Archaeology Department

Department Description and History

The archaeology Department is a repository for artifacts from all over the world, including local donated collections. These include Idaho and Oregon Owyhee collections and more recent ones such as The Warm Springs Site. The Museum archaeologist conducts projects and study programs for college students and volunteers in areas of interest including artifact identification, pottery assemblage, curation; May's Archaeology Month is supported by displays of collections not often seen and identification of artifacts from the public.

Luther Douglas Navajo Indian Ceremonial Sandpaintings

The Origins of Sand Painting

The Navajo artist is called a hataali or singer, though the commercialization of san painting has meant that the craft is no longer confined to the singer; anyone can create sand paintings.

Today, the Navajo use sand to make paintings, He prepares the ground, covers it with the fine, clean riverbed sand and slowly, evenly, creates pictures known as sand paintings. Finely ground charcoal, corn meal, pollen, mudstone, gypsum and turquoise run gracefully through his fingers to form animals, plants, sunbeams and rainbows.

Working from the center out - because this is the way a flower grows - he creates an intricate scene, leaving an opening at the east side of the painting for the "holy people" to enter.

Because he is simply demonstrating his art and not taking part in a healing ceremony, he makes his sand paintings with a deviation p such as transposing colors or eliminating a figure - so as not to offend the deities. The audience does not see the mistake but the holy people would know it was there. Even before the commercialization of the art form, there were about 1,200 designs used in a wide range of ceremonies, which varied according to the illness being treated.

Historians say that the sand painting designs were probably borrowed from Pueblo Indians, who created huge murals. Navajos give a more religious interpretation to the origin of sand paintings, believing them to be gifts from the deities.

But in the 1970's Navajo craftsmen began to draw other figures, and in the 1980's they expanded the subject areas even further. Today, sand paintings are as diverse as any other form of art.

The Gates-Lewis Collection

Originating from remote regions of New Mexico and Arizona, revealing native cultures of the Navajo and Pueblo peoples. In 1901 together with the Smithsonian Institute, artifacts were collected and donated to the Museum including lithics, pottery and baskets.

An Enduring Presence - Cultural Continuity and Change Among the Peoples of the Desert Southwest

A grant was secured to display items from the Gates-Lewis collection of Southwestern artifacts. The collection, housed at the Orma J. Smith Museum of Natural History, has been recognized by a number of experts including George horse Capture, Dr. Max Pavesic and Joe Ben Wheat. The items include ceramics illustrating the theme of enduring cultural continuity; basketry originating on the Hopi Second and Third Mesa; textiles, including blankets, rugs, and horse equipment produced by theDine' (Navajo) peoples who lived in Tusayan and Cibola areas of Arizona and New Mexico.

The Olga Gonzalez Pre-Columbian Collection

Discovered in the family farm fields throughout the Mexican state of Guanajuato (north and west of Mexico City), the pre-classical items date from approximately 1200 to 400 BC. Items include tripod style pot, spindle whorl, figurine head, obsidian projectile points, and other items.

Hopi Basketry

Seen by appointment only, the items are occasionally on display in Boone Hall. The items include Third Mesa wicker plaques.

The James Huntley Native American Lithic Collection

The collection includes lithic tools from locations over Idaho and Oregon.

Meldrum New Guinean/New Zealand Collection

Representing many different ethnic groups with locations in Papua New Guina and New Zealand, the collection has been appraised as significant and rare. It represents artifacts which have not previously been seen in museum collections. Some of these are Human Carved Figurine, wood, bird on helmet, polychrome pigment (#2243); Paint Bowl-incised wooden crocodile motif, E. Sepil Province (#2072); Flute-bamboo tube incised with burned geometric design, Papua, New Guinea (#2109); Jade War Club-plaited orchid stem cover (#2114); Effigy Bowl-carved, incised motif, Tami Island, Huon Gulf, Morobe Province (#2070) plus much more. Items are not on permanent display in the Museum.

Nelle Tobias Collection

Donated in 1977, items include moccasins from Fort Hall, Pueblo pottery from New Mexico, and textiles from Mexico and Peru.

The Troxell Collection

Donated by Judge Irwin Troxell in 1970 to The College of Idaho, the collections consists of vertebrate and invertegrate fossils and anthropological Native American specimens. Some items are on display and others are stored. The collection includes grinding stones, hammerstones, war clubs and other miscellaneous items.

Identification and Donation

Artifact identification and donation are encouraged to help preserve and promote Idaho's cultural heritage. The Museum Archaeologist/Curator accepts artifacts from historic to prehistoric times under these conditions:

  1. The artifact has an Idaho or nearby connection;
  2. The artifact is in good condition and not over-represented in the collection.
  3. The artifact is acquired without any restrictions (i.e., long tern-loan or permanent exhibition of the artifact).
  4. Donor signs a form transferring legal ownership of the artifact to The College of Idaho.

Donations are tax deductible. IRS regulations prohibit The College of Idaho providing valuation of any donated artifact.