Thursday, January 31, 2008

Jan. 31: 1421, Epistemology, the Scientific Method, and Hoaxes

Along with the lectures in class (see the notes below), we have been watching the PBS program "1421: The Year China Discovered America?" We began watching it last class (Jan. 29), continued today, and will be finishing it next during next Tuesday's class. This program fits in very well with where we are in class, as it proposes a speculative and romantic scenario, typical of what many folks think archaeology is all about. The program discusses the possibility that a Chinese fleet from the Ming Dynasty may have reached the Americas 70 years before the arrival of Columbus. Gavin Menzies, wrote the book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World to propose this idea. It is an exciting idea, and there are some good points made in favor of the idea...but there are some major problems too.

Check out some of the sites on this subject for yourself, pro, con, or undecided (we will weigh the evidence ourselves during the next class):

1421 - The Year China Discovered the World, Menzies' own website
CNN story: "Did the Chinese Discover America?"
Reader reviews about the book from's critical article on the book
"The 1421 Myth Exposed" website

The upshot may have been given by Menzies himself, as he was quoted as saying, ""The more negative the reviews, the more the book sells!"


Jan. 31 Thursday
Readings for Today:
Feder, Chapter 2: “Epistemology: How You Know What You Know,” pp. 17-43
and Chapter 3, “Anatomy of an Archaeological Hoax”, pp. 44-63


We know what we know by collecting information…
1. Directly through their own experiences…but people are notoriously poor observers
2. Indirectly through sources like friends, teachers, parents, friends, TV, books, internet, newspapers, etc

Ask yourself…but how did those sources get the info…
…was it through Revelation-from-Above (scriptures, dreams, visions), myths, tradition, authority (family, elders and experts), intuition, logic, empirical observation…how expert is the source in that specific topic?
(An anthropology teacher in Iowa once told me they had been teaching for over twenty years that my tribe was extinct! And that was one state away from our reservation!)

Also ask what motive, what agenda, what reason does the source have for giving you that information… are they trying to shape your opinion?…is the underlying motive related to religious, philosophical, nationalistic, commercial, financial, entertainment…?

Science provides one way to knowledge about the universe that is dependable. Science is a process…"a series of techniques used to maximize the probability that what we think we know really reflects the way things are, were, or will be. "Science is often wrong, but part of the inherent process is it is self-correcting…"The only claim that we do make in science is that if we honestly, consistently, explicitly, and vigorously pursue knowledge using some basic techniques and principles, the truth will eventually surface…." (Feder 2008:25).

Four Underlying Principles of Science:

1. There is a real and knowable universe.
2. The universe operates according to certain understandable rules or laws.
3. These laws are immutable- they do not change depending on where you are, who you are, or "when" you are.
4. These laws can be studied and understood by people through careful observation, experimentation, testing (and retesting), and research.

Science is unsurpassed in its ability to grasp and explain empirical truths and facts…facts and truths of material reality. Science is about material existence…which is when it comes to that which is not material (theology, religion, philosophy) these cannot be tested, and so are not part of science

Deconstructionism was/is an academic/philosophical movement based on an idea that everything is ultimately subjective..that there is no "truth" and that reality can never really be known.

(Deconstructionism is radical subjectivism--- scientism (the belief that the material world is all that exists) is radical objectivism. )

Induction and deduction
Hypotheses (pl.), hypothesis (s.)

Induction- Observation and formation of hypotheses…when observe nature, you are using induction to go from observations of specifics to come up with generalities…this is only the first part of science, related to the development of hypotheses, and is not sufficient in itself. Hypotheses can really come from almost anywhere…an observation, an intuition, a dream, a legend…but the crucial part is the testing.

Deduction- Constructing a way to test the hypothesis…in the form of "if..then" question…if the hypothesis is true, then the deduced facts will be true…this is the need for testing the hypothesis…it needs to be testable…if it is not testable, it is not science

(Read the text's example of the case of childbed fever in the 1800s)

The methodology of science applied to something that needs to be explained, then:

1. Observe
2. Induce general hypotheses (multiple working hypotheses…you need competing explanations) or possible explanations for what we have observed…the hypothesis MUST be testable…without a testable hypothesis, it is not science
3. Deduce specific things that must be true if our hypothesis is true (just because only one hypothesis is left, it is not necessarily true…it must also be tested)
4. Test the hypothesis by checking out the deduced implications

Occam's Razor- "Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity"…the explanation/hypothesis that explains the observation with the fewest "ifs"/assumptions, is the best explanation…the simplest explanation is the best explanation

While some sciences can test their hypothesis through relicable experiments under laboratory conditions, not all can, at least not entirely…historical science disciplines like historical geology, history and prehistory require hypotheses but experiments are not always possible (but keep in mind there is a branch of archaeology called experimental archaeology, such as when people try to replicate stone tools using different methods)…

In this situation we apply what is called "the convergence of evidence" using multiple sources of evidence that can be used to crosscheck each other. In this case, we do not predict what the results of an experiment must be in order for our hypothesis to be valid, instead we predict what new data we must be able to find if the hypothesis is correct.

The scientific community is not perfect…scientists are known to have falsified data etc….scientists are human too. This is usually because of career or grant pressures, or because someone is just too in love with their own ideas and are not willing to let them go, even in the face of all the opposing evidence.


This chapter discusses the cases of three famous frauds in archaeology:

- Shinichi Fujimura, a Japanese archaeologist who consistently found the oldest sites in Japan…but was later found to have been a fraud, "salting"/planting sites with artifacts

- The Cardiff Giant, a carved stone man promoted as a petrified giant from before the Flood

- Pachaug Forest in Connecticut- planted artifacts

Rules for a Successful Archaeological Hoax:

1. Give the people what they want (feeds into their confirmatory bias)
2. Don't be too successful or too lucky…let others take the credit
3. Learn from your mistakes..when people unmask hoaxes, learn how they found out and don't do the same thing

Reading assignment for next class (Th Jan 31):
Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 4: “How Archaeology Works,” pp. 61-86.

SPECIAL NOTICE: I will provide a special post tomorrow to clarify some questions I've received about the upcoming Paper #1, due at the beginning of the Feb. 14 class.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Jan. 29: The Development of Archaeology and Current Approaches

Northwestern Projectile Points Typology, typical of the Cultural History Approach's development of culture chronologies

Jan. 29 Tuesday
Readings for Today:
Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 2: “Archaeology’s Past”, pp. 25-38 and Chapter 3: “Contemporary Approaches to Archaeology,” pp. 39-60.

Topic for Today's Class: The History of Archaeology: Origins, development, and the contemporary scene. The culture of archaeologists and archaeology.


Archaeology's roots are in what is known as Antiquarianism. Antiquarians were people who collected items (antiquities) from ancient cultures, such as those of the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and Mesopotamians. Some of these collections were private, and others were acquired for museums. Most of these antiquities were from looters. Some of the collectors simply acquired these items as art objects for personal enjoyment or to enhance their social status. Other collectors began to see patterns in the collections, patterns that related to how old the items were, or where they were from. They began to arrange, or classify, these collections in according to their age, materials, place of origin, and appearance or form. Classification was the first step in the science of doing archaeology, and it is still important today.

William Camden: compiled known sites in England, in book Britannia (1587)
William Stukeley: studied/speculated about Stonehenge; helped create the Druid Revival
Ole Worm (Denmark) and Johan Bure (Sweden) studied Runes (runic inscriptions)
William Dugdale: In 1600s, first to say that stone tools were made by ancient Britons before metal-making, and not by elves

The Bible was interpreted as saying Earth was only 6000 years old, but once these items were found to be of human origin, and were found with the bones of extinct animals, then people wanted to know how old these items were…this produced great debate…which continues today.

John Frere at Hoxne, England, found human and extinct animal bones far below the surface at Hoxne in 1797. Boucher de Perthes found a similar site on the Somme River, France. And human remains were found about this time in the Neander Valley (Neander Thal), Germany (though they thought these bones were of a modern human with arthritis and other problems.

The debate changed course in the mid-1800s, when geologists such as Charles Lyell proved that the Earth was older than previously thought, and that the processes for change on the Earth were slow and gradual, the same in the past, as the present.
This slow gradual change was called Uniformitarianism. The idea that the Earth's features are changed in violent events is called Catastrophism. This originated in the idea of the Great Flood of the Bible. Today, we know Earth undergoes both types of change. This was also the period when Charles Darwin produced "The Origin of Species," and the idea of the same kind of slow change in animals and plants called the Theory of Evolution.

In the New World, the Europeans did not believe that Native Americans could have built the cities and mounds that were found all over the land, so they invented ideas they were built by civilizations which had migrated from the Old World: Hebrews from the Lost Tribes of Israel, Phoenicians, Hindus, Chinese, or even people from mythical lands like Atlantis, Lemuria, or Mu. They just could not believe that the Indians could have built such things. It was a result of the colonialist and racist ideas of the time. Unfortunately, they did not read accounts from French explorers in the 1600s who stayed in the moundbuilder cities of the Mississippi River Valley when they were still being used and built by Indians, before the continent-wide disease epidemics in the 1500s-1800s wiped out close to 90 percent of all Native Americans in the Americas.

Thomas Jefferson proved that the mounds were built by Native Americans, in his excavations of mounds in Virginia using stratigraphy, a study of the sequence of earth layers (strata -plural, stratum -singular), their relative age (older strata below, younger on top) and the artifacts found within the strata.

Even though Jefferson had proved that the Indians were responsible for building the mounds, communication of studies was still inadequate, so that even in 1848, E. G. Squier and E.H. Davis in their recording of mounds still refused to believed that the mounds of the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys were built by Native Americans. This was laid to rest finally in 1856 with the publication of Samuel Haven's Archaeology of the United States. Haven examined all the evidence, dismissed the most fanciful interpretations, and concluded the ancestors of the living Indians had built the mounds. By the end of the 1800s, the scientific evidence was overwhelming: Native Americans were responsible for all of the mounds and other sites in the Americas, not Old World visitors.

NOTE: "Old World" and "New World" are terms that we often don't think about, we just use them. Of course, this usage is a European worldview. To Native Americans, the Americas are "The Old World" and the invading Europeans came from "The New World!"

Giovanni Belzoni: looter of Egyptian tombs for the British
Thomas Bruce removed the Elgin marbles from the Parthenon
Rosetta Stone: Jean Francois Champollion used to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics

Archaeology as a professional discipline emerged in the 1800s. It immediately had to grapple with how to make sense of all the information, all the STUFF that had been collected up to that point. To make sense of things, to interpret them, you need an interpretive framework. A model is an interpretive framework used in science.

"A model is essentially a form of hypothesis that describes the subject of investigation in a simplified way; it is constructed and tested according to the scientific method" (Ashmore and Sharer 2006: 34).

In the Old World, the first models were based in history. For example, Heinrich Schliemann used a legendary historical source, The Iliad, to locate the site of Troy in 1871. Today, many European scholars still link their profession more with history than anthropology.

The first historical system widely used by archaeologists, the three-age system, is generally credited to two Danish scholars working in the early 1800s, Christian Thomsen and Jens Worsaae, The three-age system is made up of the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. Archaeology was being improved by such scholars as A.L. Pitt-Rivers (methodology) and Sir John Lubbock, who came up with the division in the Stone Age (Paleolithic "Old Stone Age" vs Neolithic "New Stone Age").

These historical systems did not have much applicability to the Americas, as Native Americans did not have Bronze or Iron metallurgy. So instead of history, anthropology provided the models, through the unifying concept of culture. New World archaeologists were generally anthropologists, and often also did work in linguistics, physical anthropology, and cultural anthropology, such as Frank Cushing who studied the Pueblo of the southwest.

Both came together as cultural evolution. This was the idea that cultures could be classified as they passed through a series of stages based on technology, and associated economic and social factors.

In unilinear cultural evolution (developed by Lewis Henry Morgan, Herbert Spencer, Edward Tylor, et al), the stages were best known as Savagery, Barbarism, and Civilization. This was often used to justify European dominance as the logical endpoint of this development. This idea that sets your own culture and civilization as the standard by which all cultures are measured is called ethnocentrism.

The next change was brought about by the anthropologist Franz Boas and his students. This was due to their extensive work collecting what they could of the disappearing and changing Native American cultures in the early 1900s. The evidence showed that cultures were much more diverse and complex in their developments, that they did not always pass through the same stages because of differences in resources, history, acquiring cultural elements from neighboring cultures, etc. This resulted in the idea of multilinear evolution.

THREE MAIN APPROACHES TO ARCHAEOLOGY: Culture History, Processualism, Post-Processualism


The Culture History Approach depends on a normative model, that is, culture is a set of norms or rules that govern behavior in a society.

The Culture History Approach is recognized by its building chronologies: chronological periods or phases, and then using these eventually to create time-space grids for a region. You can see these for Montana, when you see charts showing diagnostic projectile point types arranged in chronologies, typically within a Northern Plains context. The largest time-space unit is the Culture Area based on ethnographic traits; for Montana, this would be mostly the buffalo-centered Plains Culture Area for the middle and eastern third of the state, and some of the Plateau or Intermontane Culture Area for the western mountains.

Culture area- as seen in Native American culture areas: Plains, Southwest, etc.
Tradition- cultural continuity through time (diachronic)
Horizon- ties and uniformity across space at a single point in time (synchronic)


The Processual Approach was a new generation’s reaction against the Culture history approach. It did not feel that culture history was contributing to understanding human culture in a way that was scientific enough. The processualists wanted to create a Middle Range Theory, that would take the specifics of the archeological record of a site, and interpret the cultural process (the Middle Range Theory), to eventually formulate universal laws to explain human culture.

The Processual Approach is named for its concern for cultural process, how a culture “works,” rather than building chronologies. The Processual Approach depends on ecological and materialist models; it works with material such as technology and ecological resources, rather than social or belief systems, which are not preserved in the archaeological record nor testable by the scientific method. Leslie White and Lewis Binford are two archaeologists noted for working and promoting this approach. Processual archaeology is still the dominant approach in most universities.

Hallmarks of this cultural materialist approach include: Research models and the, Multiple working hypotheses (as many alternative explanations as possible), Cultural systems (subsistence interconnects with social, etc.), Multilinear cultural evolution (specificity to place, etc.).

Compatible with the scientific approach of Processualism:
Evolutionary archaeology: neoDarwinian approach of Dunnell, focused on reproductive success, focus on scientific methodology
Behavioral archaeology: specifically is concerned with the set of processes by which objects are made, are used and become part of the archaeological record (transformation processes—more on those soon); this approach is promoted by Michael Schiffer.


The Postprocessual Approach was developed in reaction to the scientism of Processual Archaeology, which said you can’t study things that do not leave material remains. It was really developed in a time of academia called deconstructionism. Postprocessualists such as Ian Hodder believed that such ideational aspects of culture could be and should be studied alongside the material aspects. By not studying or at least trying to study ideas and thought in the archaeological cultures, too much was left out of understanding the human story. Hodder believed you could do this by using the reflexive method.

Postprocessual research focuses on the reflexive method: evidence does not exist apart from interpretation and theory, so one must continuously interpret and reinterpret; a single interpretation is not the goal. In addition, postprocessualists advocate a cognitive model of culture, as for example, “reading” artifacts as nonverbal texts of the culture that made them.

Other forms of archaeology include interests in how Marxism (class and labor) and Feminism (the place of women in the archaeological record) can inform and shape archaeology.

Reading assignment for next class (Th Jan 31):
Feder, Chapter 2: “Epistemology: How You Know What You Know,” pp. 17-43 and Chapter 3, “Anatomy of an Archaeological Hoax”, pp. 44-63,

Two Stories: Blogging Archaeology and Top 10 Discoveries of 2007

I originally started this Montana Archaeology blog as a sort of online filing cabinet as an easy reference and bulletin board for online resources about Montana archaeology, kind of an online scratchpad for myself and whoever might happen upon it while surfing. And then when I began teaching the "Introduction to Archaeology" course at the University of Montana-Helena this term, I thought it might be a handy tool for students to see what was going on in class, and a way to begin to engage what has been called The New Media. While doing some surfing this morning before this afternoon's class, I found a great article on the use of blogs in archaeology. One of the quotes that caught my eye:

"The process of reading a blog is very similar to the process of making sense of archaeological material" (

Story 1: Archaeological Blogging

Archaeology Magazine has an article this month, Archaeology Blogs, which covers "Weblog History and Taxonomy," "Blogging and Academia," "Blogging Archaeology (Blogs are used by archaeologists to create a more transparent approach to fieldwork), and "The Archaeology of Blogging: How do we know what blogs to trust as sources of information or informed opinions?" This last part is very pertinent to what we are studying currently in class, namely, epistemology, or how do we know, what we know?

The article's author says:

When I began my blog, I had little idea of the history, potential, or diversity of the weblog as a medium. I am not sure that I have necessarily found the proper voice for my blog yet. It tends to vacillate between news on my own research and archaeology projects and more general observations on matters that catch my fancy. I've tried to speak at least some of the time to an audience in North Dakota where I now live and teach, and I also try to speak to my academic peers. The result, in hindsight, is a sometime bizarre blend of academic and popular. This uneven character of blogs is what distinguishes them from more formal academic writing, but is also what makes them such a compelling medium. Most academics, after all, drift between the mundane world of daily life and the obscure concerns of their research and writing. The idiosyncratic and uneven cadence of academic blogging perhaps brings out these juxtaposed facets of their lives better than anywhere else. In this regard, those of us involved in blogging archaeology and the archaeology of blogging, bring just a bit more of our life's work to light.

There are some great resources and ideas in this informative a newbie to Archaeo-blogging, it is a real find!

Story 2: Top Ten Archaeological Discoveries of 2007

Archaeology magazine has also published its "Top 10 Discoveries of 2007" in its Jan/Feb 2008 issue, according to China's English version article (No, Montana didn't make it...but it is fun to read about anyways!):

1. Solar Observatory at Chankillo, Peru
Travelers have noticed the 13 stone towers rising over Peru's coastal desert since at least the nineteenth century. But researchers only last year discovered the structures' purpose: they make up a sophisticated solar observatory, one of the earliest known in the Americas.

2. Nebo-Sarsekim Tablet, The British Museum, UK
Last June, Austrian Assyriologist Michael Jursa was doing what he has done since 1991, poring over the more than 100,000 undeciphered cuneiform tablets in the British Museum. But while analyzing records from the Babylonian city of Sippar, he made a startling discovery with Biblical implications. It came in the unlikely form of a tablet noting a one-and-a-half pound gold donation to a temple made by an official, or "chief eunuch," Nebo-Sarsekim.

3. New Dates for Clovis Sites, North America
New radiocarbon dates kept the controversy over the peopling of the Americas simmering in 2007. An analysis of dates for the best-documented Clovis sites suggests the culture arose later and was shorter-lived than once thought, a finding that some say deals a blow to the "Clovis first" theories that maintain the big-game-hunting people were the first immigrants to the New World.

4. Early Squash Seeds, Peru
New research favors the idea that agriculture began in the New World shortly after it first appeared in the Old World. Tom Dillehay of Vanderbilt University has the squash seeds to prove it.

5. Ancient Chimpanzee Tool Use
Archaeologists led by Julio Mercader of the University of Calgary have uncovered the first known ancient chimpanzee archaeological site, a grouping of stone hammers that were used by apes 4,300 years ago to smash open nuts. By analyzing pollen grains embedded in the stones, the team was able to identify five species of nuts the tools were used to open, four of which are not eaten by humans.

6. Urbanization at Tell Brak, Syria
Archaeologists have long believed that the world's oldest cities lay along the fertile riverbanks of southern Mesopotamia, in what is now Iraq. There, in a land of plenty, went the idea, powerful kings began coercing their subjects to live together some 6,000 years ago. Their great invention--the city--later spread throughout the Near East. But last August, Harvard University archaeologist Jason Ur and two British colleagues turned that idea on its head. Their intensive field survey and surface collection of potsherds at the site of Tell Brak in northern Syria revealed that an ancient city rose there at exactly the same time as urban centers first sprouted up in southern Mesopotamia, but followed a very different model of development. "Urbanism," says Ur, "is not one brilliant idea that occurred one place and then diffused."

7. Lismullin Henge, Tara, Ireland
Early last year, archaeologists working on the route of a controversial highway near the village of Lismullin, Ireland, stumbled across a vast Iron Age ceremonial enclosure, or henge, surrounded by two concentric walls. The 2,000-year-old site is just over a mile from the Hill of Tara, traditional seat of the ancient Irish kings and site of St. Patrick's conversion of the Irish to Christianity in the fifth century A.D. The discovery of the massive henge, measuring more than 260 feet in diameter, confirms the long-held belief that the area around the hill contains a rich complex of monuments.

8. Polynesian Chickens in Chile
Scholars have long assumed the Spaniards first introduced chickens to the New World along with horses, pigs, and cattle. But now radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis of a chicken bone excavated from a site in Chile suggest Polynesians in oceangoing canoes brought chickens to the west coast of South America well before Europe's "Age of Discovery."

9. Homo habilis & Homo erectus, Kenya
Whether they are mother-and-daughter species or two sisters, the relationship between Homo habilis and Homo erectus is becoming strained. A pair of discoveries near Lake Ileret in Kenya call into question the idea that H. erectus, the species from which modern humans evolved, is descended from H. habilis, the earliest hominid known to use stone tools.

10. Greater Angkor, Cambodia
The capital of a Khmer state that flourished between the ninth and fifteenth centuries, Cambodia's Angkor is one of the most intensively studied sites in the world. But it continues to inspire more questions than answers, the most fundamental being why the sophisticated Khmer Empire collapsed. In 2007, research into the mysteries of the world's largest preindustrial city reached a milestone with the completion of a 10-year mapping project, which yielded clues suggesting that the sprawling metropolis may have collapsed under self-induced environmental pressures related to overpopulation and deforestation.

Wow, I am going to have to get the magazine and read up on some of these. The Clovis story is definitely of importance to Montana's archaeology. And the likelihood that Polynesians may have reached the Americas before the European entrance, at least in some locations, is not only interesting on its own, but since the controversial Kennewick Man had some skeletal features more similar to either the Ainu of Hokkaido, or the Polynesians, this is something that makes you go, hmmm.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Archaeology on the Web

There is so much about archaeology on the web, it can be rather overwhelming.

There are several excellent entry points for discovering archaeology on the Internet, such as:


Do a little surfing to see what's been going on in the world of archaeology.

But don't forget to have fun too...archaeology is well-known for its off-the-wall humor!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Jan. 24: What is Archaeology? ...and what Archaeology is not

Jan. 24 Thursday
Readings for Today:
Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 1: “Introduction,” pp. 1-24
Feder, Chapter 1: “Science and Pseudoscience,” pp. 1-16

What is Archaeology?

Archaeology is the study of the human past through its material remains.

The Archaeological Record is the material remains of the past (sites, artifacts, features, etc.)

Archaeology is not a focus on the collection of artifacts: An artifact out of context is like a word on a page of a book…torn out of the book and off of the page it can tell us very little. The unfortunate extreme of a focus on the artifact is looting (see the example of Slack Farm in the Ashmore text, or the destruction of the looting of the museums in Iraq in wartime).

Archaeology and looting both destroy sites; the difference is that archaeology recovers the story as well as the material remains so that we can all learn more about who we are and where we came from…and maybe a little about the purpose of life; looting is all about greed and money.

Archaeology is about the story of humankind, the story that the remains can tell us, not the stuff itself. The difference between archaeology and history is that history focuses on the important people and big events; archaeology focuses on what everybody did, the little guys too, how they lived, what they ate, to borrow from James Deetz, the “Small Things Forgotten.” History is what people tell us they did; archaeology reveals what they actually did.

In the Old World, Archaeology developed out of the disciplines of antiquarianism, classical studies, the humanities in general, history and art history, because of the proximity of the Roman and Greek Worlds, as well as those of Egypt and the Bible. There are lots of written resources to draw from.

In the New World, there is not this same depth of written history. Archaeology here developed as one of the four subdisciplines of anthropology, in its earlier years especially with the focus on the Moundbuilders of the Mississippi Valley, the Puebloan cultures of the southwest, and of course Mesoamerica’s spectacular Mayan and Aztec cultures, and the Inca of South America.

Archaeology is necessarily interdisciplinary in its practice, drawing from science, history, anthropology, and many other disciplines such as soil science, geology, biology, geography, and computer sciences (especially GPS and GIS related technologies).

Archaeology as Science

Archaeology is practiced as a science. That means archaeology relies on the scientific method. In the scienctific method, a model of what one is studying is proposed. Then a hypothesis that can be tested (a testable hypothesis) is formed, and fieldwork and/or laboratory work is done to test it. If the test fails, the hypothesis is rejected.
There is no proof in science, only the elimination or disproof of inadequate hypotheses.

To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, when you have rejected all the alternative explanations, then whatever remains, no matter how unlikely, is what actually happened. This also relates to what is called Occam’s Razor: In almost cases, the simplest explanation is the best one. We will look at this a bit more later on.

Like many sciences, archaeology is not always done through laboratory and the experimental approach. Much must be done through simple observation, which is why archaeology has been described as a historical science.

Archaeology and History

Oral history and Documentary history
Historical archaeology: ex. Martin’s Hundred and Ivor Noel Hume
Prehistoric archaeology and Protohistoric archaeology

Archaeology and anthropology

Anthropology: the four field approach
Diachronic vs synchronic
Ethnography and ethnology
The definition of “Culture”

Archaeology as a profession

Education and training: There are opportunities for you participate in archaeology without the decrees (in Montana there is the Passport-In-Time (PIT) program, and other fieldwork opportunities, but to be a professional archaeologist, you need to go through the academic hoops). You need at least a Master’s degree with appropriate work experience to get a private level or government-level job, but Ph.D. is the expected degree, especially for the highest level jobs in government and universities.
Professional organizations – include Montana.

CRM Cultural Resources Management (sometimes called heritage resources management) is the most numerous kind of paid archaeological jobs, because of the need for compliance with federal environmental laws like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and resulting regulations at the federal and state levels. University jobs are a lot fewer, and harder to get; you can often get temporary instructor positions (which is what I am doing) but tenure track careers are much harder to find and secure.

Two fairly new developments are: 1) Community-based archaeology and 2) Indigenous archaeologies. Community-based archaeology is run by and for the benefit of the community itself (such as in Alexandria, Virginia or Cochiti Pueblo). Indigenous archaeologies combine the endeavors of archaeology with the viewpoints and culture of the served indigenous group, such as the Navajo Nation archaeology program.

Four Goals of Archaeology
1. Description and classification of recovered physical evidence; outline the distribution of remains of ancient societies in both time and space. Constructing chronologies and describing the specifics of the culture. (Ashmore’s “Form”). Most archaeologists working today work in this level and the next…
2. Purposes of the objects found, determined from an analysis of the objects themselves and the interrelationships among different pieces of evidence; reconstruct past human activities (what Louis Binford has called “Middle Range Theory,” the reconstruction of past lifeways). (Ashmore’s “Function”)
3. Changes that occurred in past societies; determine how and why ancient cultures changed over time. The search for universal laws. (Ashmore’s “Process”). Limited success doing this so far.
4. Understanding past societies within their own cultural contexts; goal to determine the attitudes and beliefs of ancient peoples and to learn things form the past that may be of use to us in the present. (Ashmore’s “Meaning”). This fourth goal is very tricky and many archaeologists believe it cannot really be properly done.

Now...What Archaeology is NOT!

Archaeology is not the study of the nonhuman past—the study of dinosaurs is paleontology, not archaeology.

Archaeology is not simply the collection of artifacts— You read in Ashmore the tragic destruction of the site at Slack Farm in Kentucky. Looting, also termed “pothunting,” is not archaeology.

There are other ethical issues to consider that we get into as the course goes along, such as the misuse of archaeology to promote nationalism, bigotry, and devalue the past, including the intelligence and capabilities of our own ancestors.

Now we come to Pseudoscience and archaeology….the many hoaxes, scams, delusions of the past and present. Feder’s book is excellent in this, which is why I selected it as one of our textbooks. There is a lot of confusion about our past, that’s for sure, and what science is.

Feder’s book is really about looking at various extraordinary claims about archaeology, and the evidence of support (or lack thereof) in terms of science. Science by its nature and methods is necessarily skeptical. Remember, using the scientific method you cannot prove anything to be “true” in science, you can only reject explanations that are proven to be untrue or inadequate. Often things that seem plausible are only in those fields and areas you are not familiar with yourself.

Why do people come up with weird explanations rather than trying to find the real truth?? Feder lists 6 possible motivations:
1. Money- the big motivator of our culture and times!
2. Fame and notoriety
3. Nationalism and bigotry
4. Religion or trying to prove another belief system
5. Romance and escapism
6. Psychological instability/motivations or personal idiosyncracies

BUT also remember…aside from the scientific method itself, the community of scientists and skeptics are also a community of belief…often very antagonistic, hostile or dismissive of areas that are not amenable to the scientific method and empirical reality: theology (God and religion), the occult and psychic realms, etc. In fact remember, science is also not concerned with studying such things as philosophy, art, poetry, literature, etc.

When it comes to empirical, material, physical reality, nothing is as well-equipped as science to discover the facts and truth. But it can be and has been argued that there is much more to life than material reality. Just try to use hammers for nails and screwdrivers for screws! Use science to investigate material reality…use critical thinking and other tools for the rest!

Try to remember: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, which is a corollary to Occam’s Razor!

When it comes to claims of our past...

...the Bottom line
1. Learn and use critical thinking.
2. Occam’s Razor: The simplest explanation is almost always the correct one; Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.
3. If you want something to be verifiable as empirical reality, then understand and use the scientific method.
4. What are the motivations of the source? To sell a book or TV show? To make money or become famous? Real archaeology is most of the time not very exciting or glamorous!
5. Have fun reading and watching what you enjoy!… but be able to distinguish fantasy and romance, from reality…the truth can be as strange as any fiction, and even more enjoyable!


Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 2: “Archaeology’s Past”, pp. 25-38 and Chapter 3: “Contemporary Approaches to Archaeology,” pp. 39-60.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Jan. 22: Class Introduction and Head-Smashed-In Video

Jan. 22 (yesterday) was the first day of class. We introduced ourselves, and our personal interests in archaeology, handed out and discussed the class syllabus, standards and expectations, and the required texts.

The class then watched a video from the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. It was a good introduction to the ancient lifeways and contemporary culture of the Piegan Blackfeet who live here in Montana and across the border in Canada. Archaeologists and tribal members described the positive changes in interactions between the Blackfeet and archaeologists who had learned the importance of consultation and partnering with indigenous people. The whole website is great. For this class, be sure and read the pages on Archaeological Facts here with page 2 on the landscape of a buffalo jumphere at the Head-Smashed-In website. There is also an excellent 15-page PDF document called Buffalo Tracks you should download and read for this class.

Buffalo jumps are perhaps the most spectacular type of prehistoric Native American-associated site in Montana. You can visit buffalo jumps in Montana too…such as at Madison Buffalo Jump near Three Forks, Wahkpa Chug'n near Havre, and the First People's Buffalo Jump (near Ulm, between Helena and Great Falls; it is also known as the Ulm Pishkun). Read the post below from Friday, January 18 to find out more.

Reading assignments for Thursday’s class (Jan. 24):
Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 1: “Introduction,” pp. 1-24; Feder, Chapter 1: “Science and Pseudoscience,” pp. 1-16

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"Introduction to Archaeology": Class Syllabus

Starting today, I am teaching a course this spring semester 2008: "Introduction to Archaeology," at the UM-Helena as adjunct faculty. This blog will be used this semester as a teaching aid for the class and to help me organize classes. Class outlines and supplementary materials and items of interest will be posted here as well. Today I will start by posting the syllabus.


ANTH 250: Introduction to Archaeology CRN 37473 / 3 credits
Spring 2008/ T & Th, 2:45-4:00 pm / Room DON 206
Instructor: Lance M. Foster, M.A., M.L.A.
Academic Web Site:
Office Hours/Location: By Appointment

Course Overview
Archaeology is the study of past human cultures through their material remains. Archaeology uses many different approaches and tools to study and explain how people lived in the distant and not-so-distant past. Artifacts, sites, settlements, and landscapes may be studied to help reveal how people lived, how they saw themselves and their world, what the environment was like, and how these factors interrelated and changed through time. In this class you will gain an overview of what archaeology is, how archaeology is done, and what it can tell us about our world, past, present and perhaps even a glimpse of our future. This course is intended to be an introductory survey of archaeology for undergraduate students, either as an elective or as a foundation for further studies in archaeology. There are no prerequisites for this course.

Course Objectives
The Introduction to Archaeology course is designed to be transferable and comparable with other Introduction to Archaeology courses taught by the Montana University system. This course is based upon the Seven Principles for Curriculum Reform, as proposed by the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), which are based on SAA's Seven Principles of Archaeological Ethics. Through the full participation in, and completion of, this class, the student will know the following principles and be able to accomplish the associated tasks:

1. ARCHAEOLOGICAL METHODOLOGY: Describe the BASIC ARCHAEOLOGICAL SKILLS: how to locate, record, investigate, analyze, and interpret archaeological sites. Survey, excavation, analysis, interpretation.

2. COMMUNICATION SKILLS: Demonstrate good COMMUNICATION skills: written, oral, visual, and interactive, to understand and tell the story of the past

3. ARCHAEOLOGICAL ETHICS: Discuss critically PROFESSIONAL ETHICS AND VALUES in archaeology: skills, honesty, responsibility to science and to the many different publics

4. Understand and compare DIVERSE INTERESTS IN THE PAST: different people's associations with prehistory and history

5. Describe the processes and methods of STEWARDSHIP: preserving nonrenewable cultural resources through policy, law, and public education

6. Discuss critically archaeology's SOCIAL RELEVANCE: connections of past human systems and adaptations with today's world

7. Describe not only specific case studies but general archaeological principles relating to REAL-WORLD PROBLEM SOLVING: practical application of knowledge from the human past

Required Texts

Ashmore, Wendy, and Robert J. Sharer
2000 Discovering Our Past: A Brief Introduction to Archaeology. 3rd edition. McGraw-Hill.

Diamond, Jared
2005 Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Penguin Books.

Feder, Kenneth L.
2005 Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. 5th Edition. McGraw-Hill.

Course Grading and Expectations

A. ATTENDANCE: Attendance will be taken regularly. Class participation counts as part of your grade, and absences will negatively impact both what you learn and your final class grade. If you will be absent, tell in advance and the absence may be excused. Please get the notes from other students if you have to miss a class. The professor will not provide copies of his lecture notes to students. Makeup exams will only be given for officially excused absences.

B. PARTICIPATION: Classes include lectures, discussions, films, and slide presentations. Readings must be done IN ADVANCE so you can DISCUSS the material in class. Lectures include material beyond that in your texts for which you will be responsible on exams, so note-taking and attendance are required. Taping lectures is permitted, but not for sale or profit. You are encouraged to bring in pertinent articles from the current news media to discuss. Class participation will be part of the grade.

C. EXAMS: There will be two exams, a midterm and a final. Both include essay-type questions as well as multiple choice, and each will cover assigned readings for that time period as well as lectures and other class materials. The final will be cumulative to a small degree in that you will need to know the basic concepts of archaeology to interpret the record of prehistory and early history. There will be NO makeup exams except in fully documented serious circumstances. A makeup exam must be taken within one week of the missed exam, and will consist of all essay questions.


(1) The first short paper (3 pages) will evaluate two or more websites/programs/articles on archaeology. A well-organized critique and comparison covering the intended audience, and research goals and theoretical perspectives, and relating the reviewed materials to information given in the course. This paper is due on FEB. 14.

(2) A second short paper (5 pages) will be an essay by the student reacting to the book "Collapse" by Jared Diamond, relating it to what has been learned about archaeology in the course, and using at least three other sources from the library or the Internet, properly cited, and original in thought. This paper is due on APRIL 30.

Both papers should be 2-3 pages, double-spaced, typed, and in a professional format (Society for American Archaeology (SAA); handed out separately). LATE PAPERS WILL BE DROPPED ONE FULL GRADE FOR EVERY DAY THEY ARE LATE (A paper that would have been graded a B, will get a C if it is turned in one day late, etc.). Hardcopies are required; E-mailed papers are not accepted.


30% = Midterm exam (multiple choice, matching, and essay)
10% = Review Paper on Programs, Articles, or Internet Sites
10% = Class Participation
20% = Paper on "Collapse"
30% = Final exam (multiple choice, matching, and essay)

100-90 points = A
80-89 points = B
70-79 points = C
60-69 points = D

-/+ added based on class participation and attendance

Late policy/penalties: No late assignments will be accepted without prior arrangement and agreement with instructor.

Academic Rigor
Based on the UM-H Academic Rigor Value Statement, here what you should expect from me:
1) that I communicate the course expectations to you and have them summarized on this syllabus;
2) that I come to class prepared, and that I give you useful feedback on your assignments in a timely manner;
3) that I am available to you outside of the classroom;
4) that you can collaborate with your classmates on writing assignments as long as the products of those assignments are truly your work;
5) that the assignments are relevant, meaningful and challenging;
6) that I approach guiding your learning in ways geared to your diverse talents and abilities;
7) that I reduce, if not eliminate, your perceived need to plagiarize, and that I challenge plagiarism should it occur.

Based on the UM-H Academic Rigor Value Statement, here is what I expect from you:
1) that you will set high expectations for yourself along with a strong sense of collegiate purpose; that you come to class prepared, and complete and submit assignments by the deadlines;
2) that you make the most of your time with me in and out of class;
3) that you treat fellow students and the classroom with respect, and participate in our process;
4) that you manage your time so that you can treat college and this course as real work with real value;
5) that you participate with complete honesty and integrity; and finally
6) that you accept responsibility for learning and the grades you earn.

Academic Integrity
The University of Montana-Helena adheres to high standards of academic integrity. A single instance of the following violations will result in an F grade for that assignment; a subsequent violation will result in an FX grade for the course (see Catalog), and in both cases I will report the violation to the academic dean:

• Plagiarism: submitting the words, work or ideas of others without properly crediting them; this includes tracing/copying the artistic work of others, including sources from the Internet
• Using work generated in another class, by you or someone else, for credit in this class without permission from the instructor.

Guidelines/stylesheet will be supplied on how to incorporate the words, work or ideas of other authors into your two papers.

This syllabus is subject to change. Please turn off cell phones during class.
Students with unique learning needs are encouraged to see me to discuss course requirements and approved accommodations. Students who seek information about disability services should contact Disability Services Director Judy Hay, located in the Access Center, at 444-6897, or at

Class Schedule


Jan. 22 T First day of class; class syllabus, standards and expectations; the required texts and other materials. Video introduction to archaeology.
Reading assignments for next class: Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 1: “Introduction,” pp. 1-24; Feder, Chapter 1: “Science and Pseudoscience,” pp. 1-16

Jan. 24 Th What Archaeology is—and what it is not. Archaeology defined; ethics and misuses of archaeology; archaeology as science, as history and as anthropology; archaeology as a profession.
Reading assignment for next class: Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 2: “Archaeology’s Past”, pp. 25-38; Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 3: “Contemporary Approaches to Archaeology,” pp. 39-60.


Jan. 29 T The History of Archaeology: Origins, development, and the contemporary scene. The (sub)culture of archaeologists and archaeology.
Reading assignment for next class: Feder, Chapter 2: “Epistemology: How You Know What You Know,” pp. 17-43 and Chapter 3, “Anatomy of an Archaeological Hoax”, pp. 44-63,

Jan. 31 Th Epistemology (how you know what you know), critical thinking, and scientific archaeology. The Cardiff Giant: frauds and hoaxes in archaeology.
Reading assignment for next class: Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 4: “How Archaeology Works,” pp. 61-86.


Feb. 5 T Archaeological data, deposition and site transformation processes, research design; archaeological research projects.
Reading assignment for next class: Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 5: “Fieldwork,” pp. 87-124 and Feder, Chapter 10, “Good Vibrations: Psychics and Dowsers,” pp. 261-277.

Feb. 7 Th Archaeology in the field: Survey, excavation, data processing, classification.
Reading assignment for next class: Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 6: “Analyzing the Past,” pp. 125-156.



Feb. 12 T Archaeology in the laboratory: Analysis of artifacts, ecofacts, and features.
Reading assignment for next class: Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 7: “Dating the Past,” Pp. 157-178.

Archaeology in the laboratory: Chronology, seriation, sequence comparison, stratigraphy, geochronology, obsidian hydration, floral and faunal analysis, radiometry, archaeomagnetism, limited/experimental methods.
Reading assignment for next class: Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 8: “Reconstructing the Past,” Pp. 179-211.


Feb. 19 T Archaeological Interpretation: Analogy and the abuse of analogy, Identifying activities in space and time
Reading assignment for next class: Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 9: “Understanding the Past,” Pp. 212-237 and Chapter 11, “Old Time Religion – New Age Visions,” pp. 278-310.

Feb. 21 Th Archaeological Paradigms: Culture History Approach, Processualism, Post-Processual and Emergent Interpretations, Multiple Approaches, Alternative Archaeologies
Reading assignment for next class: Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 10: “Archaeology Today,” pp. 238-254 and Feder, Chapter 12, “Real Mysteries of a Veritable Past,” pp. 311-333.


Feb. 26 T Contemporary Issues in Archaeology: Ethics, looting and antiquities collecting; destruction in the name of progress; Cultural Resource Management (CRM); nationalism. colonialism and war; working with descendant communities; the responsibilities of archaeology.
Reading assignment for next class: None, as there will be an exam that class

Feb. 28 Th Contemporary Issues in Archaeology (continued); Midterm Exam Review



Mar. 6 Th Video
Reading assignments for next class: Feder, Chapter 7, “Lost: One Continent – Reward,” pp. 177-206.


Mar. 11 T Outline of Old World Archaeology: Hominids: The Peopling of the World (Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas); DNA and archaeological evidence.
Reading assignment for next class: Feder, Chapter 4, “Dawson’s Dawn Man: The Hoax at Piltdown,” pp. 64-90 and Chapter 9, “Mysterious Egypt,” pp. 234-260.

Mar. 13 Th Outline of Old World Archaeology: Agriculture and the Great Civilizations; Internationally-significant archaeological sites/landscapes of the Old World.
Reading assignment for next class: Chapter 8, “Prehistoric E.T.: The Fantasy of Ancient Astronauts,” pp. 207-233.


Mar. 18 T New World Archaeology: The Peopling of the Americas; Controversies and Native American views.
Reading assignment for next class: Feder, Chapter 5, “Who Discovered America?,” pp. 91-145 and Chapter 6, “The Myth of the Moundbuilders,” pp. 147-176.

Mar. 20 Th New World Archaeology: Agricultural Societies and New World Civilizations; Internationally-significant archaeological sites/landscapes of the New World.
Reading assignment for next class (after Spring Break): Begin reading Jared Diamond’s “Collapse”, Prologue pp. 1-23, and further, to get a head start).


Mar. 24-28 SPRING BREAK – No Classes; College Open


Apr. 1 T Montana Archaeology Overview: Prehistoric Archaeology in Montana; the Historic Indian tribes of Montana; Historic Archaeology in Montana: Mining, ranching, timber, industrial.
Reading assignment for next class: Diamond, “Part One: Modern Montana; Chapter 1: Under Montana’s Big Sky,” pp. 25-75.

Apr. 3 Th Lessons from Archaeology: Montana in Jared Diamond’s “Collapse.”
Reading assignment for next class: Diamond, “Part Two: Past Societies”: “Chapter 2: Twilight at Easter” (pp. 79-119) and “Chapter 3: The Last People Alive: Pitcairn and Henderson Islands” (pp. 120-135).


Apr. 8 T Lessons from Archaeology: “Collapse”: Easter Island and the Polynesians
Reading assignment for next class: Diamond, “Part Two: Past Societies”: “Chapter 4: The Ancient Ones: The Anasazi and Their Neighbors” (pp. 136-156) and “Chapter 5: The Maya Collapses” (pp. 157-177).

Apr. 10 Th Lessons from Archaeology: “Collapse”: The Anasazi and the Maya
Reading assignment for next class: Diamond, “Part Two: Past Societies”: “Chapter 6: The Viking Prelude and Fugues” (pp. 178-210) and “Chapter 7: Norse Greenland’s Flowering” (pp. 211-247).


Apr. 15 T Lessons from Archaeology: “Collapse”: The Vikings, Part I
Reading assignment for next class: Diamond, “Part Two: Past Societies”: “Chapter 8: Norse Greenland’s End” (pp. 248-276) and “Chapter 9: Opposite Paths to Success” (pp. 277-308.

Apr. 17 Th Lessons from Archaeology: “Collapse”: The Vikings, Part II
Reading assignment for next class: Diamond, “Part Three: Modern Societies”: “Chapter 10: Malthus in Africa: Rwanda’s Genocide” (pp. 311-328) and “Chapter 11: One Island, Two Peoples, Two Histories: The Dominican Republic and Haiti” (pp. 329-357).


Apr. 22 T Lessons from Archaeology: “Collapse”: Modern Societies: Africa and the Caribbean
Reading assignment for next class: Diamond, “Part Three: Modern Societies”: “Chapter 12: China, Lurching Giant” (pp. 358-377) and “Chapter 13: ‘Mining’ Australia” (pp. 378-416.

Apr. 24 Th Lessons from Archaeology: “Collapse”: Modern Societies: Asia and the Pacific
Reading assignment for next class: Diamond, “Practical Lessons”: “Chapter 14: Why Do Some Societies Make Disastrous Decisions?” (pp. 419-440) and “Chapter 15: Big Businesses and the Environment: Different Conditions, Different Outcomes” (pp. 441-485).



Apr. 29 T Lessons from Archaeology: “Collapse”: Practical Lessons: Societies, Businesses and the Environment
Reading assignment for next class: Diamond, “Practical Lessons”: “Chapter 16: The World as a Polder: What Does It All Mean to Us Today?” (pp. 486-525).

May 1 Th Lessons from Archaeology: “Collapse”: Practical Lessons: “What Does It All Mean to Us Today?”


May 6 T Fieldtrip to Montana Historical Society, Archaeological Collections, and State Historic Preservation Office

May 8 Th Guest Speaker; Final Exam Review



"Life After People" -Future Archaeology

There will be a repeat of "Life After People," a speculative future history of what life will be like on earth if people were no longer here. There is a lot of good material relating to archaeological thinking, especially site transformation processes. It will be on on the History Channel on Wednesday evening; see your local listings for times and channels (I think it is kind of early). I saw it last night...VERY thought provoking...worth your while.

I just watched this show last night on the History Channel. One of the most thought-provoking things I've seen in a long time. If you get a chance, watch it.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Piegan Blackfeet and the Pishkun (Buffalo Jump)

The Piegan Blackfeet (or Pikuni in their own language) of Montana were the southernmost branch of the Blackfeet Confederacy, which also included the Siksika (Blackfoot proper) of Saskatchewan and the Blood or Kainah of Alberta in Canada. They are linked with the Late Prehistoric archaeological culture called the Old Women's Tradition and probably also the even older Besant Culture.

The Blackfeet were of the Algonquian linguistic family, and were warlike toward most of their neighboring tribes, since they had horses for raiding and were supplied with guns and ammunition by their Canadian sources. Piegans also displayed hostility toward white explorers and traders. Several smallpox epidemics decimated their population, and their old way of life ended with the destruction of the buffalo herds on which they relied. Now they are gathered on reservations on both sides of the border.

The Helena Valley (aka Prickly Pear Valley) where I live was once part of the lands the Blackfeet hunted. They reportedly called this valley "Tomah" or "Tona" which meant "game pocket" or "game cache" as game animals like buffalo, elk, deer, and pronghorn antelope were always plentiful here. One Blackfeet man had a vision while camping here about the future and the coming of the white man. And we all grew up learning a story about the Sleeping Giant on the northern horizon...someday when the world is about to end, the Giant will rise from his earth-bed, shake the mountain crumbs away, and stride across the land. I heard this one when I was a boy in 5th grade here in Helena.

Origin of the Buffalo Jump and the Buffalo Dance

This traditional Blackfoot story of How the Buffalo Dance was given to the people mentions the "Buffalo Jump," or as the Blackfeet called it, the pishkun (PEESH-koon), one of the most important types of archaeological sites here in Montana. Such jumps have been used for over 5,000 years in this region. You can visit such jumps today in Montana at Wahkpa Chug'n near Havre, Madison Buffalo Jump near Three Forks, and the Ulm Pishkun (as of 2007, now called First People's Buffalo Jump) between Helena and Great Falls. One of the most amazing museums is not far across the U.S.-Canadian border in Alberta, an UNESCO World Heritage site called Head-Smashed-In. This last site is especially good for connecting Blackfoot history to the use of the Buffalo Jump, and explaining its importance.


How the Blackfoot got the Buffalo Jump (Piskun)

by Hugh Welch
Awa chopsi pono Ka me ta (Horse Crazy)

One day Napi was out on the Plains and became hungry and pleaded to the Great Spirit to help him and give him something to eat. The Great Spirit heard his prayers and said " Alright Napi, mound up the dirt as big as you can eat".

Napi started mounding up the dirt and the more he worked the hungrier he got, until he had a big mound and was tired out as he wasn't used to working so hard for something to eat, as the Creator usually fed him when he asked.

The Creator said " I see you have become greedy with me helping you too much so I will make the mound of dirt something you can eat, but you will have to learn to kill it", with that the Great Spirit turned the big mound of dirt into a Buffalo which charged Napi and he started running, more in fear of his life than thinking how to kill it, he ran across the plains, the Buffalo close behind him. Finally he saw a tree and thought if I can make it to the tree I can get away from this beast and then plan how to kill it.

As he neared the tree he saw a big branch sticking out, low enough for him to reach but high enough to get away from the Buffalo. He was running as hard as he could and the Buffalo was gaining on him, just as he reached the tree and swung up the Buffalo ran under him and disappeared. After he got over his fright and came down from the tree he found that the tree was on the edge of a cliff and the Buffalo has ran off it and was laying at the bottom.

The Great Spirit spoke to him and said "Now Napi your greed almost got you hurt but I will give you another chance, I will put Buffalo on the Plains if you share your kills with your brothers the meat eaters and your people". Which he did and showed the people how to use the Buffalo Jump. One is at Two Medicine River, another on Milk River as well as many others all over the Blackfoot Hunting Grounds.



When the buffalo first came to be upon the land, they were not friendly to the people. When the hunters tried to coax them over the cliffs for the good of the villages, they were reluctant to offer themselves up. They did not relish being turned into blankets and dried flesh for winter rations. They did not want their hooves and horn to become tools and utensils nor did they welcome their sinew being used for sewing. "No, no," they said. We won't fall into your traps. And we will not fall for your tricks." So when the hunters guided them towards the abyss, they would always turn aside at the very last moment. With this lack of cooperation, it seemed the villagers would be hungry and cold and ragged all winter long.

Now one of the hunters' had a daughter who was very proud of her father's skill with the bow. During the fullness of summer, he always brought her the best of hides to dress, and she in turn would work the deerskins into the softest, whitest of garments for him to wear. Her own dresses were like the down of a snow goose, and the moccasins she made for the children and the grandmothers in the village were the most welcome of gifts.

But now with the hint of snow on the wind, and deer becoming more scarce in the willow breaks, she could see this reluctance on the part of the buffalo families could become a real problem.

Hunter's Daughter decided she would do something about it.

She went to the base of the cliff and looked up. She began to sing in a low, soft voice, "Oh, buffalo family, come down and visit me. If you come down and feed my relatives in a wedding feast, I will join your family as the bride of your strongest warrior."

She stopped and listened. She thought she heard the slight rumbling sound of thunder in the distance.

Again she sang, "Oh, buffalo family, come down and visit me. Feed my family in a wedding feast so that I may be a bride."

The thunder was much louder now. Suddenly the buffalo family began falling from the sky at her feet.

One very large bull landed on top of the others, and walked across the backs of his relatives to stand before Hunter's Daughter.

"I am here to claim you as my bride," said Large Buffalo.

"Oh, but now I am afraid to go with you," said Hunter's Daughter.

"Ah, but you must," said Large Buffalo, "For my people have come to provide your people with a wedding feast. As you can see, they have offered themselves up."

"Yes, but I must run and tell my relatives the good news," said Hunter's Daughter. "No," said Large Buffalo. No word need be sent. You are not getting away so easily."

And with that said, Large Buffalo lifted her between his horns and carried her off to his village in the rolling grass hills.

The next morning the whole village was out looking for Hunter's Daughter. When they found the mound of buffalo below the cliff, the father, who was in fact a fine tracker as well as a skilled hunter, looked at his daughter's footprints in the dust.

"She's gone off with a buffalo, he said. I shall follow them and bring her back."

So Hunter walked out upon the plains, with only his bow and arrows as companions. He walked and walked a great distance until he was so tired that he had to sit down to rest beside a buffalo wallow.

Along came Magpie and sat down beside him.

Hunter spoke to Magpie in a respectful tone, "O knowledgeable bird, has my daughter been stolen from me by a buffalo? Have you seen them? Can you tell me where they have gone?"

Magpie replied with understanding, "Yes, I have seen them pass this way. They are resting just over this hill."

"Well," said Hunter, would you kindly take my daughter a message for me? Will you tell her I am here just over the hill?"

So Magpie flew to where Large Buffalo lay asleep amidst his relatives in the dry prairie grass. He hopped over to where Hunter's Daughter was quilling moccasins, as she sat dutifully beside her sleeping husband. "Your father is waiting for you on the other side of the hill," whispered Magpie to the maiden.

"Oh, this is very dangerous," she told him. These buffalo are not friendly to us and they might try to hurt my father if he should come this way. Please tell him to wait for me and I will try to slip away to see him."

Just then her husband, Large Buffalo, awoke and took off his horn. "Go bring me a drink from the wallow just over this hill," said her husband.

So she took the horn in her hand and walked very casually over the hill.

Her father motioned silently for her to come with him, as he bent into a low crouch in the grass. "No," she whispered. The buffalo are angry with our people who have killed their people. They will run after us and trample us into the dirt. I will go back and see what I can do to soothe their feelings."

And so Hunter's daughter took the horn of water back to her husband who gave a loud snort when he took a drink. The snort turned into a bellow and all of the buffalo got up in alarm. They all put their tails in the air and danced a buffalo dance over the hill, trampling the poor man to pieces who was still waiting for his daughter near the buffalo wallow.

His daughter sat down on the edge of the wallow and broke into tears.

"Why are you crying?" said her buffalo husband.

"You have killed my father and I am a prisoner, besides," she sobbed.

"Well, what of my people?" her husband replied. We have given our children, our parents and some of our wives up to your relatives in exchange for your presence among us. A deal is a deal."

But after some consideration of her feelings, Large Buffalo knelt down beside her and said to her, "If you can bring your father back to life again, we will let him take you back home to your people."

So Hunter's Daughter started to sing a little song. "Magpie, Magpie help me find some piece of my father which I can mend back whole again."

Magpie appeared and sat down in front of her with his head cocked to the side.

"Magpie, Magpie, please see what you can find," she sang softly to the wind which bent the grasses slightly apart. Magpie cocked his head to the side and looked carefully within the layered folds of the grasses as the wind sighed again. Quickly he picked out a piece of her father that had been hidden there, a little bit of bone.

"That will be enough to do the trick," said Hunter's Daughter, as she put the bone on the ground and covered it with her blanket.

And then she started to sing a reviving song that had the power to bring injured people back to the land of the living. Quietly she sang the song that her grandmother had taught her. After a few melodious passages, there was a lump under the blanket. She and Magpie looked under the blanket and could see a man, but the man was not breathing. He lay cold as stone. So Hunter's Daughter continued to sing, a little softer, and a little softer, so as not to startle her father as he began to move. When he stood up, alive and strong, the buffalo people were amazed. They said to Hunter's Daughter, "Will you sing this song for us after every hunt? We will teach your people the buffalo dance, so that whenever you dance before the hunt, you will be assured a good result. Then you will sing this song for us, and we will all come back to live again."