Urban archaeology benefits greatly from the wonderful world of archives! The people who are lucky enough to spend their time researching Montana and specifically Missoula have the pleasure of using the University of Montana’s Mansfield Library Archives. Today the field school students were able to immerse themselves in this learning experience. 

This kind of research is incredibly informative to the kind of work being undertaken by the field school this summer. We are attempting to document Missoula’s underground, not an easy task! So much information has been obscured, built over, filled in, and just generally lost to the sands of time; by using the documents in the archives we are able to “see” what kinds of businesses occupied these subterranean spaces, get clues as to what happened to them, and in general better understand how people interacted with each other and their urban landscape.

Tomorrow the students will spend another day in the archives and have the opportunity to hear from Jared Fischer, a newly minted graduate of the University of Montana, who worked on a very exciting senior project. Fischer used his knowledge of archaeology and GIS to create phenomenal layered maps of downtown Missoula, through time, melding historic Sanborn maps with aerial photos of modern Missoula.

The results of all this work in the archives and by individuals, like Fischer, all contributes to a better understanding of the Missoula urban landscape. Digging into the past is so much fun, especially when done in a way that protects it for future generations and makes it accessible to the masses. The history of Missoula belongs to us all!