The Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology serves as the research arm of the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) at the University of Idaho for investigations in archaeology, ethnohistory, linguistics and physical anthropology. The laboratory is the main clearinghouse and repository for all Northern Idaho archaeological collections and records. The laboratory was founded specifically for the purpose of giving students the opportunity to practice anthropology and archaeology in a controlled environment before entering the professional community. These roles continue to be the main focus of the laboratory today, with students collaborating with faculty on a variety of projects, ranging from artifact analysis and conservation to archival research. In addition, the laboratory is also committed to serving the public through interactive educational programs, interpretive displays, guest presentations, public volunteering programs, lab tours, and many other options.

Is it Déjà vu All Over Again?

Life at the Alfred W. Bowers W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology (AWBLA) is progressing into the summer months with its usual stately grace. The frantic pace of the semester has grudgingly given way to long hours in overwarm rooms. Staff members work determinedly to impose order on our many collections while finding creative excuses to work in the climate controlled Repository. The AWBLA is located on the University of Idaho campus in Moscow, Idaho. The Laboratory also serves as the Archaeological Survey of Idaho, Northern Repository and holds 748 collections unique to that function. The Laboratory also houses several other collections unaffiliated with the Repository, most notable among them being: the Asian American Comparative Collection, the Donald E. Crabtree Lithic Comparative Collection, and Pacific Northwest Anthropological Archive. These collections are well recognized and undeniably among the most prestigious elements of our facility. Although highly prized, these resources have a seemingly endless list of needs that must be met as new artifacts are added, technology advances, curatorial practices shift, or even as the Laboratory redefines its purpose. As a result, Collection Managers at this Laboratory have been accessioning, rehousing, or modifying these collections for decades. As the years pass and our work on the collections continues, part of my brain whispers “It’s like deja vu all over again.” So, on this hot day in July, the amazing staff members of the Laboratory of Anthropology log in and settle down to do some serious work that few will ever appreciate. Over the course of a day, the dedication of the morning starts to fray a bit and the radio stations get a little louder, some people have disappeared into audio books, while others have mysterious means that involve laughing aloud to something no one else can hear. No one says anything about someone else’s coping mechanism. Here again, part of my brain starts whispering. This time it says, hang in there and remember “90% of the game is half mental.” The extreme tedium and almost hypnotic quality of the work is soothing for some and meditative for others. However, there are those days where the silent susurration of papers or the repetitive activity of cataloguing feels like a slow crawl toward madness. As all archaeologists, curators, preservationists, and related professionals know – this job is not for the faint of heart or undisciplined mind. Projects can take months, years, and for one of the collections we recently finished rehabilitating, a solid decade. People assume that because of the work we do that archaeologists are patient and calm people but that isn’t always the case. I for one can be marvelously impatient and often have the attitude of a caged animal. Yet I understand it isn’t about what my brain can tolerate, it is about the stack of papers that needs to be preserved for people I have never met, or the organization of a collection of Fire-Affected-Rock for a researcher that hasn’t been born yet. A determined mind and a belief that what we do serves some kind of purpose is what keeps our hands moving when our ability to focus is being lured away by a gloriously sunny day. Year in and year out we may work on the same project with good days and hard days thrown in the mix but eventually, we get to the point where we slide a box on a shelf and say “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

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This archaeological collection consists of approximately 75 cubic feet and contains well over 16000 artifacts. Given the size and complexity of the collection, nearly inscrutable field records, and vagaries of funding, it took ten years to bring to completion. After working on it for so long, I doubt it will be ever be “over”.

Leah K. Evans-Janke, Ph.D.

Collections Manager, Archaeological Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology University of Idaho

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A portion of the Pacific Northwest Anthropological Archive. By December of this year, some of these books will be made available to the public, students, staff, and other interested researchers through the University of Idaho Library as non-circulating resources. The project is slated to be completed in the next few years as more than 15,000 items go online.

Alyssa Griffith

Laboratory Technician

As an employee of the Alfred Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology, I get to work on different projects throughout the year. My current project is working to integrate the Pacific Northwest Archaeological Archives (PNWAA), housed here at the lab, into the existing University of Idaho library system. The goal of this project is to make the archives more accessible, visible, and searchable so that they can be utilized by researchers, students and members of the public. In order to integrate the PNWAA into the U of I library system, I am tasked with finding Library of Congress (LOCs) numbers for each book in the archive. The library uses these LOCs to electronically catalogue and shelve books. At first glance, it seems like a simple task. In books recently published (the last 20-30 years), the LOC is usually located on the copyright page along with the publisher’s information. The challenge comes from trying to find LOCs for older books, obscure periodicals and foreign publications, of which the archive has many. The Library of Congress has an online search engine to assist in finding the LOC numbers for these kinds of archival materials but it is hardly ever a straightforward query. In fact, it’s more akin to an electronic scavenger hunt at times, requiring multiple search engines and websites to find the information I’m looking for. Never a dull moment here at the lab!IMAGE 3

Overview of Michelle’s desk. Each staff member, or “Labbie”, spends so much time here that we get a bit attached to our space and make it into a home-away-from-home. Michelle, like all Labbies, has nestled her work in and among the artifacts of her life.

Michelle Sing

Laboratory Technician

On this fine and glorious eleventh of July, I find myself numbering endless documents that once belonged to the much esteemed Don Crabtree. Since my fellow Bower’s labbie Dakota Wallen will explain most of the project, I will refrain from detailing more. For my own experience on this Day of Archaeology, I find myself wondering what project I was working on one year ago to compare it to my tedious, though important, work of today. Last July, I was cataloging items from a well located during the Cyrus-Jacobs Uberuaga project from the 2012 summer field season in Boise. I remember how excited I was to spend hours piecing together old mason jars, perfume bottles, and ceramics. Basically, it was one big puzzle that was conveniently labeled as archaeology (or, more specifically, lab work). Today, I spend endless hours numbering Crabtree documents Ce.10.1.4… Ce.10.1.5…Ce.10.1.6…Ce.10.1.4…Oops, got distracted by a hang nail. Ce.10.1.7…..). Clearly, my work last year was about 1000 pieces of glass better, but I have found that all archaeological work has its perks and importance. Working with the Crabtree collection has shown me quite a bit of the evolution of flintknapping and archaeology (I count myself lucky to be working in the field when it is less sexist). The knowledge we have since found from Crabtree’s time has painted a more complete picture of lithics in Idaho and beyond. And there is still more to learn. As I continue to number my documents (while longing to be outside in the lovely Idaho summer), I know none of that knowledge is possible without me cataloging and analyzing away. So, this summer I will continue to preserve the work of Don Crabtree and know I am contributing to a long line of knowledge in my field.

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Overview of Dakota’s desk. One of Dakota’s strategies for dealing with the tedium of numbering papers is to obsessively collect every piece of metal he removes the documents prior to their scanning and eventual long term storage. The pile in the left hand corner of the image has been growing steadily over the past seven months and has become a fixture in the Laboratory.

Dakota Wallen

Laboratory Technician

A graduate student in archaeology, I work as a Laboratory Technician for the Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology at the University of Idaho. I have been processing the Donald E. Crabtree Lithic Technology Collection for 7 months now. Crabtree donated his library, most of his documents, replicas, and artifacts that he made to the University of Idaho when he died. Crabtree is very famous in lithic technology because he was a flintknapper extraordinaire who taught himself how to replicate the stone tools and projectile points found so often at archaeological sites. After teaching himself he began flintknapping field schools and taught the first generation of flintknapping archaeologists. He also made educational films about making stone tools, gave flintknapping demonstrations at the Smithsonian and consulted on projects as small as local Idaho surveys to the Leakey’s projects in East Africa. Crabtree’s artifacts have been well cared for and catalogued, however his documents and library have not. The entire collection was catalogued with no particular order; articles were mixed in with wedding announcements, correspondence, rough drafts of publications, and other miscellany. It remained that way for 30 years and now it is organized so anyone wishing to do research on the collection can actually find relevant materials and look through specific documents and categories. With the collection reorganized the remaining work is quite menial. I arrive at the Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology at 8:00am. The work room is already uncomfortably warm, so I turn on our little old air conditioning unit, which will struggle all day to keep the room a not so comfortable 80 degrees. I open a gray archival quality box and dive right into work . . . numbering pieces of paper. Okay so maybe it is not quite that bad, the papers are documents from the Donald E. Crabtree Lithic Technology Collection after all. I grab a folder of alphabetized and chronologically ordered correspondence and begin assigning catalog numbers so that we can keep track of documents. If people came and did research with the collection it is important to be able to know how many documents were there before and after the collection was used, in case anything was stolen, removed or misplaced. After numbering a few hundred pages of correspondence I take a break to check some thesis research related emails. Budgets have finally been approved; they have been pending since February but get finalized in July. After learning this I also find out that the project deadline is actually August 1st. There was 6 months to do the project, but the funds were not yet available so now there is only a month to complete the project. I consult with my major professor and he suggests telling them when it will realistically be completed, our plans to do so and that I should say he said to do it because in his words “he is pretty famous.” After this good news I head back to work, more page numbering. If I come across any staples, paperclips or any other metal objects they need to be removed to protect the longevity of the collection from rust and other problems metal implements can cause to documents. After numbering all of the pages they will eventually be entered into a database, many of the documents will also be scanned so that they can be accessed digitally, which will prevent damage to many of the more fragile documents. It sounds awful numbering papers all day, but it’s not so bad. Working with the great group of employees at the Bowers Lab makes work enjoyable, and if no one else is around there are always audiobooks to fill the void!

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The completely reliable, if somewhat contrary, copier/scanner that Samantha has lovingly nicknamed “Satan”.

Samantha Widner

Laboratory Technician

I am a senior at the University of Idaho working towards my BS in Anthropology. I have been working here at the Laboratory of Anthropology for a year and a half. I have spent the last 4 months working on the Don Crabtree Collection with Dakota Wallen. My specific job is digitize all correspondence and other donated material. On a typical day, I arrive at the lab around 10:00am and go directly to scanning. Unfortunately our scanner is located in a separate room from the main lab so I spend most of the day by myself. At first I struggled with the isolation of the scanning, but as time has passed I have adapted to it, while racking up some impressive Pandora hours. Scanning for 8 hours a day is as exciting as it sounds, but I occasionally come across some interesting finds in my work. I’ve found mentions of the Leakeys and their work in Africa, amusing stamps and cards, and what might be my favorite find to date. In a correspondence to his French associate Dr. Crabtree opened his letter by stating “How about that Apollo 11”. When the scanner is in an agreeable mood I can scan a thousand or more pages a week, however, any of my coworkers would tell you that the struggle with the scanner is real, and finding it in an agreeable mood is a rare. Overall I enjoy working at the lab, both for the opportunities it provides, and because of the people who work here with me.

The Archaeological Backstretch

More times than not, the life of an archaeological collection will outlive the lives of the archaeologists who originally excavated it, but what happens in the “golden years” of the collection? Like people, a collection’s condition in later years depends the care it receives from its “family and friends.” With proper care and attention to detail throughout generations of archaeologists, a collection can continue to add pieces to the puzzle of our human history.

Archaeologists, including University of Idaho (UI) students, curate and research collections at the Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology in Moscow (a small town in Northwest United States). The Lab is the main repository for Northern Idaho anthropological and archaeological collections and documents as well as an arena of applied research for the University. Students, faculty, staff, and volunteers care for, store, rehabilitate, document, and provide access to prehistoric and historic artifacts, their associated documentation, ethnographical works, and a host of references and research resources.

On this day in July, Lab folks continue to rehabilitate several collections in addition to a host of other daily and ongoing tasks. This post is a collaborative effort by many of us who had an archaeological sort of day.

Front cover of the field journal that turned Leah's day around.

Front cover of the field journal that turned Leah’s day around.

There is good to be found amidst the wreck and ruin:

Leah K. Evans-Janke
Collections Manager, Archaeological
Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology

On days like these I really wonder why I became an archaeologist.  I have been running from project to project trying to stay ahead the workload destined to land on my desk.  It seems everywhere I look there is a responsibility begging for my attention and each one is equally important.  Today I am actively working on two NAGPRA inventories, curating documents from a collection excavated over 40 years ago, planning a large scale exhibit and creating an activity booklet, trying to write a grant, finding ways to boost our Facebook audience, and a bunch of other stuff.  I am waiting for someone to say “you are an archaeologist/collections manager – why aren’t you working with artifacts?” but this is the reality of archaeology. I might be able to get back to artifacts in a month or two, but a lot of being an archaeologist in our modern world comes down to paperwork, administration/budget management, and fretting endlessly about making sure employees have jobs for this moment and into the future.  The reason I fell in love with this job is rarely part of what I do on a day-to-day basis.   For those of us who learned to trade in our hiking boots for cubicles, there are moments when we remember what drove us into this career and the spark reignites.  For example, I included a picture of one of the documents I am curating today because the front cover not only made me laugh, it reminded me that I am an essential link between “then”, “now”, and “someday”.  Time passes all too quickly and before we realize it, we become part of the “then” and our experiences, although small and largely insignificant, build into this thing collectively known as the human experience.  As I am reviewing field note books, I am seeing one of Idaho’s oldest and best known archaeological assemblages through youthful eyes, straining to see the past for the first time.  It can be some pretty powerful stuff – if you let it grab you.  It can be powerful enough to take you out of your cubicle and into that wonderful time known as “then”.

The view from Alyssa's desk.

The view from Alyssa’s desk.

 

Alyssa Schoeffler Griffith
Laboratory Technician

I am an undergraduate at the University of Idaho with a major in Anthropology.  I am lucky enough to work at the “Bowers Lab,” “Bowers,” as we know it.  On any given day you can find me processing archaeological collections for curation, scanning archaeological documents for archival purposes and entering data into a database.  On this particular day, I am surrounded by archival-grade, grey storage boxes stacked all over my desk.  They contain the last 54 bags of artifacts to be processed from a collection our lab has been intermittently working on curating for the last decade or so.  While not glamorous, my job today entails giving each of these bags an individual bag and box number and entering it into the collection’s Access database.  Doing this allows artifacts to be easily located once they have been shelved in the repository as well as making it easier to create box and bag labels that are generated using said database.

Courtney Berge
Laboratory Technician

As a volunteer in the lab throughout the summer, I have been privileged to watch as the rehabilitation of a 40 years old collection moves towards completion. A few weeks ago the lab started cataloguing the final year of this collection, which was excavated from the late 1960s-early 1970s. We have been working on dividing all the artifacts into their proper categories, assigning them new catalogue numbers, and entering their new numbers into the database. Today, I am work to ensure that every artifact has a permanent label. These coded labels contain their catalogue numbers, a site number that tells us in which site the artifact was found, as well as the number of artifacts in a bag, and what type of artifact it is. These labels are extremely important because they allow us to be able to identify the artifact easily and quickly. Making labels may not seem like the most fun thing to do in archaeology, but it is important. It is exciting to know that in a few weeks we will be finished working on this collection and that it will be ready to be used by someone in the future.

The view from Amy's desk.

The view from Amy’s desk.

 

Amy Johnson
Laboratory Technician
Curating collection from Florence, Idaho (10-IH-1923)

Chi-Namel powder varnish can recovered from historic Florence, ID.

Chi-Namel powder varnish can recovered from historic Florence, ID.

Florence, Idaho, was a historic mining town established at the onset of the Idaho Territory (1863), and the  site I am curating dates to the early 1890s. Florence was was one of the most productive placer gold mines in the state and mining continued when quartz substituted gold as the sought after resource after the gold had been depleted. Few people resided in the town year-round due to harsh winters and the town was completely abandoned in the 1950s. This site had a prominent Chinese population, as did most mining sites in the Northwest United States. The site was excavated in 1993 and the curation is taking place this year. The collection is associated with a single home, likely inhabited by family of European descent. Among the artifacts that I have rediscovered in this collection include a can of table varnish entitled Chi-Namel. The can has not been opened and still contains the powder varnish. Advertising that was found while researching the artifacts depicts a racist representation of Asian Americans cleaning and varnishing wooden surfaces while a white middle class woman sits and relaxes in a chair. This sort of bigoted advertising was unfortunately common in turn-of-the-century America. Though remote, the town did have a prominent Asian American population involved in operating the mines.

Amber Zielger
Laboratory Technician

The view from Amber's desk.

The view from Amber’s desk.

An undergrad in cultural anthropology, I work as a lab tech for the Lab.  For the last several weeks, we’ve been curating a pre-contact collection excavated in the late 1960s and early 1970s. My role in the curation has largely been one of data entry, but since we’re on the very tail end of the project, I’ve moved on to curating the documents for the collection. Today, that means scanning thousands of pages of catalog sheets, saving them as PDF files, and double-checking to make sure each sheet scanned properly.

When I first started working at the lab, I expected archaeology to be much like what one sees in films and on TV. I thought anthropology labs were mostly built of stainless steel, and that we might wheel skeletons out of hidden closets for comparative reasons. Few of my expectations were fulfilled, but as it turns out, I prefer it that way. The work I perform is often tedious, but it makes me proud to know that we’re contributing to a wider understanding of humanity’s history (often one flake of débitage or catalog sheet at a time.)

Note: We’d like to extend a special thanks to all the folks who entrust archaeological collections to the Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology and the constant support we receive from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Idaho.