Archaeological Disturbances in Western North Dakota

I came across this October 29, 2012 article, “Land eyed for oil well may be on burial site,” through a colleague and friend, Richard Rothaus.  With the Bakken oil boom going full tilt, this article concerns oil drilling development near and around the Killdeer Mountains in Dunn County, western North Dakota. The part within the article that is incredible is from Lynn Helms, the director of the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division. Mr. Helms said, as paraphrased by the Forum, that “he had no doubts the proposed drilling area has no artifacts.” Once again, this was a paraphrase, but it caused in me the following thoughts: I don’t know whether Mr. Helms physically visited the lithic scatter and possible burial, nor do I know if an archaeologist explained it to him. In the event that he did not physically visit the site, there are quite a few of us that would be happy to explain to him the processes, and why they are necessary. But his lack of doubt is  disturbing. This is why.

The very nature of science and our legal system necessitates constructive and deconstructive doubt. Without this doubt, a case cannot be made one way or another. And without this kind of doubt, and without verifying one’s assertions, a statement is simply a statement sans substance (this is often captured in the saying, “You have no case here.”) Further inquiry into Killdeer is indeed necessary. Numerous archaeologists are concerned with these high profile sites, as they should be, and we are quite interested in showing Mr. Helms why and how. Education is powerful that way. That’s all. Back to it on this end.

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