Nez Perce War

Writing on archaeological findings of battlefields in Montana


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!



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

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.