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.

The pirate flag flying from the window of no. 41 Russell Square

Well, there isn’t one. But if any Georgian townhouse in London deserved a pirate flag flying from the window it would be No. 41 Russell Square. This is the central HQ for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, one of the most successful public archaeology projects in the world ( We, and National Finds Advisors and Finds Liasion Officers (FLOs – posted in the counties (for England and Wales)), help the public to report and record objects that they find. Usually these are metal-detecting finds but not always. As you’ll see from my blog objects can be found in rather unusual ways.

I work in the Treasure Section of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Sometimes it’s tempting to answer the phone and say ‘treasure’ in a pirate accent. But I don’t. But I do wish we had that flag.

The job is part archaeologist and part legal secretary. The Treasure Team administers the 1996 Treasure Act on behalf of the Crown. Our ‘home’ is the British Museum and we occupy one of the townhouses overlooking Russell Square.

Highlights of the day

8.45am – Badger.
Got in at around 8.45am and opened up my emails. There was an email from one of the south-east FLOs, a post medieval silver finger ring had been found in the spoil of a hole dug by a badger in a garden. A new case number was allocated. I briefly discussed (jokingly) with my boss the fact that the Treasure Act doesn’t actually say that finders have to be human but in this case the human owner of the garden was named as the ‘official’ finder. We’ll now arrange for a report to be written, for digital images to be taken and if the object is Treasure the FLO will investigate whether any local museum is interested in acquiring it.

Pigs have found treasure before, whilst truffling. Not sure about other animals though.

11.30am – A small strip of Iron Age gold.

I deal specifically with archaeology cases, archaeologists are not exempt from reporting potential treasure and I currently have about 80 ‘live’ cases dealing with potential treasure found during archaeological investigations. The cases can be complicated (large assemblages, sometimes multiple landowners) and they are often lengthy to administer as post-ex and sometimes conservation need to happen at the local level before a report for the Coroner is written. It’s a good day if I get to close an arch case and today I’ve closed an Archaeology South East case (the UCL fieldwork unit based in Brighton). A small gold strip is going with the rest of the site archive to a local museum and the landowner in this case has kindly waived his right to a treasure reward.

2.11pm – Anglo Saxon grave goods and digital images.

Prepared a letter, and numerous digital images, to send to a Coroner to ask for an inquest to be held. Detectorists searching on cultivated land found a grave. They notified the police and subsequent excavation by the county archaeological unit uncovered an Anglo-Saxon grave with grave goods including two silver pendants.

4.32pm. The Hackney Double-Eagles.

Wondering whether to go and see this exhibition at the weekend.It’s an artists’ interpretation of an unusual treasure find from last year – the Hackney double eagle gold coins. Investigations into the history of its deposition in the garden of a block of flats in North-East London during the Second World War revealed a fascinating but tragic story. For once, the Treasure team could put a name to the person who originally owned the objects. I don’t think that’s ever happened before.

5.15pm. My day at work is done. Switch off the computer. Archaeologists across the world – have a good weekend all.