Montana

Writing on archaeological findings of battlefields in Montana

First2012

Images of Nez Perce National Historical Park- Big Hole National Battlefield (left) and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (right) during the summer of 2012.

 Today is like any other day for me these past few weeks:  trying to stay cool during the extremely hot summer days while writing follow-up reports and future articles.  Although I recently completed my doctoral research on four archaeological sites in Montana, I have a lifetime of exciting explorations on the varied ways people of the past, and present, interpret and commemorate history.

Archaeology is not just about surveying, excavating, cataloging, and preserving artifacts and features, but also exploring profound questions about humanity.  To quote Carl Sagan, “We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.”

We humans like narratives.  Archaeology is a type of story that uses tangible objects and landscapes to tell a tale.  Archaeology is a discipline rooted in the sciences and humanities.  Archaeologists must balance both fields of inquiry to interpret their discoveries with reliability and validity.

My discoveries concern the varied ways contemporary visitors and personnel of Bear Paw, Big Hole, Little Bighorn, and Rosebud battlefields use these landscapes for their own place-based cultural heritages and historical understandings.  Overall, these places are still socially relevant and significant after nearly fourteen decades since the battles.  And, whether these battlefields are of cultural, geographical, historical, personal, military, national, spiritual, and/or other heritage value for visitors and personnel, archaeological data, historical research, and oral traditions continue to contribute to these individuals’ values and understandings of the battles.  These contributions lead to not only more answers, but also more questions as to how and why humans have used cultural landscapes to maintain or change their heritages.  The relationship between a space and people’s beliefs and interactions within that environment is intriguingly complicated.

Well, back to writing while enduring the hot temperatures!

 

Second2012

Images of Rosebud Battlefield State Park (left) and Nez Perce National Historical Park- Bear Paw Battlefield (right) during the summer of 2012.

Doing Archaeology, Digitally

This Day of Archaeology doesn’t see me out surveying or excavating, nor in a lab.  Instead, it finds me sitting at my desk at MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences Online at Michigan State University in front of my Mac Book Pro, two large Apple Cinema Displays (powered by an old, yet remarkably reliable, Mac Pro), an iPad, an iPod, an Android handset (Droid X2 if you are interested), and a Galaxy Tab 10.1.  This (extremely technological) state of affairs results from the fact that its been a long time since I’ve actually stuck a trowel in the ground.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a great field archaeology pedegree.  I spent my elementary, highschool, and undergrad years (my father is an archaeologist as well) working on sites in the Northern Plains (mostly Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta – and a little bit in Montana and North Dakota).  As a graduate student, I worked in Indiana and Illinois.  My primary area of research as a graduate student (as well as my archaeological heart), however, rested in Egypt – Predynastic Egypt to be precise.  I worked several seasons with Fred Wendorf and the Combined Prehistoric Expedition at Nabta Playa.  The bulk of my work in Egypt, however, was at Hierakonpolis, where I excavated a variety of Predynastic household sites and did research into Predynastic household economy.

As a graduate student (and even as an undergrad, to be quite honest), I found myself increasingly interested in how information, computing, and communication technology could be applied to archaeology for teaching, research, outreach, and scholarly communication.  Fast forward several years and I find myself sitting at my desk at MATRIX in front of a dizzying array of devices.  My transformation from a “traditional” archaeologist (if you will – though, to be honest, is there really such thing as a “traditional” archaeologist) to a digital archaeologist is complete.

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Sorting through field research notes on battlefields in Montana

Monument on battlefieldToday, I am sorting through my 2010 and 2011 field research notes about four battlefields in Montana. My doctoral work focuses on the ways people use archaeological resources, historical records, and oral accounts to create and maintain the sacredness of four historic battlefields: Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (LIBI); Nez Perce National Historic Park- Bear Paw Battlefield (BPB); Nez Perce National Historic Park- Big Hole National Battlefield (BIHO); and Rosebud Battlefield State Park (RBSP). My study uses the “memory archaeology” approach to look at how people relate to a place using their personal memories or cultural heritages. Focusing on place-based narratives, which are on-site interpretative methods and anniversary practices, my research asks in what ways these interpretations contribute to the perception of these battlefields as sacred landscapes.

Although they may not be intended to be used in this manner directly, archaeological data can contribute to the intellectual and emotional responses about historic events, especially ones with a long-term history of commemorations like at BIHO, BPB, LIBI, and RPSB. The interpretation of archaeological, historical, and oral accounts as credible bases has immediate social impacts and responses.

I believe that all archaeologists should have good ethnographic field skills. Why? Over the decades, more local communities around the world have become involved in archaeological projects. Archaeologists, whether as principal investigators, consultants, or liaisons, must be able to communicate well with the public. Archaeologists having good ethnographic field skills can lead to excellent public relations with local communities and an increased public awareness on the importance preserving heritage sites.

So, on this lovely day in Missoula, I am typing up some of my handwritten field research notes. I am also revisiting many of my digital photographs and short videoclips of each battlefield. (And, it is always a joy to see the beautiful Montanan landscapes!) These recorded observations will help me in analyzing and answering my research questions.

Of Discovery and Avoidance

Let me begin by saying that it is a pleasure contribute, and I am honored to be a part of this effort to celebrate and share archaeology through social media.  I first learned of this Day of Archaeology thanks to social media. Indeed, it would seem that archaeologists have taken to the Internet recently, especially since the launch of Google+ some weeks ago. It is exciting to think that the advent of new technologies has made archaeological study more cooperative, immediate and accessible.

Okay, so onto the matter at hand.

I am a Cultural Resource Management (CRM) archaeologist and consultant working for an environmental services company in Oklahoma. I work with an inter-disciplinary team of biologists and environmental scientists. Most of the clients we work with have interests that are related to energy development, oil and natural gas chief among them. Our charge is two-fold:

1. Discover, document and avoid natural or cultural resources that could be adversely affected by a given project.

2. Obtain permits from state and federal agencies so that a given project can proceed without running foul of the law.

These laws, or rather congressional acts, often  include compliance with the Native American Graves Protection & Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). All this sound a bit like “alphabet soup” but, it is the essential legal basis that holds companies accountable and drives a large portion of CRM survey work in the US.  It also provides me with a pay check so that I can dutifully pay back my student-loans (coughs sarcastically).

My work alternates between survey in the field and reporting in the office. Over the course of a year it balances out to about 50%/50%. Unfortunately for you, the reader, today is a rather typical in the office. My team and I are gearing up for a week of field survey in Louisiana next week. That means  today we are gathering equipment, producing maps, updating our GPS data-loggers, booking hotel reservations and arguing over which Cajun restaurant has the best red beans and rice (for my money it’s the Blind Tiger in Shreveport).

In addition to sorting out the logistics for this upcoming project, I have a keep other projects simmering on the stove-top, so to speak. Today, I am performing “desktop-based” studies on proposed projects in Oklahoma, Montana and Texas. Basically, I am using GIS databases and archives to located any known archaeological sites or historic locations that may have been recorded within or near a given project area. When finished, I will compile the information into a report for our clients advising them of the potential for encountering these resources. I will also provide them suggestions for a path forward through the regulatory process. More often than not, these desktop studies will develop into actual field surveys. Occasionally, they will include deep testing regimes or partial excavations. The name of the game is avoidance. Unfortunately for me (read as: the recalcitrant academic), clients would rather go around a site than wait to excavate it.

My other duties today include: completion of archaeological site forms for two prehistoric Paleo-Indian Period sites (ca. 12,000 – 8,000 years ago) for submission to the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey (OAS) and the Texas Historical Commission (THC). I also have to purchase flagging and fencing in order to demarcate the boundaries of a historic homestead property (ca. 1898) in southeastern Oklahoma.

There you have it,  a snap-shot of my work on this Day of Archaeology. In the world of cultural resource management, it is not often that we get to delve deep into site analysis through testing and excavation. I am envious of my friends any colleagues who get to ask the “big” questions and are able to spend considerable time researching particular topics in ways that enlighten and inform us about our prehistoric past. However, unlike them,  I am able to travel often and encounter scores of  sites in order to document and protect them for other researchers to examine more closely in the future.  Most days, that is alright by me.

Keep Digging & Cheers,

R. Doyle Bowman