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Center for Engagement and Community Development

Flint Hills Discovery Center Provides New Understanding

The City of Manhattan’s Flint Hills Discovery Center seeks to inspire people to celebrate, explore, and care for the natural and cultural environment of the Flint Hills, past and present. Permanent and temporary exhibits, an immersive experience, and public programming for all ages are used to reach this goal.

Exhibits highlighting the early Native peoples of this region will be enhanced through educational programs developed through matching support of an engagement incentive grant. This project, “Bringing Archaeology Home: Interpreting Central Plains Tradition Lifeways through Interactive Programming,” is organized by Lauren W. Ritterbush, associate professor of anthropology/archaeology, and the education staff of the Discovery Center.

The project seeks to promote public understanding of the cultural diversity of the Flint Hills over time through expanded educational programming designed to supplement the Winds of the Past gallery.

This gallery exhibits archaeological remains that inform about the many different ways Native peoples lived in the Flint Hills over more than 13,000 years. Many of these lifeways contrast with the stereotypical view of Plains Indians. “Bringing Archaeology Home” will produce interactive programming for school and other public groups that will expand understanding and create empathy for these diverse cultures.

The project developed from one of Ritterbush’s classes in spring 2016. Exploring Kansas Archaeology (ANTH 365) was open to traditional and non-traditional enrollment, the latter through UFM. Through this course, Daniel Schapaugh, Education Specialist at the Flint Hills Discovery Center, gained knowledge of Kansas archaeology. He also developed ideas about how to engage students, of all ages and backgrounds, with archaeological thinking. Discussions between Ritterbush and Schapaugh spawned ideas about how similar learning could be integrated into the educational programs of the Flint Hills Discovery Center.

The project team, including Ritterbush, Schapaugh, and Stephen Bridenstine, the Public Program Coordinator of the Flint Hills Discovery Center, hopes to engage the public. This will be done through contextual mappings of archaeological finds and discussions of inference about past lifeways. This will redefine how audiences perceive past Native people. “We’re hoping to emphasize the cultural diversity of this region,” said Ritterbush.

“(This program) will allow middle school students to explore lifeways of Native peoples inhabiting the Flint Hills region during the Central Plains Tradition prehistoric period,” said Schapaugh. “The program helps develop understanding and empathy for multiple ways of being human. There are many lessons to be learned from interpreting this archaeological data that are relevant for us today.”

The project timeline consists of five phases spanning parts of 2016-2018. The ultimate goal is to reach over 150 students in public, private, tribal, and homeschool organizations through in-house and outreach educational programs.

“This project translates University research into easily accessible learning materials and serves as an important service to the community through outreach,” wrote the team in their proposal. “It will place the prehistory of the Flint Hills front and center for students through interactive evidence-based activities and encourage them to think deeply about time and culture in the place they call home.”

The project began in July, with Ritterbush and Dr. Brad Logan, Research Associate Professor of anthropology/archaeology at K-State, beginning detailed spatial research of archaeological data recovered from a Late Prehistoric (AD 1000-1400) Central Plains tradition lodge.

“(Ritterbush’s and Logan’s) expertise in both field work and artifact interpretation has been critical to developing the program,” said Schapaugh. “Essentially, without K-State collaboration, this project would not have been possible.”

Meanwhile, Bridenstine and Schapaugh are developing outcomes based on education standards that will guide the endeavor. The team will move towards development of the interactive lesson, learning outcomes, and assessments starting in January. School groups will be invited to test the program in spring 2017. Feedback obtained during this phase will allow refinement of the learning activity and approaches. “Bringing Archaeology Home” will be fully integrated into the Discovery Center’s educational plan in spring 2018.

“Working with Dr. Ritterbush on the class concepts has been very rewarding, she is a tremendous resource and is able to convey information very effectively,” said Schapaugh. “I also look forward to being able to engage young people in lessons from our ancestors as they are very relevant to us today.”

The results of this cooperative endeavor will engage the public with ideas of cultural diversity over time, fitting well with the mission of the Flint Hills Discovery Center. A second goal of the project also addresses their mission of stewardship. “It’s everybody’s responsibility,” said Ritterbush. “If we want to learn about different ways of living in this area, then we all have to serve as stewards for the archeological record.”

Through partnership between researchers at K-State and educators of the Flint Hills Discovery Center, the team hopes to help create an “educated, inclusive, and empathetic citizenry.”

For more on this proposal, view the Engagement Incentive Grants Awards.