July 26, 2012

Jeff Schiel (center) shown here with other students at the top of Table Mountain,  led treks that averaged 12 miles per day. Students were taught archeology and basic mountaineering skills.

Jeff Schiel (center) shown here with other students at the top of Table Mountain, led treks that averaged 12 miles per day. Students were taught archeology and basic mountaineering skills. (Courtesy Photo)

By Adrianne Eager

Two weeks of studying the archeology of the Idaho Mountains is probably not everybody’s thing.  A 15-hour bus ride that departs at 3 A.M. or camping in below freezing temperatures during the peak of summer are probably nobody’s things.  But, for Jeff Schiel and six students enrolled in his summer anthropology course at Northeastern Junior College, this two week class became a whirlwind experience; equal parts adventure, outdoor education and archeology.

Starting Sunday, June 17th and returning Saturday the 30th, Schiel and the students embarked on a two week, “Idaho Mountain Archeology” trip. The class, an immersion into the Salmon - Challis National Forest of central Idaho, centered on a more memorable, hands-on way to both learn about and experience archeology of the area.

Schiel, who’s background is forensic anthropology, has taught everything from osteology and anthropology at University of Montana to sociology and now archeology here at Northeastern Junior College. “My particular interest in studying this area of the country really comes from when I was working on my Masters in forensic anthropology at University of Montana,” said Schiel, “I was hired as a seasonal employee by the Forest Service and working in the Salmon-Challis National Forest; from central Idaho to the state’s border with Montana.”

Zach Swiger of Sterling (left) intently studies a map with Schiel (right) as they discuss the mountaineering involved to get to the next peak with the class’ newly acquired orienteering and mapping skills.

Zach Swiger of Sterling (left) intently studies a map with Schiel (right) as they discuss the mountaineering involved to get to the next peak with the class’ newly acquired orienteering and mapping skills. (Courtesy Photo)

Under Schiel, the class, which was limited to only six students by federal land bureau rules and regulations which require that there be one qualified, approved professor per every six students entering these protected sites,  spent four days of the trip as volunteers for the Salmon National Forest White Bark Pine Restoration Project.

“The White Bark is a high altitude pine tree and it’s a pretty finicky tree,” smiled Schiel, “It’s a slow growing tree that doesn’t do well with other invasive species like Douglas Fir, or bark beetles. What our class did, was, based on this information, survey potential sites that had been affected by burning or clear cutting, places for tree recovery.” Schiel estimates that over the four days spent with the Restoration Project their group surveyed over 300 acres as well as recorded a very large mine.

Over the 14 day trip, the class visited abandoned mine sites, camps, historic boom towns, and sites of prehistoric occupation. “I think one of the most memorable parts of the trip was being able to show students  sites and pieces of history that they would otherwise never have the opportunity to see.” Schiel recalled, “There is so much more potential for learning there, more than seeing a picture or reading a book, here you are with opportunities to get on, and in, the site and that just takes the whole experience to a new level.”

In addition to visiting and studying the archeological sites and participating in the restoration project, the group got a significant bit of outdoor education on the trip. “Outdoors and hiking are areas of personal interest for me,” said Schiel, “On this trip we were hiking roughly six miles on our short days and upwards of 18 on our longest.”  The group wasn’t just hiking though, they worked on learning and understanding Forest Service chain of command, mapping and graphing of areas both archeological and natural, and the obligatory nature studies of area wild life. “Jim Stewart saw a bear, we heard a pack of wolves from our camp one night, saw two or three bald eagles, elk, moose, and fortunately, no mountain lions,” Schiel said.  And, just as diverse as the wildlife the class saw, “We experienced a very diverse amount of weather, it snowed on us three days, rained on us two and we had ice one day,” chuckles Schiel, “When we looked, the low for Sterling was 82 degrees; the low for where we were camping that night was 15.”

Students Katie Olsen of Brush and Zach and Megan Swiger of Sterling get a close up view of history with Jeff Schiel’s class this summer.

Students Katie Olsen of Brush and Zach and Megan Swiger of Sterling get a close up view of history with Jeff Schiel’s class this summer. After a serious hike, the students explore the base of the mill house at the Rabbit Foot Mine in central Idaho. (Courtesy Photo)

Cold weather or not, the group covered a huge area and a wide array of information, and had an unforgettable trip. “I didn’t have a single student who didn’t think the two weeks were an awesome time.” Schiel said, “The experience of walking the whole afternoon and then arriving at a logging site that was abandoned over 100 years ago is a pretty cool one,” Schiel notes. “There were hikes where we were crisscrossing the Continental Divide where you could see for miles and the views were phenomenal,” beamed Schiel, “and we were visiting places along the way that the students could investigate and go inside of, where you can tell this is a site that hasn’t seen other humans in decades.”

What advice would Schiel give to a potential student? “Take the class, take a step out of your comfort zone and go for the experience, to learn and see some new things that you might not ever have the opportunity for again.”

Slightly less remote are the fall classes Schiel will be teaching on the Northeastern campus in the upcoming months. “I have a sociology class and a forensic anthropology class that I am very excited for. Similar to the ‘Pig Dig’ we did a while ago, I have a dog buried that I look forward to teaching about and working with students to uncover. I’m pretty enthusiastic to get to take more students out of the classroom and get more outdoor education in combination with subjects students would want to take on campus.”

Schiel has brought a lot of interest to the classes he is associated with at Northeastern Junior College. His expertise in forensic science has had students, primarily criminal justice students,  totally engrossed in the pig digs that have been done the last two years. In one class, his students mapped a section of the campus off and did an archeological lab project that revealed thousands of cigarette butts from years and years past still remain just below the surface, perhaps out of site, but still there nevertheless. This project confirmed even more why the college longs to one day be totally smoke free. He looks forward to teaching more classroom classes, but specialty classes such as hiking and backpacking, and to future trips and summer specialty classes like this year’s, “Idaho Mountain Archeology” are no doubt something he’s really passionate about.

NJC students CJ Sheaffer of Deer Trail and Megan Swiger of Sterling get a chance not only to learn about, but interact with, the archeology of the mountainous region of Idaho when they  visited the Copper Queen Mine.  

NJC students CJ Sheaffer of Deer Trail and Megan Swiger of Sterling get a chance not only to learn about, but interact with, the archeology of the mountainous region of Idaho when they visited the Copper Queen Mine. (Courtesy Photo)

For many years, NJC has also offered an outdoor leadership class that takes a group of students to Utah to hike and camp in the national parks there. This is also a summer class, when offered. If you have an interest in participating in these type of college activities, watch for these special listings in the Spring class schedules published in mid-November that include both upcoming  spring and summer classes for the following semesters.

Adrianne Eager of Gunnison, CO is a communications major at Northeastern Junior College. She will be a sophomore here this fall.