News and Events

News Archive


Behind the scenes at the Historical Society: Archaeology and Historical Preservation Department

Posted 4/30/24 (Tue)

Story by Elizabeth Shores

ISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Museums are essential to preserving history. One of those museums is the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum in Bismarck. What you see inside the museums is amazing, but it takes a lot of work to make it that way.

When someone says “archaeology,” you probably think about someone studying dinosaur bones — and you would be incorrect. While bones and fossils certainly have their place in a museum, Archaeology Collections Assistant Meagan Schoenfelder said she and the other archaeology staff at the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum mainly collect, analyze and catalog items that tell a story about how people used to live.

“Charcoal — you probably aren’t going to want to look at on display that much, but if you’re somebody who studies plants or does a radiocarbon dating or that kind of thing, it’s really important to hold onto it to go with the other artifacts in that collection,” Schoenfelder said.

It’s not all cataloging.

“We do a lot of work with places — researching places, recognizing how they fit in history,” said Lead Historic Preservationist Lorna Meidinger.

Meidinger also leads a team and works with the North Dakota Cultural Resource Survey in keeping track of places in the state; it has about 80,000 sites, nearly 20,000 reports and over 100,000 photographs.

“You have to find a way to tell that story cohesively,” Meidinger said.

Schoenfelder said they’re basically a library for artifacts. Volunteers will come in from time to time to help them catalog and photograph the collections they’re going through.

One of the collections they’re working on now was donated to the museum after the archeologist who was studying it died, leaving his research unfinished. Schoenfelder said hopefully someone can finish his research one day, but until then, they’ll hold onto it.