Idaho Transportation Department

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




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**

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:

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!



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.

Archaeology and Appaloosas

Last year, several of my colleagues participated in the Day of Archaeology 2011 (Marks and Swords). I am excited and honored to contribute to this year’s posts. Today, I worked hard to keep up with my various and evolving roles as archaeologist, student, and assistant curator. As a research assistant and graduate student in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Idaho, I carry out a variety of tasks for a large historic archaeology project from Sandpoint, Idaho, a cultural resource project I began working on as an technician five years ago (holy cow!) with the companies CH2MHill and SWCA Environmental Consultants. Simultaneously, I am in the throes of thesis research and act as a museum assistant and curator for the Appaloosa Museum and Heritage Center in Moscow, Idaho.

Dakota Smith, a.k.a. Smitty, is a classic example of an Appaloosa horse and will reside in the pasture adjacent to the museum for the summer.

This morning I awake early to tend to Smitty, the Appaloosa horse-in-residence, main feature of the Appaloosa Museum’s live exhibit, and, I’m guessing, a somewhat unusual curation circumstance for a traditional museum. Then, switching gears, I drive to the University of Idaho to put in a few hours of deaccessioning artifacts from the Sandpoint Archaeology Project collection, the largest historical archaeological collection in the state of Idaho. Myself and several other students from the University of Idaho sort through boxes (… and boxes… and boxes…) of artifacts and execute the deaccessioning procedures carefully planned by the project’s principal investigators.

Deaccessioning is a process of officially (and usually permanently) removing items from a collection, museum, or repository, a practical curation necessity in the case of the extensive Sandpoint collection. Deaccessioned artifacts will find new homes in such educational resources as historical artifact comparative collections and teaching kits. For my master’s thesis I am collaboratively developing and evaluating historical archaeology teaching kits and lesson plans based on historical research and Sandpoint project findings. The deaccessioned historical artifacts will add an experiential element to the kits and provide materials for students to analyze.

Archival safe labels, bags, and boxes are used for storing artifacts.

It’s not yet ten o’clock in the morning and I must return to the Appaloosa Museum for the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon. Though archaeological materials are not part of the museum’s collections, many of my curatorial tasks are similar to those performed at the archaeological repository for northern Idaho, the Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology. As a new employee at a small museum I will learn a variety of often-specialized jobs such as collections management, exhibit design and maintenance, and give museum tours. Today’s tasks mostly include accessioning paperwork, data entry, updating website and social media information, greeting visitors, and answering questions. These tasks are all typical of museum work and many of the principles and processes are similar to those utilized in museums and repositories curating archaeological collections.

One aspect that is not so similar to archaeological work is the arrival of the second Appaloosa in residence for the summer, Snickers. Her arrival broke up my day and made Smitty very happy. As I write this, I begin to wonder if technically the horses should be formally documented as loans to the museum… though the horses’ owners belong to the Appaloosa Horse Club, which owns the pasture behind the museum…

Snickers and Smitty settle in to grazing.

At the end of the (official) work day I head home to develop lesson plans for the archaeology teaching kits and begin to draft a syllabus for the teacher in-service I am planning for this fall. The syllabus is a requirement of the in-service proposal I must submit to the University of Idaho and, if all goes well, teachers will be able to earn a continuing education credit while learning about archaeology and the use of the historical archaeology teaching kits (to be modeled after the well-executed in-service offered by Project Archaeology through Montana State University). After several hours our awesome neighbors invite us over to listen to some live banjo music and I take a much-needed break.

This poison bottle, one of many recovered from Sandpoint’s restricted district, is an example of a type of artifact that will be utilized in teaching collections.

Well past midnight and much later than intended, I begin updating the projects page for the Idaho Archaeological Society’s (IAS) website. Next comes this post and finally, before I nod off to sleep, I will pick up where I left off last night by reading about Basque history in preparation for the upcoming IAS archaeology project, archaeological investigations at the Cyrus Jacobs/Uberuaga House. Members of the society will be excavating the well associated with the house next to the Basque Museum and Cultural Center in downtown Boise, Idaho. A perfect opportunity for publicly interpreting archaeological excavations!

If all goes well, this year will culminate in the completion of the large long-term archaeology project as well as my completion of the master’s program. As an archaeologist interested in public education and engagement, I am continually thankful to work with folks who are supportive of my teaching kit project and are enthusiastic about public education and involvement in historical archaeology.

University of Idaho

Further Reading: Sandpoint Archaeology Project

Excavated by cultural resource archaeologists between 2005-2008 prior to the construction of a byway, Sandpoint’s earliest historic district originally abutted newly-built tracks of the Northern Pacific Railroad and ancient shores of Lake Pend d’Oreille before the town expanded across Sand Creek. In the thousands of years prior to the influx of railroad, lumber, and mining industries in northern Idaho at the turn of the century, tribes such as the Kallispel and Kootenai seasonally inhabited the shores of Lake Pend d’Oreille and crisscrossed the region in a transhumance cycle. (Transhumance is a seasonal cycle of moving between traditional lands.)

Though Native Americans traversed the region for thousands of years before settlers, due to the explosion of material production following the American industrial revolution and Sandpoint’s location along the railroad the majority of recovered artifacts date to the occupation of Sandpoint’s historic commercial and restricted districts – including a hotel, pharmacy, jeweler, butcher, dance hall, brothel, bordello, and saloons – along with the Humbird Lumber Mill’s technologically transitional blacksmith and machine shop, a Chinese residence and laundry, and one of the town’s first jail. Analysis of these materials in conjunction with historical research will allow archaeologists to shed light on some of the lesser-known lives of townsfolk as well as add details to the history of the town’s development and role in the beginnings of a globalizing world.

As you may have already learned from reading other great posts, the life of archaeology extends far beyond initial research or field excavations. Since archaeologists finished excavations four years ago we have catalogued the artifacts, presented initial findings at professional conferences and public lectures, are finishing up the cultural resource report for the Idaho Transportation Department, developing content for the project web page, preparing the collection for curation, anticipating the project exhibit at the Bonner County Historical Museum planned for the end of the year and have completed a variety of other tasks, some of which are being discussed by my colleagues. We are only scratching the surface and are excited for many years of analyses yet to come.

This sign was recovered during Humbird blacksmith/machine shop excavations in 2008.