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What’s for Dinner? Bison or Beef?

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Gemma (Nico) Heimlich-Bowler
University of Montana
Fort Missoula Archaeological Field School

For those of you who think that an archaeologist goes on digs to uncover dinosaurs, think again. This week we began our adventure into digging, and while the other students have a vested interest in archaeology, I come to the dig site with a background in Forensic Anthropology. This means that I, the excitable bone enthusiast that I am, get far more excited about pulling a bone out of the ground than most other people I know. Although we do not purposefully uncover dinosaur bones, sometimes in places like Fort Missoula there are bones to be found of different species.

bison

Possible Bos. Bison species scapula.

During our first week of class, Ayme Swartz mentioned that during the last session many potential cow bones were  found, but that there had been accounts of those stationed at the Fort eating bison. With my strong enthusiasm for all things connected to identifying skeletal remains, I quickly read up on the osteological processes of both bison and cows. With basic knowledge and much research, I was able to (reasonably) confidently identify one of the scapula we have uncovered as that of a bison, supporting the accounts that bison was consumed on Fort Missoula property during its occupation.

Weeding Out

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Sean Jubb

University of Montana

Fort Missoula Field School

“…the whole area is going to have to be cleared of vegetation and mapped in detail before we even think of excavation…” (Praetzellis 2003:58).

Clearing the invasive weeds is a tedious but necessary task.

Clearing the invasive weeds is a tedious but necessary task.

On June 18 we trimmed mustard, pineapple weed, common tansy, and cheat grass to clear the site for mapping and excavation. We learned to be careful when removing the plants—not pulling them out by the roots, but trimming them just down to the ground using either shears or a machete to prevent ourselves from prematurely pulling artifacts from below the ground surface, which would cause damage to the site.

Field School students working to clear the waist-high mustard from the site.

Field School students working to clear the waist-high mustard from the site.

Even though clearing vegetation was not what I expected to do today, I learned that it is a necessary part of archaeological fieldwork and that it can be rather difficult!  This was particularly challenging for anyone with allergies, as our weed trimming and clearing caused itchiness of the eyes, stuffy nose, and sinus headaches.

Praetzellis, Adrian (2003) Death by Theory: A Tale of Mystery and Archaeological Theory, Altamira Press.

Final clipping to clear the area for the excavation units.

Final clipping to clear the area for the excavation units.