powerhouse Science Center in Durango. Some bones were marked by wounds, such as a rib with a bullet lodged in it. Experts in anthropology helped students make sense of the bones and the stories they reveal.
While many kids who visit the museum are familiar with archaeology and have visited Mesa Verde National Park, some of the same kids are not familiar with the word “anthropology,” said Heather Brookshier, an intern and employee at the Powerhouse who is also a senior at Fort Lewis College studying anthropology.
A familiarity with the field can help students understand the cultural and biological diversity of humans, said Nadia Neff, a visiting anthropology instructor at FLC and a member of the museum’s education committee.
“Everyone wants to know why people do things – why we are certain ways, why certain people-groups do things differently than other certain people-groups,” Brookshier said.
It makes sense for the museum to offer more activities around anthropology because the area is rich with archaeological history, she said.
Anthropology students from FLC, including Brookshier, worked as interns to help design the new activities and materials, such as a summer camp that will explore ancient cultures, primate anatomy and archaeology, among other subfields of anthropology, Brookshier said. As part of the camp, students will recover skeletons at a staged crime scene and learn to uncover artifacts at an archaeological site that will be developed at the museum.
The introduction of anthropology activities is part of an overall expansion of the museum’s educational offerings that included far more summer camps this year than in the past, said Ryan Finnigan, director of the MakerLab at the Powerhouse.
The anthropology offerings are expected to expand as additional interns from the college develop curriculum for the museum, Neff said. The students are expected to help with the development of home-school curriculum and museum activities.
“The goal is to have this giant portfolio of all of these lesson plans,” she said.
Brookshier and FLC sophomore Langston Shupe-Diggs designed activities for museum employees and interns to use with visitors year-round, including a set of 3D-printed primate skulls, Brookshier said.
The skulls help students see the skeletal similarities between human and other species, such as chimpanzees and gorillas.
Other species more removed from humans, such as lemurs, demonstrate clear differences. Lemurs rely far more on their sense of smell than humans, a reality reflected in their skulls.
The skulls help students understand the path human evolution took, Neff said.
Designing the curriculum helped Brookshier learn “how kids think and how kids enjoy learning,” she said. She hopes to employ those skills working in education for a museum after she graduates.
For more information about the anthropology summer camp and other Powerhouse activities, visit powsci.org.