Sunday, February 1, 2009

Montana Archaeology: An Introduction to the Author and the Project


My first solo book, about the Native Americans of Iowa, will be published later this year (Fall 2009) by the University of Iowa Press. I have also been working on the research for a book on the archaeology of Montana, just a general introduction and guide for those interested in Montana's prehistoric and historic past. I developed and currently teach a class in introductory archaeology as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Montana, Helena College of Technology.

Although I got my M.A. in Anthropology from Iowa State University, I graduated with my B.A. from the University of Montana's anthropology department back in 1984. I grew up here in Helena, walking around in the hills with my family since I was a little kid, looking at the ghost towns, abandoned mines, and pictograph sites that peppered the forests. There was a lot more around you could see back in the 1960s and 1970s; much has been destroyed by time, vandalism, and development over the last few decades. At the University of Montana, in the early 1980s, I took courses from Dr. Dee Taylor, Dr. Carling Malouf, and Dr. Thomas Foor. Dr. Taylor taught the class "Archaeology of Montana" which I took (and got an A in!) I still have notes from his class, which provided part of the framework and content for this project.

I returned home to Montana from my time on the road for several years (1986-1990) as an archaeovagrant, aka shovelbum on various projects around the U.S.; it's called "paying your dues" in the world of archaeology. In 1990, I worked as a field archaeologist on the Helena National Forest (HNF). I then became a student intern for HNF in 1991 and returned to get my M.A. at Iowa State University. I continued to work as a field archaeologist during the summer seasons for HNF until 1994, when I graduated with the M.A. in Anthropology. Unfortunately I was not converted as a fulltime employee at that time, as was supposed to happen, and so I returned to ISU to get an M.L.A. in Landscape Architecture, with the focus in historic and cultural landscapes. I graduated with the M.L.A. in 1997.

From 1997-2006, my career took me in different directions, from working for the National Park Service in the Southwest and Alaska, to working for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). In 2006, I returned to Montana and in 2007 started teaching a class in art at UM-Helena; in 2008 I developed and taught a class in archaeology; last year's blog entries on this site were part of that class. This is the second year I am teaching this class, but am taking a different approach.


This book is intended to be a basic introduction to the archaeology and historic/cultural landscapes of Montana. I started doing some background research for it last year, but when I read an article this week, I was inspired to take this book in a new direction:

Chris Anderson wants to give his next book to you for free. No, the Wired magazine editor-in-chief and author of The Long Tail hasn’t lost his mind, nor is he trying to go broke. It probably doesn’t even have anything to do with the fact that he’s a trained physicist and a descendant of one of the founders of the American anarchist movement. With his keen eye for trends in the Internet-driven world and the tech savvy that earned Wired its first National Magazine Award under his tenure, Anderson believes giving away his book will actually help him sell more books.

...Anderson’s strategy for giving away his new book (and for marketing products in general), aptly titled Free, is in many ways a testimony to the staying power of the printed book.

Anderson says he and his publisher plan to make Free (to be published in 2009 by Hyperion) available in every way possible, beginning with e-book and audio versions, and “further than that”—though he won’t say what, exactly, further will look like.

“I believe that the physical book is the superior product,” he says. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t do this. I make a physical magazine, after all; we understand what paper can do that pixels can’t. Physical books will remain the superior way to read longer, immersive takes on a subject.”

...“I don’t come from the book or media world; I’m trained as a computational physicist,” Anderson says. “We in the software world wrote our code in public. That’s what beta testing is all about. Doing things in public is the norm. I took the habits that were most conventional, just like getting peer reviews in science, and applied it to my books.”

...No matter his commitment to the varieties of technology, the rise of blogging and other electronic forms of reading other than books, Anderson still subscribes to the paper and ink form.

“I’m a huge believer in the traditional book,” he says. “Everything else just helps cement the form of physical books.” (

This is the rationale behind writing the book in public. One of the most enjoyable experiences I ever had was painting a mural on a bar in a village called Ara in Nigeria, Africa in 1996. People were always coming around, watching, offering criticisms and ideas. While some artists sequester themselves in a studio, I really enjoyed the energy of working in public. So that's why I decided to take Anderson's idea of writing in public and turning this Montana archaeology project into a publicly-written book. We'll see how it goes!

This blog/book is written for the interested general public, rather than specialists. Please add comments, ideas, corrections, things you would like to see! When the project is done, the book will be available not only as this blog, but as a free download in PDF form, as well as some hardcopy traditional published form yet to be determined.

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