XHist in the Field: Archaeology Field School / Workshop, Virginia City Montana
Our Guest Blogger today is MSU Anthropology student Mariel Colvin
Virginia City (1894):
When the man came to, his face pressed against the damp ground, he was surrounded by stale darkness. He wondered, for a moment, if he’d passed out from too many drinks, or a swift knockout punch to his jaw, which ached, waking later in a cloudy, moonless night. A sudden pain charged up his spine as if someone were emptying a basin of boiling water onto his back, thrusting him into his current reality. Someone lifted a great weight from his body, and his bones expanded – freed.
Cave in, His brain struggled to relay to him as strong hands with grimy nails lifted him from the rubble. He allowed his consciousness to seep back into the remote reaches of his mind as his fellow miners hefted him back to the daylight.
He woke again to soft lips pressed against his forehead and the sound of marbles clicking against one another on the floor. His wife’s raven locks caught on the course hairs of his chin as she moved to pick up their daughter’s marbles. A young nun – no more than a teenager – wriggled her way through the door balancing a bucket of warm water.
“Come along Abigail. It’s time for pa’s wash,” cooed the wife, as she pressed the marbles back into the girl’s small hand.
The pair departed in a swish of skirts, leaving the man of their house to the jovial nun’s steady care. They made their way down Jefferson Street towards town. Had they gone in the opposite direction, they would have ended at the mines that made Virginia City. Instead, they hurried by the Senator Saloon on the corner, at which the woman gave a weary glance, past the people’s theater and Clasby House with the soft snaps of shuffling cards coming from the poker den in it’s belly. As they continued by the restaurant where the smell of tender roasting meats filled the air, the girl let pass a soft shriek.
“Momma! I lost my marble!” Squealed little Abigail as her toy disappeared between the cracks of the boardwalk.
“Leave it dear, we need to get home.”
At the time, they couldn’t have known the tiny white marble would lie where it fell for more than a hundred years before being held in a soft palm once again. Their thoughts filled by their beloved husband and father who lay invalid between the sterile hospital walls.
Virginia City (2013):
Ryan, the spunky young firefighter/4th grade teacher who is playing archaeologist in my unit pops hishead up over the angular lip of the hole and excitedly waves me over. He features his find between his thumb and forefinger, praising himself as if he’d just single-handedly discovered Atlantis or the Holy Grail. I am to observe he was not holding one of the hundreds of rusty nails or shattered window glass that we ceaselessly uncover. He drops the object into my palm: a tiny white clay marble.
MSU Filmmaker Abbey Nelson created this short video about our work and goals at Virginia City.
Our Guest Blogger today is MSU Archaeology Student Jessica
When Nancy told me about the possibility of a field school in Virginia City,I was over the moon with excitement. It wasn’t just that it was simply field school. It wasn‘t in an exotic location in a foreign land like so many archeology students before me. The appeal of this project was personal.
My mother’s family came to Montana over the Bozeman trail in August of 1864. They settled up near Yellowstone City (near what is now Chico), but a lot of their business led them to Virginia City (as many family documents and letters state).
In 1911, my paternal great-grandfather came to Montana after a rough start in his native Denmark. Nearly a decade later, he became a US citizen at the Virginia City courthouse, the very same place where he married my great grandmother in the subsequent months. After that, they owned a small ranch near Ennis until his death.
Needless to say, Virginia City has a great impact on my family and my life. I’ve been going there ever since I could remember and it has helped cultivate my fierce pride as a native of Montana and solidify my decision to chase after a career in anthropology.
It made me unspeakably happy that there’s an actual effort being made to preserve the history of Virginia City, instead of it being turned into some attraction for tourists to toss coins at. Virginia City has such a wonderful dirty, scarred and scratched up history that it’s impossible not to fall in love with every moldering brick of it.
This project has been eye opening and nothing short of exhilarating. Every day there is something new to be learned if not about life on Jackson Street, then about the basic practices of archeology. On one day, the unit next to ours is excavating the original 1860’s-1870’s boardwalk, and a week later, Gheri is carefully cleaning a piece of wood from the same era with a McDonalds straw and a dental pick. Silly as it may seem to a casual observer, it’s actually absolutely thrilling to be there among all of this. One is literally knee-deep in history.
When the original boardwalk was discovered running along the now exposed building foundations, it breathed new life into the vision of what once was Jackson Street. If you closed your eyes you could almost hear the clatter of the carts and wagons and the weary sound of tired feet trudging home along the boardwalk. Pipe bowls, toy guns, patent medicine bottles; Children played here, a man paused to light is pipe, someone sought relief from their ailments. And suddenly, it all becomes so tangible; these were people like you or I. When you’re peeling back the layers with a trowel, you get a real sense of connection with the people who lived and died here. These were real people with real struggles, with loves and hates and passions and it’s so easy to forget when one simply reads from a textbook. You really have to live it to love it, I suppose.
Our Guest Blogger today is MSU Archaeology Student John Olson
My name is John Olson and I reaaaaaaaally disliked history in high school. History was this very boring subject I had to take in order to graduate high school (a couple many moons ago) and I tried my best to do the least amount of work possible to get a “B” in those classes. Interestingly enough back then I loved learning about Egypt, the pyramids in South America, and the ruins in Greece and it never clicked that the history I was learning in school was the same thing just different locations. For a while, even as an adult, I still had this notion I didn’t like history and it was dull and static. So it is somewhat of a surprise that today I am going to school for a degree in Anthropology and that I chose a field school dealing with Historical Archaeology. Yet here I am. Surprise!!! Initially I wanted to do this field school because I have seen some archaeology job announcements that required the applicant to have attended an accredited field school and now that I am here I realize I want to be here because archaeology, and even history (*gasp*), are amazing gateways to our past, present, and future. And the history I spent so much time resisting in high school is now something I am totally in love with. Especially as it has been relating to the archaeological excavation here in Virginia City. It just totally amazing to me that something like finding a typeset letter “W”, probably from an old printing press, can cause shouts of joy and
wonder, (Yes, actual shouts of joy from me and ooooohs and ahhhhhs from my classmates!) or finding an intact bottle or digging 5’ x 5’ holes. It is these objects and the act of digging that are beginning to help give us part of a context for the area we are working in. It is not just the objects we physically dig out of the ground that give us information about the past but there are also documents we can use including probate records, property records, newspaper clippings and especially photographs that help to enhance our view of the past. There are about 4 different photos of the area we are working on that show us different views at different times in history and even a drawing that has helped us to create our own “picture” that keeps changing with more information. In the two units I have worked in, 3 & 9, there has been constantly changing and evolving views of what we might be working on. When we (Gheri, Victoria and myself) first started on the surface it looked like this 1st picture:
Then we began tentatively working on the surface and didn’t make much headway but we were proud of what we had done. Little did I realize how much I had to learn or how much more work would be required! (Sorry for the odd look but I had to rotate the picture. I kept changing the angle from where I was shooting the picture and have since learned that continuity is a very good habit to adopt when working on an archaeological dig!) Finally we started learning more about what we should be doing for this particular dig (and I have learned that each dig is a little to a lot different from one another) and started making some decent progress and we began to uncover what we suspected was some sort of a wall or foundation. In this picture the rocks on the right section seem to be aligned together while the rocks on the left seem to be haphazard in relation to one another. We thought the right portion could have been a foundation or wall and on the left possibly debris from the wall, or the wall from another building falling next to this suspected wall, or several other possibilities. Around this time a local gentleman came by and let us know he was a stonesmith and the large boulders on the left were probably basalt while the rocks comprising the suspected wall were probably andesite that may have been quarried a little ways away from the baseball diamond in the northeastern part of Virginia City. That brings up another wonderful resource: local residents! We have been very lucky to be located right off the main street in this small town which meant word of mouth traveled fast to many of the residents (as well as people visiting from all over the United States). We have had many locals stop by and look at the site or at artifacts and be able to give us a better idea of what we found, or give us more local history associated with the area we are working on, and provide us with little insights that make the process of the archaeological dig come much more alive and personal. I, as well as everyone else, have also been grateful we have had Scott Carpenter from InteResources and Nancy Mahoney from the MSU Anthropology Department to guide us along this fantastic journey. From them we have learned so much about the process of archaeological excavations and the discipline of archaeology itself. Until this field school I have never really appreciated all the hard work, dedication, and the breadth of knowledge that goes into digging up and interpreting the past. From my classmates I have learned a greater appreciation of what each person brings to a team and the wealth and diversity of the knowledge and experiences people have. Finally, it was amazing getting to know more about Virginia City’s past as well as the abundance of ghost lore in the area. We had a ghost tour by Ellen Baumler and the number of interesting experiences and ghost sightings was fascinating to say the least and I would very much like to return here and go on a ghost hunt or two! The entire three-week experience is something I will treasure for the rest of my life as it has given me a glimpse into my future as an archaeologist. Totally awesome!!!!! (Can you tell I like archaeology?) Basic info: Born and raised in Nebraska. Got out of the Navy in 1992. Moved to Montana in 1993. Moved to Seattle in 1996 and then Fort Lauderdale and, of course, returned to Montana in 2005. Lived in Bozeman since 2006. Started back to college at the age of 41 in 2011. Planning to graduate with a degree in Anthropology in Fall of 2014 or Spring of 2015. Becoming an archaeologist for the rest of my life. ‘Nuff said (geek reference). 8/13/2013 Our guest blogger today is MSU Archaeology Student Bekah Shields I picked Anthropology as my major randomly off a list my senior
year of high school. My class was completing an assignment designed to help us seniors pick a field we were interested in and hopefully focus us on a major. Our teacher provided us with a list of majors to pick from and assigned us to write a paper detailing salary, job opportunities, and required schooling. As a board senior, four weeks from graduation, I glanced at the list and arbitrarily picked Anthropology, as it was three down from the top. I vaguely knew Anthropology had to deal with studying people and that it included the subfield of Archaeology (plus, I loved Indian Jones!). So, when I found out that the University I had already been accepted to had Anthropology as a major, I signed up. Four years later, I am still enrolled in the Anthropology program and still find it hard to believe that I stumbled upon this field of study that fits my interests so thoroughly. Up until this year, I had mostly taken culturally Anthropology classes, and when the opportunity appeared for this hands on, archaeology class, I couldn’t wait to attend! These past two weeks have been an extremely eye opening experience. Archaeologists not only work with dental picks, toothbrushes and trowels but pickaxes and shovels. Paperwork and note taking is just as or more important than the actually digging. And most shocking to me, Archaeologists, students and professionals, like to have fun! Before field school, I was intensely worried about offending my professor and other professionals we were working with, until I realized they like to relax and have a few beers after a long day of work, just like me!
My favorite part of the Virginia City field school so far is our artifact exhibit and the public archaeology. Coming into this class, I wasn’t terribly excited about talking to strangers about things I had been doing. But to my surprise, the public, tourists, and locals alike, have constantly been a refreshing and interesting source of information and personal stories. Locals have been showing us artifacts from their collections and taking our group on personalized tours of Virginia and Nevada City. It is exhilarating and gratifying to hear people talk to other students about how glad they are that we are here working to improve the public and Montana’s knowledge of this important, historic, mining town. Our fearless leader, archaeologist Scott Carpenter of InteResources Planning, Inc. of Bozeman describes his interest in Virginia City. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjdWY10aDvo Scott has contracted with the Montana Heritage Commission to plan and oversee the field school excavation this summer at Virginia City. Ryan finds a gaming piece and Mariel discusses why she joined the field school in this video clip from the field. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4McUq3zOQ0&feature=youtu.be 8/9/2013 Our guest blogger today is MSU Anthropology Student Gheri Osborne Hello, I am an enrolled member of the Blackfeet tribe as well as a
incoming senior at MSU majoring in Anthropology with a minor in Native American studies. There are two main reasons which I credit for my interest in Anthropology. For one it was my mothers obsession which first sparked my interest, growing up I had access to her monthly subscription to National Geographic magazine which was my first experience into the world of Anthropology/Archaeology. Secondly as a Native American I hope to bridge to gap and help strengthen the relationship between Natives and Anthropologists. When I was younger the first story I heard involving anthropologists was a negative one, and many of my friends and family would give me a funny look when I would tell them what I am going to school for. I hope to change the views and perceptions of each group by providing a Natives perspective to anthropology and vise versa. Growing up I noticed quickly there were few native anthropologists, many anthropologists relied on translators when conducting their ethnographies which may have resulted in skewed information. Who was to say the if translator wasn’t just feeding them incorrect information, and if that wrong information got published, it would alter the perceptions and relations for any future studies to come. Having one foot planted on each side of the line, I feel like it helps me gain access to certain Native American knowledge that a non native might not be able to attain.
This field school has helped backed up my thoughts that in most cases an inside view is most helpful. One of the great things about doing an excavation one block off of the current Main Street is the local Virginia City community that curiously stop by and provide us with unknown local information. Each person brings another aspect to the site helping us piece together the puzzle we are theoretically putting back together. The unit I have been working on had some very interesting features. We have a very well defined rock foundation wall and while trying to determine the bottom of the wall we ran into an interesting horizontal and vertical wood formation that also is connected to a vertical piece of wood which may either come from a wood post or tree we haven’t determined that just yet. What makes this so intriguing is we can speculate that the wooden area was built prior to the rock foundation given the fact that most wouldn’t build a fence a few inches from an existing rock foundation barrier. The top of the possible post also marks where our builders trench started which may have also been ground level at the time. Each day certain knowledge and lessons are gained, today My two other unit buddies battled excavating in the middle of an ant hill needless to say I was glad I was still working on the wood structure. I would like to conclude with adding what a great group of people we have with us here in Virginia city, the knowledge that I have gained over the last two weeks has been phenomenal along with the new friends I have gained while here as well. I am looking forward to graduating and continuing my journey in the Archaeology field helping in any way that I can. Thanks. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-qfLdfdbFo&feature=youtu.be
8/8/2013 Our guest blogger today is MSU Anthropology Student Tessa Heinemann I am always asked “Why archaeology?” in regard to my field of study…. after I’ve been asked “Have you found any dinosaurs?” and “Like Indiana Jones?!” that is, and my response is always the same: 1. Who doesn’t want to get paid to dig in the dirt? 2. I get to be a part of HISTORY! To us, history isn’t just something we read in a text book. It’s not some nebulous, far-off series of events that we vaguely know occurred but has no solid foothold in our own realities. We’re time travelers. Maybe we’ll find something that was carelessly misplaced 300 years ago, or a beloved toy hidden by a child in the 19th century, or even just the remnants of a lonely old cabin, left by its family and forgotten by time. For us history is real. It’s something we can see, smell, and touch. We hold history in our hands and start a new chapter of the long narrative of places and things from another time. We give faces to people who never had a chance to become a part of written history, or that history itself ignored. I’m always baffled when people don’t understand this thing that has become my passion, which makes me realize how important it is to discover new ways to share history with the rest of the world in an accessible way. This project has given us a unique opportunity to do just that. We’re able to come into the middle of a town with a good deal of tourist traffic and show them the things that we see. They can hold artifacts in their hands and start to imagine the bustling thoroughfare to and from the mines in Alder Gulch. We are able to show them history in a way that’s relevant to them so they are able to see the gold town of the late 1800′s instead of junk yard full of garbage and parked cars. There’s something really incredible about seeing a cheeky tourist walking by asking “Found any gold yet?” turn into someone who can visualize the store fronts of Virginia City as they once were. Children walk up to the site looking anywhere from intrigued to barely tolerating their parents curiosity and leave the site pointing at the units saying “I think I see something just there!” There’s a certain sparkle that comes into a person’s eye when they feel like they’ve connected with history, and that, more than anything, is something I always want to be a part of. That’s “why archaeology” 8/6/2013
Students and Teachers alike enjoyed the inimitable historian Ellen Baumler’s ghost tour of Virginia City. Plenty of chills were had by all as we walked the streets learning of raven hared Virginia Slade’s ghost galloping down the hill on her black steed to save her husband from hanging or the young nun who has been spotted in the Episcopal church and the Bonanza Inn, a former miner’s hospital run by nuns. Ellen’s program is always a treat! You can read more about the ghostly adventures at Virginia City and other places around Montana in Ellen’s books Spirit Tailings and Beyond Spirit Tailings 8/5/2013 Our guest blogger today is Jason Donin, anthropology student at Montana State University in Bozeman. Hello,
My name is Jason and I’m a history addict. I know ,it’s a terrible affliction (especially for most folks who slept through history class in high school!), but I just can’t get enough of it. I live and breathe history and if you get me started on the subject, you’re in for a very long discussion. As much as I love history, though, nothing can beat literally holding history in your hands. To actually see and touch the objects of others long removed from us by time, to look at the structures they once had seen in a different form, all this jolts the imagination, bringing me into their time, their world. This is what I love about archaeology; more than reading a story on a paper or in a book, it’s physically grabbing a glimpse into their world. I had two subjects of fascination when I was a kid: the military and history. I joined the Navy after high school and after 5 years my wife and I moved to Billings, where I eventually worked on conveyor belts and help my wife through college. When she graduated, I decided it was my turn and we moved to Bozeman last year, where I began to attend MSU and was introduced to my awesome advisor, Nancy Mahoney. When she recommended that I take this field course, I jumped at the chance. Who could resist the call to dig up history in the oldest city in Montana? Since being here, I have met a slew of incredible people, especially those fellow students with whom I now dig side-by-side with. The assistants, our instructor Nancy, and, of course, Scott bring their knowledge, patience and help together to make this the most educationally enjoyable experience I’ve ever had (seriously, I could get paid to do this?). On top of all the great people here, the spots we are excavating make the experience all the more exciting. It seems like every day this group or that group is uncovering more and more fascinating things. Of course, my favorite find is the one that I uncovered on Friday. It was a complete bottle of St. Jakob’s Oel, which was great in and of itself because it was the first bottle pulled up that wasn’t broken. The icing on the cake was that it was also a bottle that we had read about in our textbook prior to coming out to the field! Oh, yeah, you bet that was the best find ever! I’m looking forward to the next two weeks, as this last one has been an experience of a lifetime. 8/1/2013 Interpreting our site for the public The end result of all archaeology is a new chapter in our history. We have developed an interpretive program at our site here in Virginia City, to tell the story, that is being revealed by the archaeology, to the public. We have set up a small shelter with an interpretive panel and table for artifacts to be displayed so that the public can stop at the site and learn about what we are finding. The students involved in the excavations can all have an opportunity to talk to the public and share with them the excitement of learning something new about the past.
Our Interpretive panel shows a blown up map of the buildings along Jackson Street as well as some old photos of the buildings and how they looked in the past. Our excavation units are marked in the “restaurant” portion of the map and some of the artifacts that we have found, including a knife, marked bottle fragment and a piece of typesetting with a “w”, are photographed with string noting their location in the site. The artifacts, so far, are supporting what we know to be the functions of these buildings. The “w” piece is particularly interesting as the Montana Post, the first Territorial newspaper published in Montana, sat just a block down the street. 7/31/2013: Digging at Virginia City, Mt. We are excited to partner this summer with Project Archaeology and the Montana State University Anthropology Department to offer an archaeology field school for students and a Project Archaeology Teachers Workshop at the important site of Virginia City, Montana – the first territorial capital of Montana! Virginia City was established soon after the discovery of gold at Alder Gulch in 1863. A burgeoning mining town developed and by mid-1864 there were 10,000 inhabitants along the 14 mile gulch between Virginia City and the gold mines. The city itself held saloons, hotels, restaurants, shops and any number of other ways to “mine the miners” of their findings in the gold fields.
The State of Montana owns portions of Virginia City with some areas held in private hands. Such is the case with the “checkerboard” ownership of the empty lot on the corner of Jackson and Idaho. The lot wasn’t always empty, though. In the late 1800s, there were several buildings on this site including a saloon, a theater that would later be a hotel, and another building that may have been a restaurant. These buildings were all vacant by 1884 and left to decay. At some point in the past, the lot was probably leveled and possibly filled, leaving it in the state we see it today.
Over the next 3 weeks, we have a team of 9 MSU anthropology students and 10 k-12 teachers working with a team of four site supervisors, including Professor Nancy Mahoney of MSU anthropology department, Archaeologist Scott Carpenter of InterResources Planning, Project Archaeology’s (and Extreme History’s) Crystal Alegria and Extreme History’s Marsha Fulton, assisted by Victoria Bochniak and Tessa Switzer, investigating this fascinating piece of Virginia City History. The students and teachers are getting a comprehensive field experience including excavation of the site, public interpretation of the work to site visitors and on social media, artifact processing and cataloguing at the McFarland Curational facility, archival and records research, and presentations and tours by Montana historians and tribal representatives.
Over the next three weeks, the field school participants will share their stories with you as to why they are here, what they are finding, their thoughts on how their finds fit into the bigger picture of the history of this site, their experiences living together in a historic building and anything else they care to share. So watch for our updates as we add a new chapter to Virginia City History!