Monday, June 18, 2012

Crow Agency Archaeology

Archeological investigations have recently exposed the foundations of the second Crow agency in the Stillwater Valley near Absarokee. A full-scale excavation, conducted by Aaberg Cultural Resources, came about as preliminary to the Montana Department of Transportation’s planned widening of a three-mile stretch of Highway 78. Testing for archaeological sites is required for projects that disturb the right-of-way. The highway bisected the suspected location of the agency that existed there between 1875 and 1884. The agency is historically important because it encompasses a difficult period in Crow history. Not only were the Crows struggling to transition from hunting to farming during this decade, the tribe also suffered from epidemics of measles and scarlet fever. Preliminary test pits of the area yielded enough artifacts to warrant further investigation. In 2006 Aaberg surveyed the site with a magnetometer. This instrument reveals solid objects underground and translates them to a computer generated map. Comparing his findings with an 1878 map of the agency, Aaberg determined that the rectangular compound exactly lined up with scattered anomalies the magnetometer revealed. This exciting discovery led to the excavations in the summer of 2011. Crews uncovered portions of the foundations of the compound that included the agent’s, clerk’s, and doctor’s offices. A layer of charcoal and ash substantiates the fact that the site was burned upon abandonment. Decorative beads, animal bones, broken bottles, and other artifacts, currently under analysis, will eventually be housed at the curation facility on the Little Big Horn College campus in Crow Agency. Study of these artifacts and the tragic story they tell will help write this chapter of Montana’s past.

Archaeologist Steve Aaberg sites the location of the next unit to be dug, while field crew members
excavate a unit believed to be the agency doctor's office.

Staff members from the State Historic Preservation Office work with the field crew to screen for artifacts.
Both photos from the Montana Historical Society's Facebook page

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