Molly Swords

“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.

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!