MOSES COULEE — For six days, the four teenager girls walked around the shrub-steppe lands without seeing anything interesting at their feet.
Add archaeologist Powys Gadd to the scene and artifacts seemed to pop up everywhere.
“Chief Moses himself might have been on this very spot,” Gadd said. “I think that’s kind of cool to think about.”
On Friday, the U.S. Forest Service archaeologist took the girls on a walking tour of the site where Indians once spent the warmer months of the year. A few hundred yards from the Nature Conservancy’s field building off Moses Coulee Road, Gadd pointed out tiny pieces of rock. To the untrained eye, they looked like ordinary rock.
To Gadd, they are chert. a type of sedimentary rock; and chalcedony, a type of silica. Both were popular materials used by Indians to make weapons and utensils. Many of the tiny pieces, perhaps an inch in diameter, were left overs from tool-making. One had the markings of an ancient scraper.
“There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of artifacts on this site,” Gadd said.
Her audience were students at the Science and Math Institute, a public school in Tacoma. They were participating in a monthlong educational program offered by the Nature Conservancy, a worldwide organization that works to protect ecologically important lands and waters. Each year, it offers high school students who live in urban areas a chance to take part in internships in its LEAF program. LEAF stands for Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future.
The goal of the program, according to Nature Conservancy officials, is to spark an interest in conservation in young people, and to foster careers in conservation.
At the Moses Coulee site, the girls were mostly learning about the land but at previous stops, at nature preserves near Long Beach, they did service work. That included planting 200 cedar trees; counting marbled murrelets, which are seabirds that roost in old growth forests; and doing trail maintenance. In other NCW areas, they banded birds and fed pygmy rabbits. The girls also toured the University of Idaho and Portland State University.
Fostering careers in conservation seemed to be working at this Washington state internship program. Bailey Furuyama, 17, started the program thinking she would become a physician and now thinks she’d like to be “a forester/botanist.”
“I’ve been exposed and I feel really comfortable outside now,” she said. “It’s inspiring to be out here, with history all around us. This makes me think about how the land was used, and what we can do with the natural land.”
Lauren Budd, 17, still wants to be a marine biologist but, since visiting the University of Idaho campus with the other students, she sees more clearly how her work could help wildlife.
Nodia Rogers, 16, still wants to be a lawer but “this has started me thinking about conservation and environmental law,” she said. “It would be a way to advocate, not only for people but for what people need.”
Riley Monthy, 16, calls herself a math nerd and says she still wants to study math or biology but may look into applying her skills to rangeland management. “It would be a way to work with landowners to protect the shrub steppe,” she said.
Monthy said she was amazed at all the artifacts in the upper end of Moses Coulee, where a nearby spring drew ancient Indians to hunt, gather vegetation for food, and where they left the tiny remnants of chert and chalcedony called lithic scatter.
“Before, I just saw them as rocks and I didn’t realize that they were shaped by humans,” she said. “It’s cool to think about past humans, and how we are all reliant on the land that’s here.”