The archaeology of Cyprus and punk rock music might seem to have nothing to do with the Bakken oil boom in western North Dakota. For UND History Professor Bill Caraher, however, these two interests provide a vital context for his newest research project studying workforce housing in the Bakken counties.
Caraher has directed archaeological projects on Cyprus for over a decade and recently hosted a conference and concert reflecting on the intersection of punk rock music and archaeology. Several of the participants in the conference contributed to field work documenting the social and archaeological environment of workforce housing, often called "man camps," in the North Dakota oil boom.
"Ancient Cyprus was famous for its copper mines, and the workers exploiting these natural resources often lived in the equivalent of "man camps" close to the veins of copper and dependent on agricultural villages some distance away," Caraher explains.
For the past 18 months, Caraher and Professor Bret Weber from the Department of Social Work have spent time in the Bakken describing the material conditions of life in the wide range of housing for workers in the patch. Weber, in collaboration with graduate students in the joint UND/NDSU Ph.D. program in History, has collected close to 100 long interviews with oil field workers. This work will not only provide a resource for all attempting to understand the impact of the influx of workers on the western part of the state, but will also provide an archive for later historians interested in the impact of the boom.
"Since these workers often stay for short periods of time and their housing is temporary, archaeological approaches provide a useful method for capturing a snapshot of conditions that change rapidly," Caraher states.
Caraher's work is associated with a cutting-edge approach to archaeological research often called the archaeology of the contemporary past. Unlike traditional archaeological approaches that focus on the remains of individuals and groups from the sometimes distant past, archaeology of the contemporary past documents material remains associated with contemporary society. The situation in the man camps of the Bakken is changing so quickly that traditional textual records provide an incomplete picture of the situation.
Caraher's team of archaeologists documenting the contemporary workforce housing in the Bakken have fielded inquiries from around the world concerning both their research and the situation there.
When asked how this relates to punk rock music, Caraher responds, "Punk rock often involved the exploration of the seamier side of the world. Kids would come from the comfort of the suburbs to go to concerts in New York City or Detroit and come to terms with another side of life. As archaeologists in the Bakken, we're doing the same thing. We're wrapping our head around this remarkable situation taking place in the western part of the state and trying to use it to make sense of our present and our future. If archaeology is traditionally about the past, punk archaeology is about the present and future."
Professor Bill Caraher works in an area of archeology that deals with the contemporary past