Archaeological Mosquito Ramblings

One of the only known photos to survive the pedestrian survey from southeastern Montana, summer 2008.

One of the only known photos to survive the pedestrian survey from southeastern Montana, summer 2008.

Pedestrian archaeological surveys necessitate long-distance hiking (hence the name, pedestrian survey). This evening I was trying to remember the first time I started thinking about how the work of archaeologists is to re-assemble or attempt to reconstruct how people worked in the past. In this blog entry, I’ll assert that I started thinking about this during a pedestrian survey in Carter County, southeastern Montana, summer 2008. I remember two archaeological comrades on that project, Mark Luther and Chandler Herson.

I also remember the fantastic mosquito swarms, and this in turn led me to recall a segment from John Finerty’s War Path & Bivouac (1890), a chronicle assembled by the Hibernian-American correspondent with the Chicago Times. And this is what happens when the humanities intersects with the social science of archaeology. When it came to contending with mosquitoes during pedestrian surveys in eastern Montana in the summer of 2008, I also thought about how Finerty interfaced with them while attached as an imbedded reporter with General Crook’s frontier column. While traversing the snowy range, Finerty said mosquitoes “bothered us terribly while the sun continued visible.” In another instance, Finerty said mosquito repellant was created by burning “damp sage brush and weeds,” this raising “a tremendous pungent smoke,” working “wonders with the intolerable pests.”

In eastern Montana, a grey silt has built up from millennia of the eastward-flowing Rocky Mountain run-off. This is incredible mud with incredibly terrible drainage, and it holds rain-water well. Thus, millions of these mud pockets hold rain water after said rain, and they create brilliant breeding grounds for the mosquitoes. On August 21, 1879, Finerty, reporting from eastern Montana, said, “The gigantic mosquitoes nearly ate us alive that night. They and the rains make life very uncomfortable in northern Montana.” Even at full gallop on a horse, Finerty said mosquitoes took to drafting in the breeze: “We went at a gallop [on horse] most of the time, but even the breeze created by rapid motion did not free us from the winged tyrants.” I, as well as Chandler and Mark, can testify that these mosquitoes operated in full-force during the summer of 2008. The mosquitoes, no doubt, made sure that our hearts were in it for the archaeology, and the historical sense of place.


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