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.

In the archaeology lab we are still busy inventorying and photographing fascinating objects from Like-A-Fishhook village (32ML2), as part of an artifact cataloging project started in early 2015. We do this every Friday morning (we call it “Like-A-Fishhook Fridays”).  As you already know from my previous blog post about Like-A-Fishhook, (, it was the last traditional earthlodge village built in North Dakota and was home to Hidatsa, Mandan, and Arikara people.  It was occupied from about 1845-1889.

Since the site of Like-A-Fishhook is now under water, the artifacts collected during archaeological excavations in the 1950s provide a very important record of the village. The things that people left at the site tell us about what life was like: what the environment was like, what people traded, what people ate, and even the games that they played. Here are a few more artifacts that we have seen in the archaeology lab in the past few months:

There is a piece of turtle shell.

Piece of turtle shell

A piece of turtle shell (12003.17)

Notice the distinctive sutures (the zig-zag looking edges) where the shell fits together. We can compare this piece to examples of turtle shell in the faunal comparative collection.

Piece of turtle shell from comparative collection

A piece of a turtle shell from the AHP faunal comparative collection (HP 94-45.1)

I was excited to see a beautiful abalone ornament. Abalone shell comes from the Pacific coast—a long way from North Dakota! How many hands did this shell pass through before it got to Like-A-Fishhook?  Who made it into an ornament? Was the ornament part of a necklace, or sewed on clothing? Who wore this?

Abalone shell ornament

An abalone shell ornament (12003.2276)

This is the end of a small wooden barrel. What do you think was stored or shipped in this barrel?

Wooden barrel end

A wooden barrel end (12003.2330)

Another exciting object is a burl wood bowl.

Burl wood bowl

A burl wood bowl (12003.13175)

This bowl is almost perfect. I like to think that it looks ready for some stew!

My favorite find from this past month included two samples that were labeled “bison hair cordage.”

Bison hair cordage

Left: Bison hair cordage (12003.2501)
Right: A close-up view of the bison hair cordage, you can see the cut ends of the fiber in this photo (12003.2501)

The fiber is twisted and looks like it has been cut into short pieces. Bison hair has been used for many things in the past, and people still use it to make things today.

Bison hair yarn scarf

A bison hair yarn scarf woven by Nancy Eley in 2015

Work is important, but so are games! There are some domino pieces in this collection. This one is made of bone, and someone has carved a design on the back.

Domino made from bone

Left: A domino made from bone (12003.2124)
Right: The reverse side of the same domino (12003.2124)

Another domino is made out of bone or possibly ivory, and a wooden back has been added to comlete the piece.

Domino made from polished bone or ivory

Left: A domino made from polished bone or ivory (12003.2445)
Right: The reverse side of the same domino, a piece of wood has been nailed to the bone or ivory face (12003.2445)

If only we could see what games were played with these!

We still have a lot more boxes to go through, and I promise to keep you updated on the exciting things we find!