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.

Digitizing Archaeological Collections: Advancing Research, Preservation, and Data Management

Archaeology collections management involves organizing and systematically caring for archaeological artifacts, specimens, records, and associated materials. Proper management is crucial to ensure the preservation, accessibility, and long-term research potential of these collections (Knoll and Huckell 2019). Maintaining high-quality curation standards goes beyond storage enhancement and environmental monitoring. It involves meticulous organization, comprehensive documentation, and secure storage to bolster preservation and ensure accessibility of collections for research and educational purposes. The primary goal driving artifact inventory, accessioning, cataloging, and curation is to maximize the research potential embedded within these collections (Allen et al. 2019; Benden and Taft 2019; Thomson 2014). 

Digitization facilitates efficient data management by creating digital records that can be easily organized, searched, and linked. This simplifies collection management, cataloging, and information retrieval. Digitized artifacts enable precise identification, tracking of location and loan status, and documentation of their condition and preservation requirements (Graham 2012; Thomson 2014). “Organizing objects digitally within a collections management system simplifies inventory processes, ensures effective storage and tracking of all items, and guarantees convenient future access,” according to Thompson (2014: 53). This digital approach significantly enhances the handling of substantial volumes of material (Graham 2012; Thompson 2014).

Moreover, digital access to collections allows for more extensive and efficient research, analysis, and comparison of artifacts. Digital records enable the seamless integration of various data types, including images, texts, and metadata, within comprehensive databases. This integrated approach empowers researchers to establish connections and correlations (Benden and Taft 2019; Thomson 2014). Digitization encourages data sharing and collaboration among archaeologists, researchers, and institutions, leading to more comprehensive research and discoveries. It streamlines data retrieval and expands collection accessibility for scholars, educators, and the general public (Graham 2012; Thomson 2014).

The archaeology collections team within the Archaeology & Historic Preservation Department utilizes the Re:discovery Proficio Collections Management Software to digitize, manage, and organize a wide array of collections, including artifacts, ecofacts (e.g., fauna, flora, pollen, and soil found at archaeological sites), specimens, and documents. Since implementing the software, over 136,000 artifact records have been digitized within the archaeology artifact modules. Beyond cataloging and inventory management, the software provides advanced search functionalities and customizable data fields to efficiently organize items based on diverse criteria. Proficio also facilitates monitoring item conditions and conservation efforts and supports user access control for data security. 

In sum, digitizing archaeological collections is a highly valuable approach that enhances accessibility, preservation, and research opportunities for artifacts. It fosters public engagement and collaboration within the archaeological community. By employing tools like Re:discovery Proficio Collections Management Software, we have digitized thousands of artifact records, paving the way for streamlined organization, efficient cataloging, and comprehensive documentation. In essence, the digitization of archaeological collections isn't just a technological advancement—it's a gateway to preserving the past, enriching the present, and shaping the future of archaeological research and public engagement. However, it's crucial to proceed with care, following best practices to maintain the accuracy and integrity of digital records.

An example of Proficio’s advanced filtering options to search and organize all glass beads from the State Historical Society’s archaeology artifact collections. The total record count for this module is located in the left corner of the display. Sensitive site information has been redacted from the image.


Allen, Rebecca, Ben Ford, and J. Ryan Kennedy. 2019. “Introduction: Reclaiming the Research Potential of Archaeological Collections.” In New Life for Archaeological Collections, edited by Rebecca Allen and Ben Ford, xiii-xxxix. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press and the Society for Historical Archaeology.


Benden, Danielle M., and Mara C. Taft. 2019. “A Long View of Archaeological Collections Care, Preservation, and Management.” Advances in Archaeological Practice 7, no. 3: 217-23.


Graham, Chelsea A. 2012. “Applications of Digitization to Museum Collections Management, Research, and Accessibility.” Master’s thesis, Lund University.


Knoll, Michelle K., and Bruce B. Huckell. 2019. “Guidelines for Preparing Legacy Archaeological Collections for Curation.” Society for American Archaeology.….


Thomson, Karen. 2014. “Handling the ‘Curation Crisis:’ Database Management for Archaeological Collections.” Master’s thesis, Seton Hall University.

Clovis Bifaces From the Beach Cache Site

Clovis artifacts represent the earliest material evidence of human occupation in North Dakota. The Clovis tradition appeared on the Great Plains of North America about 12,000 to 13,500 years ago (Huckell 2014). The presence of unifacially or bifacially fluted stone spear points at an archaeological site is the primary distinctive marker of Clovis technology. However, not all Clovis sites contain fluted stone projectile points.

Casts of Clovis points from the Archaeology and Historic Preservation Education Collections. Clovis points are thin, fluted projectile points characterized by concave longitudinal shallow grooves that may have helped the points be inserted into spear shafts.

Various site types are associated with the Clovis tradition, including cache sites, encampments, quarry sites, and kill or butchering sites. Clovis artifacts found in caches more likely contain artifacts manufactured at quarry sites, then transported and placed into temporary storage. Caching behavior may indicate that individuals planned to set aside or hide artifacts for later use. Clovis sites are found all over North America and Central America, with caches often consisting of bifaces, projectile points, blades, flakes, and cores. One of the first caches discovered was named after the town of Clovis, New Mexico, where the ancient culture’s distinctive spear points were found together with mammoth bones.

In North Dakota, the Clovis artifacts were recovered from the Beach Cache site near the town of Beach in the western part of the state. About 103 artifacts (from a total of 135) were recovered from a dozen cache pits between 1970 and 1975, and most pits contained 8 to 10 stone tools. Some of the artifacts came from a disturbed plow zone. These blanks (partially worked/unfinished tools) were formed for easier transportation and could be made into a variety of stone tools. The Beach Cache site did not have Clovis points. It was dominated by bifaces. More than half of the Beach cached bifaces (58) were made of White River Group (WRG) silicates found at Sentinel Butte. Other bifaces were made from black chalcedony (12), quartzite (12), Rainy Buttes silicified wood (8), porcellanite (3), chert (4), and petrified wood (3) (Kilby and Huckell 2013; Huckell 2014). The sources of stone materials used in making the Beach Cache artifacts may indicate the movements of the Clovis hunter-gatherers. Although the Beach Cache lacks diagnostic Clovis projectile points, it is identified as Clovis based upon the presence of distinctive lithic technological attributes and radiocarbon dates (Kilby and Huckell 2013).

Clovis Beach Cache artifacts on exhibit in the State Museum’s Innovation Gallery: Early Peoples. SHSND 2007.75.1, .2, .3, .5, .17, .18, .20, .22, .27, .28, .30, .32, .38, and .41.

The Clovis hunter-gatherers were constantly on the move, following migrating game. They hunted mammoths (extinct elephantids), mastodons, Bison antiquus, and other smaller animals. “Consideration of the kinds of caches, their geographic distribution, and the source locations for some of the stone tools present in the caches can provide insights into the patterns of migration of Clovis groups more than 12,000 years ago and may, in turn, shed light on the geographic origins of Clovis technology” (Schroedl 2021: 121). More information on the Clovis Beach Cache artifacts and early peoples of North Dakota is available in “Traces: Early Peoples of North Dakota,” by Barbara Handy-Marchello and the late Archaeology and Historic Preservation Department Director Fern E. Swenson. The book, published in 2018, is available for purchase at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum store in Bismarck.

The small group of Clovis people that camped at the Beach Cache site may have come from the south and west, traveling from what is today eastern Wyoming via western South Dakota. Traces: Early Peoples of North Dakota, 2018


Kilby, J. David, and Bruce B. Huckell. 2013. “Clovis Caches: Current Perspectives and Future Directions.”
In Paleoamerican Odyssey, edited by Kelly E. Graf, Caroline V. Ketron, and Michael R. Waters, 257–72. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.

Handy-Marchello, Barbara, and Fern E. Swenson. 2018. Traces: Early Peoples of North Dakota. Bismarck:
State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Huckell, Bruce B. 2014. “But How Do We Know If It’s Clovis? An Examination of Clovis Overshot Flaking
of Bifaces and a North Dakota Cache.” In Clovis Caches, Recent Discoveries and New Research, edited by Bruce B. Huckell and J. David Kilby, 133–52. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Schroedl, Alan R. 2021. “The Geographic Origin of Clovis Technology: Insights from Clovis Biface Caches.” Plains Anthropologist 66, no. 258: 120-48.

Reflections on a Rare Fluted Stone Tool from Stutsman County

One of the most important artifact types found in archaeological sites are ground stone tools. These include tools such as stone axes, manos, metates, pestles, abraders, figurines, and hammerstones. Most ground stone artifacts were created by pecking, grinding, and polishing. Additionally, drilling was used to create holes in scarcer ground stone artifacts such as smoking pipes, stone gorgets, and stone pendants. In contrast, artifacts like manos, metates, and hammerstones could be selected from natural cobbles and slabs and used with little or no modifications. While manos, metate, mortars, and pestles are often used to process substances (e.g., plant and animal products, pigments, clay, and tempers), hammerstone, abraders, and polishers are mainly used to manufacture and shape tools (Adams 2014; Morrow 2016).

Stone hammerheads, called grooved mauls, are common ground stone artifacts found in North Dakota. Grooved mauls are hafted percussion tools, and the maul head represents the stone part of the tool. In July 2021, a landowner donated a uniquely shaped grooved maul to the State Historical Society’s Archaeology and Historic Preservation Department. This grooved maul measures 8.6 inches (22 cm) in length, 10.6 inches (27 cm) at its widest circumference, and weighs 7 pounds (3.2 kg). According to the donor, the maul head was found in Stutsman County, south of Plow Lake.

The longitudinally arranged channels, or flutes, pecked into the surface of the maul and extending from the handle groove to the working end make this one of the most unique mauls ever found in North Dakota. The handle groove goes almost all the way around the maul. The parallel flutes are common to grooved axes, and they are less likely to occur with grooved mauls.

A grooved maul with additional parallel fluting pecked into the surface from Stutsman County. SHSND AHP Educational Collection

Grooved maul heads vary in size, weight, and grooving pattern. For example, based on the grooving pattern, maul heads can be classified as either full grooved or three-quarter grooved. While a full-grooved maul head has a groove that completely encircles the object’s circumference, a three-quarter grooved maul head has a groove that encircles three-fourths of the circumference. Grooved maul heads were usually made on a selected cobble that already possessed a spherical or ovoid shape. Grooved maul heads were mostly made of granite, basalt, and other igneous and metamorphic rocks. They were hafted with either split stick or twisted rawhide. Handles were attached to the pecked groove and often placed closer to the poll end or near the midpoint of the maul.

Grooved mauls were essentially the sledgehammers of their day; they could be used for any activity requiring impact force (Adams 2002; Morrow 2016, 324). They were used for food preparation tasks, including breaking bison bones to extract marrow, as well as pounding dried meats and chokecherries (Fedyniak and Giering 2016). Additionally, they could be used for hammering stakes into the ground, driving wedges through wood, and even killing small animals (Adams 2014). According to Highsmith (1985, 69), the rarity of fluted ground stone artifacts may suggest their special function in a non-utilitarian context. Fedyniak and Giering (2016, 77) have described the use of stone mauls in healing ceremonies. Experimental studies and use-wear analyses can provide insights regarding the possible functions of grooved mauls.

Distal, left, and proximal ends of the grooved maul. Evidence of use-wear is more visible in the working, battered distal end of the maul head. SHSND AHP Educational Collection

Most grooved mauls are found on the surface of archaeological sites and often are collected by landowners and avocational collectors. Very few grooved mauls are recovered from secure archaeological contexts. Most of our grooved maul artifacts were acquired through gifts and donations, and we have little-to-no provenance information for these collections.

Moreover, grooved mauls could be used/reused for a longer time—hundreds and possibly thousands of years—and this makes it difficult to accurately date them (Fedyniak and Giering 2016). In the case of the maul head from Stutsman County, we do not know its archaeological context. In general, grooved mauls appear to be associated with the later part of the Native American occupation of North Dakota, but they could be also found in the earliest time periods; a temporal range of Early Woodland to Historic times seems most likely (Deaver, Deaver, and Bergstrom 1989; Morrow 2016, 324). For example, a grooved maul recovered from the Bull Ring site (32ME166) may date back to the Early Plains Woodland Tradition (circa 400 B.C. to 100 B.C. in North Dakota). On the other hand, South Cannonball (32SI19) grooved mauls temporally may represent the Extended Middle Missouri Plains Village occupation, dating roughly from A.D. 1200 to 1400 (Griffin 1984, 95; Johnson 2007). Grooved mauls were recovered from controlled excavations at the South Cannonball site, where 15 massive grooved mauls were found (Griffin 1984, 59). The presence of a large number of grooved mauls in the northern Plains may indicate the importance of this artifact in the day-to-day activities of the Native people.

Examples of grooved maul heads from South Cannonball. SHSND AHP 92.2.720, 3590, 4689, 6393, 6453, and 6770

Replicas of full-grooved hafted mauls. A handle creates more leverage and force. SHSND AHP Educational Collection

Size comparison of the grooved maul head from Stutsman County, right, with one of the replicas. SHSND AHP Educational Collection


Adams, Jenny L. 2014. Ground stone analysis: A Technological Approach. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

Deaver, Ken, Sherri Deaver, and Mike Bergstrom. 1989. Onion Ring, 32ME166, A Tipi Ring Site in Central North Dakota. Report prepared for The Coteau Properties Company, Bismarck, ND.

Fedyniak, K., and K.L. Giering. 2016. “More Than Meat: Residue Analysis Results of Mauls in Alberta.” Archaeological Survey of Alberta Occasional Paper 36: 77-85.

Griffin, D.E. 1984. “South Cannonball (32SI19): Extended Middle Missouri Village in Southern North Dakota.” Submitted in fulfillment of Contract CX 1200-7-3554, Rocky Mountain Region National Park Service. Colombia, MO: Department of Anthropology, University of Missouri.

Highsmith, G.V. 1985. The Fluted Axe. Amherst, WI: Palmer.

Johnson, Craig M. 2007. A Chronology of Middle Missouri Plains Village Sites. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology, no. 47. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press.

Morrow, Toby A. 2016. Stone Tools of Minnesota. Anamosa, IA: Wapsi Valley Archaeology, Inc.,

Ice Gliders: Native American Game Artifacts

The State Historical Society of North Dakota’s Archaeology & Historic Preservation collections consist of over 12 million artifacts that document 13,500 years of human history representing more than 2,500 archaeological sites in North Dakota and the surrounding region. We have stone tools of big game hunters, gardening tools, grinding tools, historic artifacts, game tools, and much more. Among our game artifacts are ice gliders.

Stewart Culin ([1907] 1992), a major game scholar in the field of anthropology, divides Native American games into two groups: games of chance and games of dexterity. Games of chance include dice and other guessing games where the outcome depends on luck. On the other hand, games of dexterity such as a game of shooting a target or sliding a javelin require physical strength and skill. The second group also includes games like foot racing, hoop-and-pole, and ball games that require athletic agility and stamina.

Some of these Native American games were ceremonial in nature (Culin [1907] 1992). These include hunting and warfare games only played by men. Other games were played by men and women for fun and pleasure. Still other games aimed to train and educate children in activities like hunting and warfare, skills needed to be successful adults. The ice glider game was a game of skill and dexterity and was occasionally used for gambling (Nicholson et al. 2017: 121).

The ice glider game was played on a smooth course, usually of ice or snow, with the ice glider thrown into the air and onto the ice surface. Players took turns, and the objective of the game was to see who could throw an ice glider farthest. Most ethnographic accounts indicate boys or young men played the game. Ice gliders were usually made of a bone head with stick-and-feather tails, which assisted the flight of the finished object. Bison, cattle, and deer ribs were used to make ice gliders. While the forward end of the bone often had a blunt or a V-shaped point, its back end was cut square. Some ice gliders also have recognizable decorations. The motifs include geometric designs, crosshatching, incised lines, and other naturalistic and line designs (Majewski 1986).

Both archaeological and ethnographic evidence indicates the game was played by the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara and Dakota nations. The earliest presence of ice gliders at Arikara sites is dated to roughly A.D. 1750 (Nicholson et al. 2017: 123). Ice gliders have also been found at early historic Mandan and Hidatsa sites. The presence of ice gliders at a site may indicate a winter occupation and may provide some insight about the recreational activity of people in the distant past (Nicholson et al. 2017).

An ice glider on exhibit

An ice glider on exhibit in the State Museum’s Innovation Gallery: Early Peoples. SHSND 162

Ice glider bone, game basket, and gaming pieces on exhibit

Ice glider bone (no. 17), game basket (no. 16), and gaming pieces (nos. 18-20) from our exhibits in the Innovation Gallery. SHSND 2001.12.223, .199, .271, SHSND 10197, 9978, 1811, 10199, and 158.

Ice gliders and other Native American game artifacts are on display at the State Museum’s Innovation Gallery in Bismarck. In addition to those on exhibit, the Archaeology & Historic Preservation Department has nearly two hundred pieces of complete and partial ice glider artifacts in our collections from different sites including Bone Slider/Ice Glider, Like-A-Fishhook and/or Fort Berthold, Deapolis Village, Greenshield, and the Yanktonai Ice Glider. Of our ice glider artifacts, most come from the Bone Slider/Ice Glider site, which is a documented winter village in Oliver County. A few are decorated and others are pierced and/or decorated. The interpretation of the Bone Slider/Ice Glider site as a winter village is strengthened by Prince Maximilian's observation in May 1833 of a large camp of Yankton Sioux consisting of 300 tents in the neighborhood (Chomko and Wood 1973).

Three ice glider artifacts

Examples of complete ice glider artifacts from the Bone Slider/Ice Glider site. AHP Accession Number 2001.12

Three ice cliders decorated with crosshatching and other incisions

These ice gliders from the Bone Slider/Ice Glider site are decorated with crosshatching and other incisions. AHP Accession Number 2001.12


Chomko, S.A., and W.R. Wood. 1973. “Linear Mounds in the Northeastern Plains.” Archaeology in Montana 14, no. 2: 1–19.

Culin, Stewart. (1907) 1992. Games of the North American Indians, Volume 2: Games of skill. Reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Majewski, Teresita. 1986. “Ice Gliders–Introduction.” In Ice Glider 320L110, edited by W. Raymond Wood, 104–8. Sioux Falls: South Dakota Archaeological Society.

Nicholson, B.A., David Meyer, Sylvia Nicholson, and Scott Hamilton. 2003.“The Function of Ice-gliders and Their Distribution in Time and Space Across the Northern Plains and Parklands.” Plains Anthropologist 48 (186): 121–131.

Cody Complex Projectile Points From the Max Site, North Dakota

Projectile points are attached to spears, arrows, and darts and have been used for hunting and warfare. They vary in size, shape, as well as workmanship and are made of a variety of materials, including stone, bone, antler, and metal. Most projectile points were attached to shafts. Spear shafts were thrown by hand or with a spear-thrower (atlatl). Projectile points are time-diagnostic artifacts. Their style or type is useful in estimating the age of a particular site and assigning a regional cultural tradition.

In December 2020 the State Historical Society’s Archaeology and Historic Preservation Department received a collection consisting of 47 projectile stone points and fragments and one flake tool from a donor. This collection is from the Max site (32ML1350) located in McLean County, North Dakota. Archaeologists assigned the Max site projectile points to the Cody cultural complex. (In archaeology, a complex is a grouping of related and/or associated traits, features, and artifacts, which comprise a complete process, activity, or cultural unit with known spatial and temporal dimensions.)

The Cody complex derives its name from Cody, Wyoming, where Eden and Scottsbluff projectile points were recovered in a good geological context. The co-occurrence of Eden and Scottsbluff points and Cody knives are the main markers of the complex. The points were made and used by early Holocene hunter-gatherers to hunt bison and other animals. In addition to the Eden and Scottsbluff points and Cody knives, the typical Cody site may consist of Alberta projectile points and other tools with dates generally ranging between 8,700 and 11,600 calibrated years before the present (Knell and Muñiz 2013, 13). This makes the Cody complex one of the longest Paleoindian cultural complexes in the prehistory of North America. The Cody material culture also covered a wide geographic region extending from Texas to the Canadian plains and from the Great Basin to the St. Lawrence River (Knell and Muñiz 2013, 3).

Three projectile points starting with the shortest on the left to the longest on the right

Examples of complete and refitted projectile points from the Max site include (from left) Scottsbluff, Alberta, and Eden points. While Knife River Flint is the raw material for the Scottsbluff and Eden points, the Alberta point is made from brown translucent chert. SHSND AHP 2020A.3.41, 2020A.3.42, and 2020.3.47. Photo by David Nix and Meagan Schoenfelder

The Alberta points are generally regarded as the earliest projectile point type in the Cody complex chronology and are commonly found in the prairies of Alberta and Saskatchewan and into the northern Plains of the United States. While the Eden points are named after the Eden Valley in southwestern Wyoming, the Scottsbluff points get their name from the Scottsbluff Bison Quarry in Nebraska (Frison and Todd 1987). In terms of style, Eden points are slender, have a marked medial ridge creating a diamond-shaped cross section, and often have a short, narrow stem. On the other hand, Scottsbluff points are thinner in cross section, have wider faces, and are more triangular than Eden points. Alberta points are broadly similar to the Scottsbluff point types, yet the Alberta types are often larger in total size and have a longer stem (Fogle-Hatch 2015).

A long, brown projectile point sits on a round, gray piece of clay

Red porcellanite Eden projectile point from the Max site. The marked medial ridge is a typical feature of Eden points. SHSND AHP 2020A.3.46. Photo by David Nix and Meagan Schoenfelder

More than 95% of the Max projectile points (45 out of 47) are grouped in the Cody complex: 30 are Eden points, 12 are Scottsbluff, and three are Alberta. The presence of Alberta, Eden, and Scottsbluff points at the Max site make it one of the typical Cody sites in the northern Plains region. Yet, save for the two pictured above, all the Scottsbluff and Alberta points from the Max site are fragments.

In terms of raw material type, the majority of the Max site projectile points (25 points or 56%) are Knife River Flint (KRF), 14 (31%) are porcellanite, and three (7%) are silicified wood. The presence of projectile points and their breaks indicate the points were found at the kill site or butchery location. Although we do not have a direct archaeological date for the Max site points, they might be contemporaneous with the Benz site (32DU452) artifacts, another Cody complex site located in the KRF quarry area in western North Dakota. The Cody complex artifacts from the Benz site, in Dunn County to the southwest of the Max site, date from 9,500 to 11,000 calibrated years before the present (Knell and Muñiz 2013, 8; Root, Knell, and Taylor 2013, 127-128).

Three long projectile points lay next to each other. The one on the left is brown and is the longest. The one in the middle is tan with a brown patch in the middle and is the shortest. The one on the right is brown at the top and gray and tan at the bottom.

Eden projectile points from the Max site. While the points to the left and right are made from Knife River Flint, the one in the center is porcellanite. SHSND AHP 2020A.3.47, 2020A.3.44, and 2020A.3.45. Photo by David Nix and Meagan Schoenfelder

Three broken projectile points. The left one is brown. The middle one is dark tan. The right ones a shade in between the other two.

Examples of Eden projectile point fragments from the Max site. A is the base, stem, and midsection of a red porcellanite point; B is a midsection of a Knife River Flint point; and C is a tip or top portion of a Knife River Flint point. SHSND AHP 2020A.3.2, 2020A.3.12, 2020A.3.6. Photos by David Nix and Meagan Schoenfelder


Fogle-Hatch, Cheryl. 2015. “Explanations for Morphological Variability in Projectile Points: A Case Study From the Late Paleoindian Cody Complex." PhD. Diss., University of New Mexico.

Frison, George C., and Lawrence C. Todd, eds. 1987. The Horner Site: The Type Site of the Cody Cultural Complex. Orlando: Academic Press.

Knell, Edward J., and Mark P. Muñiz, eds. 2013. Paleoindian Lifeways of the Cody Complex. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

Root, Matthew, Edward J. Knell, and Jeb Taylor. 2013. “Cody Complex Land Use in Western North Dakota and Southern Saskatchewan.” In Paleoindian Lifeways of the Cody Complex, edited by Edward J. Knell and Mark P. Muñiz, 121-143. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

Maximizing the Use of Archaeological Collections for Research, Interpretation, Education, and Exhibit

The Archaeology and Historic Preservation (AHP) Division houses more than 12 million artifacts for their long-term care, research, and access for multiple entities. The archaeological collections (artifacts, ecofacts, samples, associated records, etc.) provide a window to the past for thousands of years of occupation in the northern Plains of North America. In this blog, I focus on a major collections project that works to maximize the usability and accessibility of archaeological collections curated at the State Historical Society. As the archaeology collections manager, my task is not only to ensure that collections are preserved and curated according to Federal Curation Standards, but also to make them accessible to a wide audience through research, exhibits, digitization, public education, loans, and interpretation and publications. Many doctoral and master’s degree researchers use archaeological collections for their studies.

Effective user access to collections requires, at the minimum, assembling and organizing information regarding collection acquisition, accessioning, storage locations, etc. Along with me, three additional AHP archaeologists (Fern Swenson, Amy Bleier, Meagan Schoenfelder) are working on a project to increase the usability and public access to collections. We use journey boards (JB) to divide tasks and track our progress (See photo below). The project aims to summarize and document archaeological collections curated here. The summary includes information regarding site numbers, site names, cultural tradition(s), time period/age, ethnic traditions, land ownership, accession numbers, excavation year(s), storage location, general description of collections, number of records in Re:discovery (collections management software), references, and maps at a site level. By maximizing collections utility and increasing access to collections, we aim to reach a wider audience. This, in turn, will advance science when we promote research, interpretation, and publication.

Among other things, the summary document can be used:

  • As reference material for researchers to select sites or collections for their research.
  • To identify potential collections for instructional purposes (e.g., collections without provenance (origin) information).
  • To understand collections by time period/cultural tradition.
  • To map the location of sites where our collections come from.
  • To organize/reorganize collections in storage (e.g., collections from the same site may be stored in the same room/aisle).
  • To track collection recording and digitizing in Re:discovery.

Sample of Summary Document

A summary document of 32BL2 Menoken that lists information like cultural tradition, time period, ethnic tradition, land ownership, etc.

five dry erase boards with tasks, start date, and end date

Photos of the four people who participated in the journey boarding - Ashenafi Zena, Fern Swenson, Amy Bleier, Meagan Schoenfelder

Journey Board progress (top) and project members. Journey boards are visual project boards that provide feedback and progress information.

In sum, the summary document will provide archaeologists, scholars, interpreters, educators, culturally affiliated groups, and members of the public with better access to the State Historical Society’s collections for research, publications, exhibitions, education, and other forms of interpretive work, and this will provide information relevant for each of these activities.