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.

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!