Matt Stirn discovered his love of archaeology when, as a student at Jackson Hole Middle School, he visited the Game Creek Archaeological Site. There was something fascinating about unearthing clues about people who lived thousands of years earlier.
Rebecca Sgouros grew up in New Jersey and spent her summers with family in Greece where sites like Olympia and Delphi inspired her to study archaeology.
She met Stirn on a study abroad program in Greece. They both attended the University of Sheffield before getting married and moving to Jackson, the place that first inspired Stirn to pursue archaeology.
Sgouros and Stirn focus on high-altitude archaeology, using scientific approaches to answer archaeological questions. They learned the mountains around Jackson had not had much archaeological exploration, so they sought to learn more about the area.
“We wanted to learn more about what was up in the mountains, but it was important to do it in a way that involved the local community,” Stirn says.
The environmental archaeologists started the Jackson Hole Archaeological Initiative through the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum in 2014. The initiative takes local school kids to an actual archaeological site in the area where they can learn about the discipline in the field. It’s a way to offer students an experience similar to the childhood trip that piqued Stirn’s early interest in the subject.
The initiative also runs the Mercill Archaeology Center at the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum. The center features hands-on exhibits, including a mock excavation site, that highlight archaeological projects and history from the area, ranging from prehistoric days to homesteaders who settled in the valley.
It also offers a classroom for archaeology courses for school groups and summer camps, as well as a variety of other programs for groups of all ages. As part of the initiative, Stirn and Sgouros work to educate people about leaving artifacts alone as well as the importance of cultural preservation and how archaeologists uncover information about the past.
In addition to classroom work, Stirn and Sgouros continue to devote time to their own research in the field. Stirn is specifically interested in people who lived at high elevations thousands of years ago. He investigates why people chose particular sites and how they adapted to the harsh environments. Sgouros looks at the animals ancient people hunted and farmed, and specializes in ancient diet and cuisine.
The couple also works on ice patch archaeology which is when ancient ice starts to melt revealing items frozen in time. This relatively new type of archaeology in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is helping provide a greater understanding of the people who lived in the area thousands of years ago. In addition to their work in Jackson they both work on sites in Italy and Greece.
Wherever they work, the couple’s research keeps them on the move—and often high atop a mountain.