Tag Archives: Archaeology

Updates on Aaron Beede and UND’s Digital Press

One of the only known 6:23AM screen shots from the NDDOT road conditions website on January 21, 2015.

One of the only known 6:23AM screen shots from the NDDOT road conditions website on January 21, 2015.

It’s about 6:20AM (at least as I sit down to type), and the snow is letting up. I’m sitting in a hotel room in Minot, Ward County, North Dakota, on the eastern edge of the Bakken. I have a short field-research trip to the west, but I’m temporarily yielding to the ND Department of Transportation’s road conditions map. Which appears like this, at left. I’m updating this blog post with a couple items on my brain.

The first is another public history sighting of Reverend Aaron McGaffey Beede, PhD. Beede figures seriously in the history of North Dakota, and only a handful of scholars have sifted through his papers. Last week, during a lunch meeting in the Peacock Alley, in historic downtown Bismarck, I sat at a table and looked over the picture to my left. In addition to offering delicious food (I ordered the half-prime rib lunch special with chips), the owners of the historic Peacock Alley have reproduced numerous local historical photos to hang on the walls. This was one of them. There is a gentleman addressing the legislature, with cigar in left hand. I accidentally cut out of the photo the ash tray at the foot of the podium. Believe me: it was there. Those were different times.


Note the ND legislator from the ’20s or ’30s, with cigar in left hand, and the nameplates on the desks behind him. “Beede, Grand Sioux” is behind him.

Behind that, behind the name Saumur of Grand Forks, is “Beede, Grand Sioux” agency or county. It was great to see the photo, and that is about all I have on it right now. I’ll do some more tracking on this. Beede figures into a chapter of my ongoing dissertation which, roughly, figures into how and why the US-Dakota Wars were remembered on the northern Great Plains. Beede was formative in shaping and pushing that memory in one direction, arguing just after the turn of the 19th century that Natives need to be listened to and allowed to tell their version of history. It was serious push-back against the Social Darwinian and Manifest Destiny crowd (some of which is still around today).

And finally, the third item is a hot-off-the-digital presses book, the second title from University of North Dakota’s The Digital Press, Visions of Substance: 3D Imagining in Mediterranean Archaeology (edited by Bill Caraher and Brandon Olson). The work is an anthology of blog posts Caraher charged guest writers with publishing at his blogspot linked to here. Susan Caraher edited the blog posts to comb out any of the craziness that is inherent in on-the-spot blogs. Caraher and Olson told the guest writers to respond to the following questions in each post. The questions include:

  1. How do we understand the current crop of 3D modeling technologies in the context of the history of archaeological imaging? Are the most optimistic readings of this technology a mere echo of earlier enthusiasm for photography in an archaeological context or is this somehow qualitatively different?
  2. Is there an emerging consensus on best practices of 3D imaging of archaeological sites? What are the current limits to this kind of technology and how does this influence the way in which data is collected in the field?
  3. How do we understand archival considerations for 3D models and their dependent data? For example, what happens when we begin to prepare archaeological illustrations from 3D models collected in the field and processed using proprietary software? How do we manage the web of interrelated data so that future archaeologists can understand our decision making?
  4. What is the future of 3D modeling in archaeology? At present, the 3D image is useful for illustrating artifacts and — in some cases — presenting archaeological and architectural relationships, but it has yet to prove itself as an essential basis for analysis or as a viable medium for communicating robust archaeological description. Will 3D visualization become more than just another method for providing illustrations for archaeological arguments?

Without going further into this (it’s about 6:50AM, and I need to move forward with the morning), you can read the entire collection of academically produced and academically edited and academically published essays, for free, at this link here. Thanks Bill and Brandon and Susan for compiling this. I know there will be many more.

Cyprus Footage from 2012

While Bill (Caraher) blogged a bit on Punk Archaeology and PKAP today, in a separate but related sphere (parallel trajectories I call them), I stumbled across an audio-video short that David Pettegrew recorded during the PKAP 2012 field season in Cyprus. I uploaded this to my YouTube channel, and I will share it here.

In May and June of 2012, the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project (Dr. William Caraher, Dr. David Pettegrew, and Dr. R. Scott Moore) charged me with trench supervisor duties for an excavation unit located outside of Larnaca, Cyprus. Here in Pettegrew’s video is a wall emerging out of the excavation unit from a 3rd-century BCE Hellenistic coastal fortification. This site is contemporaneous with Alexander the Great and Zeno, the Stoic from Citium. Within the excavation unit, I am to the right, and sorting out the stratigraphic layers with a student and colleague. The student and colleague to my left continues uncovering bedrock at an industrial pace.

Friends in Fargo this Weekend

It’s about 3:23PM, so I thought I’d break just a moment for tea and a blog entry to throw out a little PR for some colleagues and friends.

Two events are going down in Fargo this Saturday, March 15. Well, wait a minute: certainly there are more than two events going down in Fargo this Saturday. But here are the two events that I know of right now, this Monday afternoon. The two that I’m going to talk about. You should definitely go see other events, too, above and beyond this.

The first event is a benefit for a friend and scholar, Mike Casler. Mike was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2011, and he’s been through a battery of surgeries and radiation treatment. Mike, along with a bunch of us, are gathering at The Bowler in Fargo (2630 South University Dr.) anywhere from 4:00-11:55PM for the official Mike Casler Benefit Fund — again this Saturday, March 15. Also, Mike is the author and historian of several upper Missouri River scholarly works, including Steamboats of the Fort Union Fur Trade: An Illustrated Listing of Steamboats on the Upper Missouri River, 1831-1867 (Ft. Union Association, 1999); and he regularly collaborates and conspires (in a good way) with the Great Plains titan of anthro, archaeology and history, W. Raymond Wood (some of Ray’s works here, here, and here, and his memoirs here).

And also on Saturday, March 15, Keith Bear will be playing Mandan-Hidatsa flute at 8:15PM in The Avalon. This is a part of the larger Great Winter Crow Show organized by Dawn and the Spirit Room Galleries. Also check that out from 5:00-10:00PM. You can read more about Keith at this link here. The event is sponsored by the Avalon Event Center, the Lake Region Art Council, and the North Dakota Humanities Council.

Okay, that was a 5-minute blog post update. Back to it.

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.

Modern Archaeology of Grilling

The sun is just starting to set and I’m sitting in the back yard of a residence in Valley City, North Dakota, and thinking that it is worthwhile to both upload a pic of and put some thoughts down on the material culture in front of me. I was thinking this because archaeologists often come across assemblages that have either no voice, or they consciously or unconsciously ascribe a voice to the assemblage through the construction of typologies and interpretations. Archaeologists will find themselves thinking, “I seriously would like to have a conversation with the individual who created this Mandan-Hidatsa pot sherd,” or “If I could only chat with the person who made this Scythian arrowhead…” To counter that, at least in the here and now, I’m going to quickly expand on the domestic assemblage that goes hand in hand with a Saturday evening grill on the northern steppe of North America in the first week of July, 2013.

A contemporary archaeological domestic assemblage from the evening of July 6, 2013, Valley City, North Dakota.

A contemporary archaeological domestic assemblage from the evening of July 6, 2013, Valley City, North Dakota.

Big Picture: This residence is, today, on that proverbial edge of town, a kind of gateway between the rustic countryside and the city or village. To borrow from Raymond Williams, the countryside has been characterized as representing purity and a re-engagement with the wilderness and also backwardness and idiocy (from Virgil, Thoreau and Muir to the Industrial and Post-Industrial H.L. Mencken and beyond). The city as well has been represented as cosmopolitan, where citizens of the world unite to exchange ideas and culture and conversation. Cities also are known to be bastions of corruption and vice. This is the kind of intellectual borderlands where I sit at tonight.

Immediate: with what archaeologists call a “domestic assemblage,” to my right is an aim-and-flame; a can of Miller High Life (the new hipster beer that my friend Troy Reisenauer said may be poised to usurp the hipster Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, if not already); a small bowl of apple wood chips soaking in water; a large coffee cup with a small amount of shucked peas from the Valley City farmer’s market; an iPhone and MacBook Pro, presumably made somewhere in a factory in East Asia by a team of workers who have un-imaginable hours to work; a crumpled up paper bag; and tongs to work the coals on the fire. Music playing is Bruce Springstean, “Mansion on a Hill” from the Nebraska album (appropriate for the Great Plains for sure).

Background: center-right is a make-shift grill (one of those portable backyard firepits, this also made in some East Asian factory by workers with un-imaginable hours); a slender grate; and a bag of Our Family hardwood lump charcoal. I don’t have a proper charcoal grill here (at my girlfriend’s sister’s place), so I just started using the firepit. It has worked quite well.

Far background: behind that (even more blurred) is a pre-WWII home shrouded in modern siding and asphalt shingle with aluminum downspouts, a lawnmower, a plastic gas can (a petroleum product that contains petroleum), a quasi-rusted stool and chair, an A/C unit (which is humming), and toward the back of the house is the beginning of the sparse tree line that separates the country from the city (as mentioned at the outset of this blog).

I better get after putting the steaks on the grill, as these coals are primed and ready. In any case, note how much stuff in this assemblage is industry, factory-made, and whether or not it originates from East Asia or North America (or beyond). The only thing that is produced locally (that I can think of) are the peas I’m shucking, the steaks from Valley Meats I’m readying to put on the grill, and this blog entry. The center of the globe’s gravity continues moving from the Atlantic to the Pacific World, this whether we know it or not. Happy evening to you all. Here is that Springsteen song:

The Archaeology of Refrigeration

Plans to a root cellar from Summer 1976, No. 68, North Dakota State University Extension Service.

Plans to a root cellar from Summer 1976, No. 68, North Dakota State University Extension Service.

The ability to both produce and store food is a central component to the sustainability of any society. I got to thinking about this while reading Grand Forks Herald article earlier this morning on root cellars, and this in turn got me thinking about depressions archaeologists come across during pedestrian surveys. At first, a depression in the landscape simply looks like that: a depression. But this is why it is important to look to the written and oral history of a place, lest a former root cellar or a cache pit continue to go unnoticed.

Before the Second World War, and prior to the post-WWII shift of artificially conditioning the air to our homes and refrigeration devices within the homes (this is all connected with the cultural inertia that today has us searching and exploiting the world for petroleum), our grandparents and great grandparents kept food and drink cool with root cellars and cache pits. Using a subsurface pit (or a cave, which is how Europeans refined and perfected the wine and beer processes) for storage takes just a bit of planning, thought, and foresight. It can be done, though. Some call them root cellars while others call them cache pits (those bell-shaped subterranean pits used by Mandan and Hidatsa cultures).

After reading the Herald piece this morning, I shot an e-mail to a North Dakota State University extension agent to see if I could get a digitized copy of a 1976 plan for a root cellar. Within the hour the extension agent responded with “Electric Farm Power: Vegetable Storage” (Summer, 1976, No. 68), this prepared by the NDSU Agricultural Engineering Department, Cooperative Extension Service, and North Dakota Power Use Council Cooperating (yes, note the keyword “cooperative,” as cooperatives and cooperation are central to getting things done).

The illustration here is the design of a root cellar, and these also dub for tornado shelters in the summer. This is something to increasingly think about considering how Oklahoma has taken on serious tornados already this year, and also how a tornado came close to hitting the Denver International Airport not but a week ago. Anyhow, here above and to the left are the unadulterated plans to a root cellar.

Historic Scandinavian Log Cabins: Then and Now

Yesterday I visited a project area in the Sheyenne River Valley in southeastern North Dakota, and on the way back from fieldwork I stopped by some static public historical signage and historical Scandinavian-American log cabins on one of America’s Scenic Byway routes. I snapped some photos, downloaded them in the computer last night, and then started to do a bit of research on the archaeological project area: history often informs the archaeology, since much happens with the history of an archaeological site before archaeologists have a chance to descend on it.

While looking through a series of digitized photos, I came across a historic photo in the Digital Horizons/ND Institute for Regional Studies archive. The photo is titled, “Building at Fort Ransom, N.D.,” and it is a log cabin today located some miles north of Fort Ransom, N.D. I compared the historic with the modern this morning. Below are the photos I’ve looked at: one is a 1950s photo of the cabin, and below that is a June 16, 2013 photo. Note the gable-end elevation, and compare the shapes of the logs, and the seams of the logs. You’ll notice that they match one another.

A photo of the Slattum cabin in the 1950s.

A photo of the Slattum cabin in the 1950s.

A June 16, 2013 photo of the Slattum Cabin. Note the gable end elevation, and compare the seams of the log cabin with the seams of the gable elevation in the 1950s photo. They are the same.

A June 16, 2013 photo of the Slattum Cabin. Note the gable end elevation, and compare the seams of the log cabin with the seams of the gable elevation in the 1950s photo. They are the same.

As the public historical signage said, this cabin was built in 1879 by Norwegian immigrant Theodore Slattum, and he originally hailed from Christiana, Norway. He immigrated to Fillmore County, Minnesota in 1870, and he and his wife, Jorgine, relocated to the Sheyenne River Valley in 1879, where they built this cabin. They also raised nine children in the cabin (they modified the original cabin from what it looks like here in the photos). In 1945, this cabin was moved to the Fort Ransom Historic Site, and then moved back to this original location at some point around the turn of the 20th century (this is likely why the description of the cabin’s provenience is what it is within Digital Horizons/NDIRS; and this is also an example of how history informs archaeology, and not the other way around).

The Slattum family, this photo from the public historical signage at the cabin site. Photo taken on June 16, 2013.

The Slattum family, this photo from the public historical signage at the cabin site. Photo taken on June 16, 2013.

Grand Father’s Day Memories

Mooringstone Pond view to the north-northwest, just west of Fort Ransom State Historic Site, Sheyenne River Valley, North Dakota.

Mooringstone Pond view to the north-northwest, just west of Fort Ransom State Historic Site, Sheyenne River Valley, North Dakota.

It’s Father’s Day, and I’m on the northern Great Plains and my dad is visiting his grandchildren in the desert southwest that is Las Vegas, Nevada. I will schedule a make-up grilling session with my dad when we’re within range of another soon enough. I called him earlier today to give him props. He has worked at the locally-owned automotive parts store for longer (over 40 years) than my folks have been married (something like 42 or more years), and his dad (or my Grandpa Barth, along with his brother) worked at Hedahl’s as well. It’s one of those family operations, as Dick Hedahl’s dad hired my grandpa back in the day (or something along those lines: it may have been Dick Hedahl’s grandpa that hired my grandpa. You get the idea, though).

I thought I’d post this photo I took this afternoon, an overview of a project area I was working in just west of Fort Ransom State Historic Site in the Sheyenne River Valley, North Dakota. Note the greenery (like I need to tell folks): this is the result of about two or more weeks of pretty sustained rain followed by about 5 or 7 days of intermittent sunshine. I snapped this photo overview of the project area (among others), downloaded it, and took a look this evening (I’m in Jamestown at Molly’s right now). Snapping photos is a peculiar business: when I looked at this photo, my trusty S-10 is visible. That pick up is 20 years old, first purchased by my late Grandpa Barth at a rural dealership (either Linton or Hazen). I remember he rationalized this purchase by saying, “Now I’ll be able to transport 8-foot boards and 4’x8′ sheets of plywood from Menards to my shop.” That seemed reasonable to me.

An archaeological dry screen, built on June 15, 2013.

An archaeological dry screen, built on June 15, 2013.

That pick up in the photo has transferred hands from my grandpa to my dad and mom, and they eventually passed it along to me. It is starting to show rust, this emerging up out of the paint, and the A/C has long since been shot. I love it. My cousin (Josh Christy) and I replaced the spark plugs, distributor cap and plug wires over a year ago. And a couple weeks ago I had a shade tree mechanic replace the waterpump, alternator, cab mounts, belts, and 2 or 3 pulleys. I like working with my hands. I tend to think that I got this ethos from my Grandpa Barth and Dad. The pick up runs very well. In the summer, I deploy what is known as the 2-by-75 A/C: two windows down at 75mph. Eventually I’ll need to purchase another vehicle, but this 20-year-old pick up still gives memories of driving to and from Menards with my grandpa. I posted another photo of an archaeological dry screen I built this weekend as well: my Grandpa Barth was the first one to show me the ways of woodworking. One day we drove from his place to the Woodhouse in Bismarck, and my grandpa confessed to me that he was so glad he survived his 1975 heart attack because, in his words, “I got to see you grandkids born and grow up.” He passed away on November 23, 2003. That’s what I’ve been thinking about on Father’s Day. I’m gonna call my other Papa now, Grandpa Christy.

One Longue Durée of Mosaic History

Molly is finalizing the mosaic grouting process on a reused terra-cotta potter.

Molly is finalizing the mosaic grouting process on a reused terra-cotta potter salvaged from someone’s trash pile.

It is the weekend and projects are happening: plans have been set in motion to slow-smoke some baby back ribs, and Molly is out front of her sister’s Valley City home, toiling away at a mosaic project. I’ve busied myself with reading James Belich, The Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict: The Maori, The British, and the New Zealand Wars (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1986 & 1989), but have set it down to do a bit of immediate chores.

So while taking the trash out from the kitchen to the dumpster, I passed by Molly’s ongoing mosaic project. Then I started thinking about how Molly’s mosaic project today reminded me of the Late Roman mosaics I saw a year ago in the historic archaeological village of Kourion, Cyprus. Then I started thinking about how historians and archaeologists — depending on what cultural settings they were born into, and depending on what previous experiences they have had — bring individual and disparate meanings to the stuff they come across. (This may be getting a bit too self-absorbed, so if you’ve noticed it, and it offends you, please stop reading here if you already haven’t. I will not take offense. But it is a line of thinking with universal application.)

So without slamming out any more dialog (we are packing up and readying to go, which is timely to end this short entry), I will upload a couple pictures I snapped a year ago in Kourion, and a couple pictures from today in Valley City. Taking massive leaps through space and time, this is what I call a global and local longue durée of mosaic history, from Kourion, the Roman Empire, to Valley City, North Dakota.

Close-up mosaic detail from Kourion, Cyprus.

Close-up mosaic detail from Kourion, Cyprus.

A mosaic from a Roman gladiator's home in Kourion, Cyprus. Mosaics are not for cowards.

A mosaic from a Roman gladiator’s home in Kourion, Cyprus. Mosaics are not for cowards.

Some Archaeology of Food

Pheasant and BarthSome years ago I decided to take up bird hunting for this main reason: if I was going to purchase saran-wrapped chicken legs, thighs and breasts in the refrigerator section of the grocery store, I thought it was more respectful to at least experience what it was like to kill wildlife — in this case pheasant, doves and grouse — for the purpose of feeding family, friends and myself. This decision required me to purchase a bird gun (in my case, I bought a double-barrel, side-by-side 12-gauge shotgun), shotgun shells, and the necessary hunting permits. Since then I have hunted with at least four friends, including Rod Austin (accompanied by Grizzly, his beagle), Tayo Basquiat, Ed Stine, and Bob Shannon.

After identifying suitable areas to hunt (in ND, PLOTs land provides excellent public hunting grounds), walking several miles, spooking pheasant from the brush, identifying the roosters from the hens, and then downing a rooster, one of the first impressions I had (and I’m presuming I’m not the only one here) in picking up a recently-killed pheasant rooster was the warmth. This stands in contrast to the cold feel of a saran-wrapped chicken breast in the grocery store, or the increasingly ubiquitous appetizer called “bone-in” and “boneless” chicken wings (culturally, we shovel these into our mouths, kind of on autopilot, as we watch the 37 flat-screen televisions broadcast UFC fights and sporting events, and as additional juke box and video game machines drown out any kind of conversation that could have been had in our drinking warehouses throughout America).

A local plate of food. Slices of bison (medium-rare) from south-central North Dakota, this topped with a sauté of locally-harvested morel mushrooms. The origin of the salmon is unknown, but comes from Valley Meats in Valley City, North Dakota. The remaining vegetables were organic, or from what I call historic farming practices.

A local plate of food. Slices of bison (medium-rare) from south-central North Dakota, this topped with a sauté of locally-harvested morel mushrooms. The origin of the salmon is unknown, but comes from Valley Meats in Valley City, North Dakota. The remaining vegetables were organic, or from what I call historic farming practices.

No doubt, authors such as Michael Pollan have tapped into a growing social structure that concerns itself with the technics of how and philosophies of why food is produced. As an observer of this growing movement, international and local journals have also turned attention to reporting on these stories. Or at least the stories that involve individuals who want to know where their food comes from. These groups are bringing attention to multi-national corporations, and the stories have been picked up by The New York Times, CNN and, locally, WDAY News in the Red River Valley of North Dakota and Minnesota.

In this latter story, the reporter focused on something North Dakotans are very aware of: heritage. This heritage is in turn used to consider how our grandparents and great grandparents produced food on family farms in contrast to how the Agricultural Industrial Complex produces food today. I remember when I was 10 or 11 years old (or thereabouts) in the kitchen of my late Grandma Barth. She had just sliced up a tomato, and in putting it on the table in front of me she said, “Here is a tomato, although they probably gassed it just a couple days ago.” My grandmother was communicating something to me that has been lost (and what I’m trying to recover by hunting): a connection with the land, and the landscape, and the food we eat that comes from that land. Although she didn’t say it directly, she was also concerned with what a gassed tomato (which is how the Agricultural Industrial Complex turns a green tomato into a red-colored tomato to simulate ripeness) might do to physiological early childhood development of her grandchildren.

The main point of this, though, is that individual consumers continue to consider and ask questions about where the food is coming from. (I’m a bit amazed by this point, too: if Monsanto made this great bio-tech seed that is going to feed the world, why aren’t they proud about labeling it so you and I can easily identify it when in the grocery store?)

Another note: North Dakota legislators recently said it was okay for individuals to purchase unpasteurized or raw milk, so long as they owned a share in the cow. Below is the local WDAY story, and also the CNN story too.

The CNN story:

The WDAY story, which won’t imbed for some reason, so you have to just click on this link here.