historical archaeologist

“Excavating an Archives”… well, at the end of the day

 

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Hello!

Hello, All. I am happy to participate again in the third annual Day of Archaeology (2011, 2012).  Congratulations and a big THANK YOU to all of the other participants and volunteers!  The past few years have been a wonderful experience – I love seeing what other archaeologists are doing around the globe, as well as sharing my own work.

My name is Molly Swords and I am an historical archaeologist based out of Moscow, Idaho, and employed as a Cultural Resource Specialist III for SWCA Environmental Consultants (SWCA).  For the last few years, we have been processing on an enormous archaeological collection for the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD).  This project has also led to a new partnership with the University of Idaho as I teach both Applied Cultural Resource Management and Issues in Heritage Management classes.

In keeping with my two previous day of archaeology posts- I’ve chosen to document what my day looked like today…

Kali D.V. Oliver and Theodore Charles, graduate students at the University of Idaho

Kali D.V. Oliver and Theodore Charles, graduate students at the University of Idaho

This morning, I had a lovely start to my day. I met two University of Idaho graduate students for an early morning coffee meeting.  We talked about progress on their thesis topics, upcoming conferences where they could present their work, and options to consider as avenues for archaeological publishing.

I dedicated a good portion of my morning and afternoon to editing a couple of technical reports and organizing artifacts for a museum exhibit.  The company that I work for, SWCA is putting together a museum exhibit at the Bonner Country Historical Museum on the Sandpoint Archaeological Project with the support of ITD.  This exhibit is a fantastic way to illustrate this amazing project to the local community and visitors to Sandpoint.  The museum exhibit should be open in mid-August; so, make sure to check it out if you are in the Lake Pend d’Oreille area!

At lunchtime, I decided to call Mary Anne Davis, the Associate State Archaeologist for the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). I wanted to check in with Mary Anne Davis about details for students presenting and the possibility of having a University of Idaho session at the Idaho Heritage Conference (September 25-27). Go Vandals!  This year is Idaho’s territorial sesquicentennial (the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s signing of the congressional act creating the Idaho Territory). In celebration of this anniversary, folks and organizations around the state have been hosting events, including a very impressive Idaho Archaeological Month in May, and will continue to observe the sesquicentennial with the first ever Idaho Heritage Conference.  This conference is a partnership between of a number of organizations in Idaho (Idaho Archaeological Society, Idaho Heritage Trust, Idaho Association of Museums, Idaho State Historical Society, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Preservation Idaho), all of which will hold their annual meetings, preservations, training, and field trips together for this conference. Mary Anne and I also discussed having something similar to the Day of Archaeology during Idaho Archaeology Month next year.

AACC Stacks of Reference Resources

AACC Stacks of Reference Resources

AACC Comparative Collection

AACC Comparative Collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last part of my day was spent at the Asian American Comparative Collection (AACC), housed at the Alfred W. Bower’s Laboratory of Anthropology at the University of Idaho.  I am doing some research on Overseas Chinese for a publication that I am currently writing.  If you do not know about the AACC yet, a volunteer coordinator and one of my archaeological heroes, Dr. Priscilla Wegars, runs it.  The collection houses around 27,500 entries in the database covering artifacts, documents, bibliography, and images.  This collection is such a wealth of information and Priscilla is such a treasure.  I wanted to spend some time going through the stacks of resources, including dissertations, theses, and gray literature, to help me shed more light on the Overseas Chinese in the American West.  In the span of 40 minutes, Priscilla provided me eleven amazing documents.  (Honestly, with Priscilla’s help it took about 10 minutes).  When I told Priscilla that I was going to “blog” about my day of archaeology and ending up at the archives she said that I was “excavating the archives.”

AACC Food Storage Jars, typically referred Ginger Jars

AACC Food Storage Jars, typically referred Ginger Jars

** I have included the link for the Asian American Comparative Collection Foundation at the University of Idaho, they are currently accepting donations in order to keep this world-renowned and heavily utilized collection available in the future**

http://www.uiweb.uidaho.edu/aacc/FUTURE.HTM

All in all, it was a lovely Day of Archaeology.  If you want to follow me on twitter- for more archaeological tidbits- I’m anthrogirly.

AACC houses a variety of cultural materials including those from China, Japan, and the Pacific Islands (including Australia and New Zealand)

AACC houses a variety of cultural materials including those from China, Japan, and the Pacific Islands (including Australia and New Zealand)

 

Here are some links:

http://www.swca.com/index.php/

http://idahoarchaeology.org/projects/sandcreekarchaeology/

http://www.preservationidaho.org/heritageconference

http://www.uiweb.uidaho.edu/aacc/

People that I would like to thank: SWCA, Mary Anne Davis, Priscilla Wegars, Kali D.V. Oliver, Theodore Charles, Mary Petrich-Guy, Jim Bard, Robert Weaver, and Mark Warner

AACC Alcohol Bottles. I thought I would end this post with a photographic toast!

 

 

A Day in the Life of Contract Archaeology in Nevada & Utah

I am a staff archaeologist for a small private archaeology firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, but given the economic and development climate almost all of our contracts are in Nevada. Today’s work settles us in south-central Utah, Cedar City, with our project area located nearly one and a half hours to the west on the Utah/Nevada border. Why so far away? Well, the distinct lack of hotels closer to the project area is the primary cause!

The day starts as usual with a 7am rise and shine, with everyone meeting at the rig, archaeological parlance for abused and smelly vehicle. This is day 9 of a 10-day field session, so close to the end we can taste it…and smell it…oh nope that is the rig. We are down to two folks, a eager go-getter with a Bachelor’s from the University of Utah and a straw hat that would put Huckleberry Finn to shame, and myself, a Historical Archaeologist with a Ph.D. from the University of Montana, with a field hat that has seen too many years of sweat and soil and is an old friend now. Regardless of our educational status, age, or even field hat coolness, we both need an instant infusion of caffeine.

An Archaeologists’ Hat is as much an indicator of professionalism as his trowel. As such this hat has been my travel companion since 2004, the year of my first archaeological job.

A short drive to downtown Cedar City, brings us to one of the two coffee shops in town. Religious prohibitions on caffeine definitely cuts into the morning options in rural Utah.  With a 20oz iced soy mocha in hand we hit the road, still trying to clear the fogginess of an eighth night in a hotel. Regardless of season, crew size, project, weather, or impending days off, the morning drive is usually a shorter drive than the afternoon. After listening to some archaeological theory lectures through an ipod, we cross the barren sagebrush flats of the Escalante Desert, still in Utah and still an hour out. Oddly, the Escalante Desert is home to one of the largest pig farms in the United States, and by the pungent odor permeating our rig, locals apparently use the by-products of the facility (poop) for the smattering of agricultural fields that dot the valley bottom.

Wild Horses Roam Freely in the Project Area

Finally, after passing a railroad ghost town of the 1920s, we turn onto a dirt road, finally making the last desperate plunge into the project area. Conversation has now completely died, as everything that was worth saying has been said, and now thoughts turn to the work at hand….pop…there goes a tire…changed in 14 minutes, new record. As soon as we start again we encounter a wild herd of horses, roaming freely across the rugged mountains now covered in a Pinyon-Juniper Woodland. We take some time to capture their free spirits on our company’s digital camera, and their skittishness makes for excellent action photos.  Today is the third day of “Red Flag” warnings in Utah and eastern Nevada, defined by high heat and high wind. One perk, which is apparently my pithy catchphrase of choice according to my straw-hatted colleague, of a “Red Flag” day is that the wind offsets some of the oppressive 99 degree heat.

Finally, upon reaching our project area we unload the car and start the processing of conducting archaeological survey. Simply put, we wander in organized lines through defined areas looking for remnants of the past, whether it is chipped stone from Native American use up to 13,000 years ago, or cone-top beer cans of the 1930s. In the United States, all sites older than 50 years must be recorded during survey, thus even making songs like “The Twist”, “I Can’t Stop Loving You”, and “Duke of Earl” now a historic part of America’s past.

We are currently working for a mineral exploration company, who is looking for traces of fortune in these desolate mountains. In 1899, these same mountains saw their first mining boom, which quickly fizzled into abandoned ruins and trash of hundreds of disappointed miners. This trash is exactly what makes me excited for our job, as these cans, bottles, ceramics, corset hooks, buttons, and a million other small things forgotten, tell us a story of who lived here, how they lived, what they ate, what was their ethnicity, and sometimes if we get lucky, their gender, age, and perhaps even name. All archaeologists, regardless of their location, age, or position, are bound together by this common thrill of discovery. The unknown is what gets me up in the morning.

Half Stone, Half Log Cabin Sits Peacefully and Poses for Photo

After arriving on-site by 9am, we start the process of identifying one of the five sites we will record today. It is a large mineral prospecting site dating to the 1890s-1910s boom period. We identify several building platforms, a privy, two dumps, and over a dozen mining features from adits (horizontal mine shafts) to prospect holes. After nearly 20 days of recording sites in this area, we start to see patterns in the trash people disposed of, and this gives us an idea of what they ate on-site.My focus is on the lowly sardine can, a common fixture of any mining camp in the American West. While I find the smell, texture, and perhaps even packaging of this small fish as pleasurable as the pig farms we just drove through, it was a common source of protein for miners isolated in the mountains. More interestingly, though, I notice that we can tell that there was some consumer preference for these stinky little fish in one camp versus another. The site we are recording today has only two sardine cans in a dump of 400 cans. Yesterday we recorded over 50 cans in a similarly-sized dump. Apparently a kindred spirit of sardine-dislike occupied this camp over 100 years ago. Another camp, this time occupied during the Great Depression (1930s), also contained a boatload of sardine cans, though these all showed signs of burning. Yep, someone decided not only to eat this product, but also cook it within the tin can it was purchased within. Health and palate concerns aside, these small patterns of trash keep the mind going over the course of a 10-hour field day.

By 3:30pm, we have recorded another two small mining sites (thankfully devoid of further sardine cans), and two prehistoric sites composed completely of obsidian, which is black volcanic glass. There is a local obsidian quarry, so this black glass is found everywhere in great abundance. Interesting of course…but as we pile in the rig to head home…my mind still ponders the lowly sardine, and how we seem like sardines ourselves squeezed into a vehicle filled to the seams with equipment, water, backpacks, a now flat tire, and the other trappings of archaeology.

The return drive is far less eventful, and far less filled with theoretical conversations. Focus is instead on the evening’s pursuit of nourishment, fried food and a beer (definitely not cooked sardines!). After a gentle avoiding swerve of a jackrabbit attempting to speed up Darwinism, we hit the pavement and tear off for the comfort of hotel and bar in Cedar City. We close the work day with a banana and strawberry flavored snow cone from a child labor operated roadside stand, and hit the showers. Tomorrow is a short day, only a four hour drive to home, and then the four hours of paperwork. After a seemingly short four days off, we hit the road again for another archaeological adventure in Nevada.

 

Sometimes I Finish 6 Seemingly Impossible Tasks Before Lunch…

Hello Everybody! I am very excited to take part again in the Day of Archaeology! I enjoyed taking part last year and afterwards reading the posts from all over the world.

My name is Molly Swords and I am a historical archaeologist. I work for SWCA Environmental Consultants and teach the Applied Cultural Resource Management class at the University of Idaho. Currently, I have number of “irons in the fire” and multi-tasking is a necessity. As others have probably mentioned there are a number of days that you are not outside in the field. This happens to be one of those days.

Phinney Hall houses the Sociology and Anthropology Department at the University of Idaho. I work mostly in the offices housed in this building.

I start my day off with patronizing one of the many coffee stands around Moscow. I know what a busy day it is going to be… so, this is my little moment of Zen. A 24oz vanilla coffee is going to see me through the first part of the day.
Upon arriving at work, I answer a number of different emails about various projects. The first email greeting me is a reply to an email I sent yesterday, including information that I gathered at the Washington State University Archives. I was able to venture over to WSU’s Special Collections and Archives to look over documents to help out some colleagues, Bob Weaver and Bruce Schneider, in another SWCA office. Part of the fascination of historical archaeology for me is getting to actually look through records to further explain the story.

Another email I received was from a University of Idaho student that I taught last semester. She had a few questions about field school, as she would be attending her first one soon. I quickly replied to her… conveying a little of my jealousy that she would soon be out at the Rosebud Battlefield Field School.

My desk at a relatively low level of chaos.

Since I am teaching a class in the fall for the University of Idaho, a small part of my day is doing some administrative things in preparation for that class, including ensuring all my paperwork is in order to get my new identity card (as mine expires on July 1st) and that I’ve made an appointment to get trained on the technology equipment for the room that I will teach in. I contemplate thinking of which books to assign… and then decide that today is the day not to go down that rabbit hole. Though preparation for the class can be tedious, I love engaging archaeology students in discussions of real-world archaeology.

I had a phone call with my SWCA PI (principal investigator), Jim Bard. We caught up on future opportunities and what is going on with the current project that we are working on Sandpoint, the main cultural resource project that I am involved with – a multi-year historical archaeology project in its final stages. I am compiling technical reports and editing versions coming back from the editors. With a collection of close to 600,000 artifacts this is no small feat.
In between all of these things going on, I am working on a proposal. My SWCA supervisor Mini Sharma Ogle and I email about setting up a time to chat on Monday about the logistics of writing a project proposal and budget to monitor a construction area for cultural resources.

Temporary housing and storage of the Sandpoint collection.

It is around this time that I realize that I have not had lunch… the coffee has worked its magic until after 2pm. So, I grab a quick lunch with the Sandpoint Lab Director, Amanda Haught. It just so happens that this day is her last day as Lab Director. So, our lunch is a working lunch during which we discuss where things are and what needs to be finished. When we return from lunch, we sit down again and go over things… while I take many notes. I will be stepping in and overseeing the remainder of deaccessioning of collections and be available for the staff for any questions that may arise.

It is around this time that Mark Warner makes his third appearance of the day in our office. Our cluster of offices are almost directly above his office so, it is a short commute for him to come visit. And as one of the PI’s of the Sandpoint Project, we see him at least once a day. Amanda and I quickly chat with him about progress of the collection and report.

Home Rule Irish pipe recovered from archaeological excavations of Willa Herman’s turn-of-the-century bordello in Sandpoint.

Coming home and decompressing on the porch, with a jack and coke, which led to drinks with my amazing neighbor, a National Park Service archivist, who is from Wisconsin and makes the best Old Fashions! She told me a popular joke among archivists, “Has Ken touched your collections?” (Ken Burns). Which made me laugh and laugh.

As we sit in her backyard and catch up on our professions, I can’t help but think about all the amazing archaeologists that I’ve had the pleasure of working with on the Sandpoint Project and that I have the best job in the world!

Whew… hope you enjoyed this snapshot of my whirlwind day. FYI- my title is a take on a quote from Alice in Wonderland.

Historical Archaeology & Visual Art

I am an historical archaeologist who teaches at Cheyney University and at West Chester University, two campuses of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education that are located in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA. I am not teaching during the summer term which gives me time to pursue my research which involves studying the public’s engagement with the archaeological resources in Independence National Historical Park (a U.S. National Park Service property commemorating the birthplace of American democracy). Today, June 27th, has been a ‘catch-up’ day for me where I had time to move ahead on several items on my ‘wanting to do’ list. First, I wrote to the editor of the “Images of the Past” column of the Society for Historical Archaeology Newsletter (Benjamin Pykles) proposing a write-up about Jackson Ward ‘Smokey’ Moore, Jr.  Moore, a retired archaeologist and a Native American Chippewa, excavated in Philadelphia in the 1960’s at the site of Benjamin Franklin’s mansion.

Jackson Ward 'Smokey' Moore restoring a historic dish

Jackson Ward ‘Smokey’ Moore, Jr. in a National Park Service Public Affairs Photo, circa 1960. (Independence National Historical Park Archives).

My offer to undertake this write-up required researching the Newsletter’s back issues to determine the type of information expected for the column and I spent an hour doing this prior to contacting Pykles to make sure I had the kind of information wanted. I then turned to some on-going background research I’ve been doing for a possible book project that the art photographer John Edward Dowell Jr. and I have talked about doing. This would be a book designed for the general reader which would feature photographs John took during the excavation of the President’s House archaeological site in Independence Park. These photographs document the archaeological excavation and its findings about slavery and freedom at the birth of the American nation and, in doing so, they help create African American history. They are also art pieces made by a Black artist. Beyond documenting new American history evidence and documenting new African American history evidence, his photographs are art pieces (re’ artifacts) of black visual art. Today I spent time researching and considering how these images therefore fit into the history of Black visual art. After reading a significant portion of N.I. Painter’s Creating Black Americans I realized that Dowell’s President’s House archaeological site photographs not only help make Black history more visible but also help make black art history more “visible” and that this is something we would likely want our manuscript to address given that the history of black visual art, like African American history, has been ignored, overlooked, and excluded in the canon.

View of the President's House by J. E. Dowell

ne of artist John E. Dowell’s photographs of the President’s House Site in Independence Park (right center, above the blue tarp-covered, back dirt pile). Dowell takes large format images (2 x 5 – 4 x 20 feet) which are then digitally scanned to produce highly detailed, deeply contextualized, images. His photographic style is known to convey life in the urban metropolis and he uses both unique perspective and lighting — namely pictures shot from high-rise vantage points that are taken at sun-up and sun-down.

Later on in the day I began typing up the meeting notes taken during the last monthly meeting of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum (PAF). I am Secretary of that non-profit advocacy group and I post the meeting minutes on the PAF listserv. However, I am coordinating a local version of the Day of Archaeology for the PAF and I switched to work on this task. I am coordinating Philadelphia area Day of Archaeology contributions from local area archaeologists as well as members of the public during the period June 25th-June 28th. I will use these contributions to develop a new page of content for the PAF webpages at www.phillyarchaeology.orgthat will help demonstrate and explain what people in our area do with archaeology both at work and at play. I will also be forwarding the contributions to the coordinator of the international Day of Archaeology blogging project.

Philadelphia Archaeological Forum Logo

The logo of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum, which is based on a commonly found historic dish.



A day in the life of an archaeologist in moscow, idaho

Friday- July 29,2011

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Hello fellow archaeologists and archy enthusiasts! My name is Molly Swords and I am a Historical Archaeologist/Cultural Resource Specialist II. I am working on the Sandpoint Idaho Archaeological Project, which has been a large, ongoing project for a couple of years. As a historical archaeologist whose focus is the American West, I feel very privileged to be part of this team of archaeologists!

The focus of the Sandpoint Archaeological Project was the old/original part of the railroad town of Sandpoint (circa 1880s to 1920s).  We excavated a known Chinese occupied area, saloons, brothel/cribs, a bordello, a dancehall, a commercial district, a blacksmith/machine shop for a lumber mill, a jail, a hotel, a privy, and a boarding house area (I hope that I did not forget an area). Most archaeologists love being in the field, but archaeology has a yin and yang about it: for all of the fieldwork that occurs in archaeology, there is also the lab and report writing that are just as important. A small assemblage of prehistoric artifacts were recovered, but the bulk of the artifacts recovered were historic. The excavation portion of the project has concluded, as has the cataloguing; currently, we are in the research/report writing phase of this project. Here is a glimpse of my Friday:

The day begins with carpooling with my roommates/friends/co-workers.  This project has us long term “temporarily” located in Moscow, Idaho, thus, my 4 roommates are all archaeologists who are involved on the project (one is a grad student working on her masters, another is finishing her undergrad degree, and 3 of us are full-time/round-the-clock archys).  In the Pacific Northwest, coffee is both god and goddess, so on our way to the lab, we swing by one of our favorite drive-thru coffee stands to get the caffeine needed to jump start our day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The offices that we are currently working in/use are located at the University of Idaho in the Anthropology Department.  This is one thing that I love: being able to be around the college students and seeing them discover archaeology!  It is also lovely to have our offices right next to Priscilla Wegars’s office and upstairs from Mark Warner’s office!

Today my tasks included writing emails, answering questions, organizing research that was compiled earlier this week at the Bonner County Historical Society, filling out travel receipts (mileage and meal reimbursements) from my trip to the historical society, and conducting some research on children in the American west (google books and interlibrary loan rock!). I then caught up with my team of writers and helped with brainstorming some ideas for our report, taught a co-worker how to collect data for analyzing shoes, and checked in with the conservation efforts of a recovered barrel. I also poked my head into Dr. Priscilla Wegar’s office to say a quick hello, and checked in with Dr. Mark Warner while he’s on vacation (thanks Mark!).

 

As the day begins to wind down, the coworkers/roommates/friends (or “The Five” as Priscilla calls us) close down the office: make sure the doors are locked, lights are off, windows are closed, the coffee maker turned off, and we head home to welcome in the weekend!

B-B-Q, whiskey-cokes, and a beautiful Idaho summer night on the Palouse complete the day in the life of this archaeologist!