Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Adventures in Archaeology Collections: Current Volunteer Projects

The volunteers are back in the lab! Work in the archaeology lab with volunteers was temporarily placed on hold in October 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns. It is wonderful to have them around again—we really appreciate all their hard work and dedication.

Welcome back volunteers sign with green and yellow streamers on the sides

We are so excited to have the volunteers back in the lab again!

Here are just a few projects currently underway thanks to their help.

Most of our archaeology lab volunteers regularly assist us in rehousing artifacts. We are always learning about better ways to store collections, and some of the packaging materials used in the past need to be replaced. As this happens, artifacts are removed from non-archival storage materials such as old acidic paper bags and boxes or plastic baggies that chemically off-gas over time. The artifacts are then re-wrapped or packaged in acid-free materials and bags that won’t off-gas. At the moment, we continue our work to rehouse collections from On-A-Slant Village. (For more information about this effort, check out past blogs about some of the artifacts and pottery from On-A-Slant.)

A brown paper bag that reads 83.442.004.23 (arrow pointing to the right) 111 P.001 decorated rimsherds

An older bag of pottery rim sherds from On-A-Slant Village (32MO26) waiting to be replaced with an archival bag.

The volunteers are also re-bagging and re-boxing pottery, animal bone, and more recent historic artifacts from the Ben Standing Soldier site. The site was excavated in 1965 as part of the River Basin Surveys—a large project that attempted to record important places along the Missouri River before they were flooded due to dam building. The Ben Standing Soldier site includes an earthlodge village as well as a more recent 1900s homestead.

The inside of a gray box is shown with many ziplock bags containing glass bottles

A box of glass bottles from the Ben Standing Soldier site (32SI7). These have been re-bagged, boxed, and are ready to be put back in storage.

Among the more curious finds at the homestead were the remnants of this glass bottle seen below. It was shaped like an airplane—originally it had a figure of the aviator Charles Lindbergh in the cockpit and likely contained candy. (A more complete example of this type of bottle can be found on the website for the Brooklyn Museum.)

Part of a glass bottle that resembles an old airplane has goodwill etched into it

A bottle fragment from the homestead at the Ben Standing Soldier site (32SI7). SHSND AHP Field Catalogue No. 1564

One of our volunteers helps us by photographing artifacts. Currently we are photographing the artifacts from On-A-Slant Village that other volunteers have re-bagged.

9 projectile points of varius sizes and shades of brown/red are displayed with their collection number written below each.

These projectile points are all from On-A-Slant Village (32MO26). This quick photo will be used in our database—we often clean up images such as these and use them for presentations, posters, and more. SHSND AHP 83.442.79.1098-1106

These photos will be used in many ways. Most artifact photos are attached to entries in our database—this helps with identifying objects for researchers and tracking the condition of the artifacts for storage and display. Photos by our volunteers also get used for blogs, posters, and exhibits. (For more on past photography projects carried out with the assistance of our volunteers, visit this blog.)

A file viewer with blue menus, small  boxes where image thumbnails would be displayed down the side, and an area to the right display a larger image. The larger image that is displayed is a white teapot.

This is a screenshot of images attached to an entry in our database. The teapot is from the site of Winona, North Dakota (32EM211). SHSND AHP 2010.100.313

A broken piece of pottery depicting a turtle effigy

This photo detail of a turtle effigy on a pottery rim sherd was taken by one of our volunteers. The image is currently part of the "Small Things Considered" exhibit in the Merlan E. Paaverud Jr. Gallery at the State Museum. The sherd is from On-A-Slant Village (32MO26). SHSND AHP 7372

To all our lab volunteers, welcome back and thank you for all the work you do!

Weird or Cute? Instagram Votes On 5 Quirky Artifacts From Our Museum Collection

In my first blog post about a year ago, I shared some of the weird and/or cool experiences of being a new employee. Now that I’ve gotten to know the State Museum’s collection, I want to share some of the artifacts that have made me look twice. These objects caught my eye and made me wonder, “Is this weird or cute?” I needed more input, so I polled the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum’s Instagram followers. Around 150 people voted, and here are the results:

1. Let’s start with an easy one. A rock collage sailboat titled “Aqua Cat.” How could this be anything but cute? North Dakota artist Ann Peters created this piece in the early 1970s for then-Gov. William Guy. The incongruence of the title and the subject matter is what really warms my heart. A boat named “Aqua Cat” must be 100% cute, and it looks like our followers agreed.

Aqua Cat - A rock collage. Weird or Cute? 58% Cute. 42% Really Cute. The image is of a shite, brown, and tan sailboat made out of rocks.

My phrasing of the question may have slightly skewed the results. SHSND 1984.207

2. Both amazing and slightly painful to behold, this squirrel-and-mushroom-patterned shirt is sure to make a splash at your next COVID-safe social gathering. Greg Machart’s brother-in-law Lee Matthiesen donated this spectacular shirt to the museum in 1992. Lee asserted Greg wore it throughout the 1970s. If this is true, we would like pictures. If it is not, I would like to congratulate Lee for pulling off one very well-preserved prank.

1970s squirrel and mushroom patterned shirt. Weird or Cute? 51% Weird. 49% Cute. The image is of a button up shirt with long sleeves and a collar that is purple with red and blue mushroms and circles with squirrel images in them.

Our followers were surprisingly tolerant of this bold and busy garment. SHSND 1991.76.6

3. A lively addition to any living room, these birds of paradise pillows were made by Christina Roemmech of Glen Ullin. Crafted out of carpet-like piling deep enough to lose your keys in, the pillows certainly garnered some “weird” votes. But the beautiful and comfy birds no doubt helped earn them a “cute!” from the majority.

These pillows - Weird or Cute? 32% Weird. 68% Cute. The two pilloes have a flamingo on them with yellow and pink flowers and green plants in a circle around the flamingo.

Birds of a feather flock together. SHSND 1992.52.1-2

4. Are you still cracking your walnuts with a boring old nutcracker? Or even worse … a creepy one? Then check out this one shaped like man’s best friend! The early 20th-century canine contraption once helped crack the toughest nuts in rural Mandan.

A nutcracker shaped like a dog! Weird or cute? 32% weird. 68% cute. The nutcracker is brown and shaped like a dog.

Thirty-two percent of our followers are weird. This guy is adorable. SHSND 2007.80.95

5. Twenty years ago, everyone wanted to get rid of their brightly hued porcelain thrones. Now the trend is making a comeback. Until it was donated in 2007, this 1950s gem graced what was arguably the most vital room in one Bismarck home. Toilets like this also came in other nostalgia-inducing shades including avocado green, powder blue, and canary yellow.

Classic 1950s pink toilet. Weird or cute? 50% Weird. 50% Cute. The pink toilet has a woodgrain seat and lid cover.

Our Instagram results showed an unexpected tie for this American Standard. SHSND 2007.86.2