U-Idaho Professors Work to Unearth Boise’s History

Wednesday, August 1 2012


BOISE, Idaho – Over 100 years ago, Basque culture in Boise centered around the Cyrus Jacobs-Uberuaga Boarding House; now, that center has shifted to the Basque Museum & Cultural Center, which will celebrate that spirit with University of Idaho anthropology professors during an archeological excavation.

“This dig is a great opportunity for our students and faculty to apply their knowledge and skills to a project that is important to Boise’s Basque community and our state’s history,” said College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences Dean, Kathy Aiken. “This project will also allow the public to be a part of history as our experts uncover what was left by the first settlers in Boise nearly 150 years ago and of the history of Basques there more than 100 years ago.”

The Basque Museum & Cultural Center invited the University of Idaho’s department of sociology and anthropology in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences to conduct an archaeological excavation at the home. It started on July 31 and will last for two weeks.  Leading this excavation will be Mark Warner, associate professor of anthropology and Stacey Camp, assistant professor of anthropology. 

“This project is unique for two reasons: It is the first large scale public archaeology project that has been done by the University of Idaho, and it allows us to show many people the history that’s literally beneath their feet,” said Warner. “Second, it is one of no more than a handful of archaeological projects that has been conducted on a Basque-occupied site in the US. It is an invaluable research opportunity.”

Today, the 1864 Cyrus Jacobs-Uberuaga House is the oldest brick residence in Boise and is still in its original location. It was home to early settlers, Cyrus and Mary Jacobs, and later was operated as a Basque boarding house. It later became a community for Basque sheepherders to gather, speak their language and celebrate their culture.

Now, almost 150 years later, the house is more than a reminder of the migration west, it holds untold history that professors and museum officials are hoping to uncover.

This dig will be unlike many others University of Idaho professors and students have excavated, which typically take place in remote, rural areas. Instead, it will be an urban dig – taking place in the center of the Boise community and available for all to see. Archaeologists and historians are hoping to find out more about this home’s first residents and who they were.

The public is invited to stop by and see history being unearthed. You can speak to professors Warner and Camp about their work and watch as they uncover artifacts left behind by Boise’s early settlers and later by Basque residents in the home.  

This will be the second time the home has been part of an archeological search. In 2004, the Basque Museum & Cultural Center performed an entire historic restoration, which allowed for study of paint samples, age-old linoleum, rugs and tiles, and included an archaeological dig performed by members of the Idaho Archaeological Society beneath the floor of four rooms in the house. The excavations resulted in the recovery of many artifacts, some of which are on display in the house, and provided some guidance for the historic restoration of the building.

This time, the search to bring back more than 150 years of history will take place outside the home under the floor of the enclosed porch area. This project will highlight the rich, diverse history beneath the surface as archeologists look for everything from bottles and bones, to toys and ceramics. What items they will find and what stories they may tell is a mystery that will hopefully unfold over the next year as the artifacts are processed and research is done on them.

The excavation is being led by the University of Idaho working in collaboration with the Basque Museum & Cultural Center, Idaho Archaeological Society, Idaho Heritage Trust and Boise National Forest.

ACTIVITIES THAT THE PUBLIC CAN BE INVOLVED IN:

Excavations are open to the public July 31 - Aug. 10 with the exception of Aug.5. The public is welcome to join from 9 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.

Aug. 2, in honor of First Thursday, there will be free admission to the museum.  At 5:30 p.m. there will be a check presentation along with question and answer by professors Warner and Camp. A selection of recently recovered artifacts will be on display.  Between 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. the Basque Museum gallery will be open to the public featuring the exhibit “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Basques.”  At 6:30 p.m. there will be guided tours every half hour of the Cyrus Jacobs-Uberuaga House and a music jam session by local musicians.

Saturday, Aug. 4 there will be a special hands-on archaeology session for children. It will take place from 11 a.m. – noon.  Archaeologists and archaeology students will give a basic hands-on introduction about their work.  Children five – 12 years of age are encouraged to participate.
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