Thursday, November 29, 2007

Chapter One: I Become an Archaeologist

I enjoy blogging and thought it would be cool to start a blog on Montana Archaeology. There's information about, here and there, but I want to try and pull something together to help people understand just what a wonderful thing archaeology is and how cool Montana is when it comes to archaeology.

I should tell you a little about myself, and my connections to Montana archaeology. I was raised in Helena, which is in the heart of Montana's mining country. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, when we were out in the hills hunting or just looking around, there were lots of old miners' cabins and ghost towns, graveyards, heaps of rusting machinery, areas of torn up ground from placer mines, and tailings and mill structures. The hills were full of these old remains, and they stirred my imagination, wondering about all that had happened there, and about where the people had went.

I am also part Indian myself, and old man Eddie Barbeau down on Custer Avenue showed us how to peel tipi poles, tan buckskin, and set up tipis. We used to sit around, and he would tell us about the stone tipi rings around Helena, and about hunting buffalo. We would visit buffalo jumps and see artifacts and wonderful dioramas at the Montana Historical Society. I really miss those dioramas.

So between the mining landscape and the Indian traditions, I guess I never had a chance, but became fascinated by Montana's past, and the past in general. Some folks gravitate to history, and though I love books (ask my sagging shelves) my real love was for the actual places and "old junk" that lay out there, waiting to tell a story I was eager to learn to read.

To make a long story shorter, I ended up attending the University of Montana (after I graduated from Helena High in 1978) and majoring in Anthropology, with a minor in Native American Studies. In those days, Anthropology was still taught wholistically, and we had to learn all four subfields: cultural anthropology, archaeology, physical anthropology, and linguistics. I am something of an anachronism anymore, still oriented more holistically in my interests than a particular specialization such as faunal analysis or lithics.

Dr. Dee Taylor taught the "Archaeology of Montana" course at the time, and I enjoyed it a lot. I also took "Historic Sites Archaeology" from Dr. Carling Malouf. Both men are historic figures in the story of doing archaeology in Montana. They had lots of personal experiences to share with the classes. In the Historic Sites Archaeology class we went to Fort Fizzle; we actually did some test excavations at Fort Missoula and Fort Shaw. Dr. Tom Foor taught a class in anthropological statistics, and took us out to do some test pits, I think it was near a place called Owl Creek (maybe someone can correct me if I misremember that).

Well, after a period of being footloose, and introduced to "the life" by archaeo-classmate Dennis Pry I found myself following the archaeology trail as what is known as "a Shovel Bum" (aka in those less-than-PC days a "digro"). I worked for four years as a shovel monkey on CRM surveys and excavations for beans-and-bacon money through the states of Montana, California, Washington state, Maryland, Virginia, and North Dakota. The sites ranged from Archaic through the 1960s and every period of prehistoric and historic archaeology between. I was a CRM guy, and never worked on an academic site after the U of M days. Just an underpaid underclass, true to my roots :-)

I worked in Montana for Historical Research Associates (out of Missoula) and for Ethnoscience (the Deavers out of Billings). Sites in Montana I worked on included a survey in the Cabinet Mountains, a survey in Helena, an excavation near Bozeman, and monitoring in the Blackfoot River corridor.

Then in 1990, I snagged a job at the Helena National Forest (HNF) as a field archaeologist working for Gary Fairchild. I ended up that year getting a student internship position at the HNF, and if I would go back to college and get an M.A., I would get a job upon graduation. So from 1991-1995 I worked as an archaeologist for the HNF, mostly doing surveys and Section 106 work for proposed timber sales, mining operations, and land exchanges. It was a great job, and though the economy took a downturn and I didn't get a job when I graduated as was promised, there are no regrets and I count those years as some of the best of my life. The Helena area is full of excellent archaeological sites, both prehistoric and historic. I'll share some stories and sites later on.

After I got my M.A. in Anthropology from Iowa State University, where I took archaeology classes from Dr. David Gradwohl, Dr. Joseph Tiffany, and Dr. John Bower, I got intrigued with more about archaeology of the landscape, and got an M.L.A. in Landscape Architecture from Iowa State, under Robert Harvey and Tim Keller. Combining archaeology, anthropology, and historic and cultural landscapes was a good thing, and I started out by doing a landscape archaeology project at Gaines' Mill, a Civil War site in Virginia. Then I worked for the National Park Service as a historical landscape architect for four years, specializing in Native American landscapes and archaeological landscapes all over the southwest (I was stationed in Santa Fe) and then Alaska.

My last gig was in Hawai'i, for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, where I headed up the division for Native Rights, Land and Culture, and helped advocate for the preservation of Hawaiian sites and burials for three years. I've had some stuff published too, including some stuff about archaeology and native peoples.

Now I am an artist and adjunct faculty at the University of Montana, College of Technology, in Helena. Next term I am going to teach not only painting (I taught drawing this term) but also a new course, Introduction to Archaeology. So this blog in some ways, is not only a reminiscence, but a way to order my thoughts about Montana archaeology in particular, and to put some stuff online for students to consider and learn from.

I have met some great people doing archaeology in Montana, and all over, and I hope they say hello sometime, maybe leave a note on this blog as a comment.