Public Archaeology

Student Kate Kolwicz at work  at dig

Image: Student Kate Kolwicz at work on an urban archaeological site associated with a Chinese neighborhood in downtown Missoula.

The historical archaeology laboratory in the Social Sciences Building, run by professor Kelly Dixon, serves as a working classroom and hands-on research space where students clean, process, and analyze archaeological collections.

Many of the graduate student projects are in Montana, if not Missoula, and they incorporate partnerships with Federal, Tribal, State, and Local agencies, including Missoula County Public Schools, and descendent communities. “There are several really cool projects in the works, too, so stay tuned for more place-based developments,” Dixon indicated. Those updates will be posted to the archaeology lab webpage.

Here are a few of the projects that Dixon can share:

  • The ongoing archaeological and archival work related to historic Missoula is a constant heartbeat in Dixon’s lab, which is currently full of artifacts from throughout the Missoula Valley. As aspects of these projects, students are:
    • exploring archaeological traces of the lives of the Buffalo Soldiers who lived/were stationed at Fort Missoula between 1888 and 1898;
    • assisting the City of Missoula with archaeological and preservation needs at the Moon-Randolph Homestead, including local summer field schools at the Homestead; and
    • connecting community and place via interdisciplinary projects that incorporate urban archaeology, architectural history, and conservation of Missoula’s cultural heritage through pre-deconstruction/pre-demolition archaeological survey and archival research.
  • One recent archaeological discovery shed light on Missoula’s history and provided an opportunity for a UM archaeology M.A. student, Kate Kolwicz, to help the public and a private business owner wrestle with the complexity of cultural heritage. Dixon shared, “The land owner allowed UM students to recover artifacts, urban salvage archaeology-style, from an area associated with Missoula’s historic Chinese community, including an area likely associated with a Chinese temple. To complicate matters, there was a red-light district adjacent to this center of the Chinese community, so the archaeological materials our committed students recovered include a mix of many lifestyles and have sparked innumerable research questions about Missoula’s past. Very exciting.” Because of this project, Kolwicz has decided that she wants to continue working on this topic as a PhD student at UM. You can read more about Kolwicz’s findings in the article, "Excavation at Cranky Sam Public House uncovers mostly forgotten pieces of Missoula's history".
  • Western Montana has many abandoned, historic mining “ghost towns” like Coloma, a gold mining community in the Garnet Range. For years, Coloma has served as an outdoor classroom for UM archaeology students, and it has also provided hands-on experience for students to develop relationships with heritage managers at agencies like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to conduct research at this remote and scenic site. Dixon hopes there will be a PhD defense among the ruins of Coloma this spring.

Each project involves fleets of undergraduate and graduate students; Dixon has truly embraced the Missoula Valley and the surrounding areas as her classroom.

Students working in the lab on faunal remains in lab
Students working in the lab on faunal remains (animal bones) recovered from the historic dump at Fort Missoula.

archaeological field school students in action
Summer, 2019 archaeological field school students in action, assisting with an unplanned, but real-world-style salvage archaeology work in downtown Missoula.

archaeological field school students in action
Summer, 2019 archaeological field school students in action, assisting with an unplanned, but real-world-style salvage archaeology work in downtown Missoula.

UM students working at the Moon-Randolph Homestead
UM students working at the Moon-Randolph Homestead.