Members of the public and campus community are also welcome to work with the project. To volunteer, contact Mark Warner.

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Glass found from the University of Idaho IRIC archaeology dig

Uncovering Campus History

Students and community members dig up the lives of past UI and Moscow residents with the Campus Archaeology Project

By Tara Roberts
Photos by UI Photo Services

The hillside along Line Street at the future site of the Integrated Research and Innovation Center looks empty – but a group of University of Idaho students and community volunteers hope to discover some of campus’ hidden history beneath it.

The students – primarily from UI’s sociology/anthropology and history departments – are excavating the site in summer 2014 for the UI Campus Archaeology Project. There, they hope to find objects left behind from the homes, dormitories and campus buildings that have been located on or near the site.

Moscow resident working at a University of Idaho sponsored archaeology dig site“We don’t know exactly what we’re going to find right now,” says Mark Warner, chair of the UI Department of Sociology and Anthropology, who is supervising the dig. “If we’re lucky, we’ve got the vestiges of everyday life in early Moscow.”

The site is open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday-Friday until the dig wraps up around August 15. Students will provide informal tours to teach visitors about archaeology, the site and artifacts they find.

Members of the public and campus community are also welcome to work with the project. To volunteer, contact Warner at

“It’s a great opportunity for students to learn about archaeology on their campus, and for campus itself to become a teaching tool,” Warner says.

A few non-university homes were located on the site as early as 1910. Brink and Phinney halls, which served for decades as men’s dorms, are adjacent to the site. Most recently, the Navy/ROTC Building, which was built in 1942 and burned down in 2011, stood on the edge of the site.

Abram Grisham, a master’s student in anthropology and a field director for the project, says he’s excited to teach students and the public about Idaho and UI history. The university is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.

“I think the university has a rich heritage, and to be able to go back prior to the school and the heritage of the community is primarily why I was interested in this,” Grisham says. “The reason archaeology is important is because it ties the past and the people who did things in the past with us.”

The project also serves as a real-world educational opportunity for students, who are earning credit or fieldwork experience, says Molly Swords, a doctoral student in historical archaeology and project manager and lab director for the dig. Many professional archaeologists work at construction sites to discover what’s beneath the ground before a new building is in place.

Alex Peterson, a senior sociology and criminal justice major earning course credit for working at the site, says he’s excited to see the land’s history, especially the site of the Navy Building.

“I felt it would be fun to get outside and actually do something instead of just sitting in a classroom,” he says.

university of idaho archaeology professor at dig siteSenior anthropology major Chase Young, who also worked on a recent dig at the site of Fort Boise, says the fieldwork he’s done has served as a crash course in real-world archaeology. Students learn skills such as how to sift through dirt for artifacts, take careful measurements, sample soil, and determine the date and origin of artifacts.

“We find the littlest things, like glass and nails and flooring. We can date that, which is kind of cool,” he says. “I like to see where we come from – where everything comes from.”

This project isn’t the first venture for UI professors and students into archaeological excavation on campus, though it’s the largest in years. Stacey Camp, an associate professor of anthropology, led students in preliminary work on the current site as part of their coursework. About 15 years ago, Warner and his students studied the former location of the Campus Club dormitory, near where the Agricultural Biotechnology building was built on Sixth Street.

The Campus Archaeology Project is supported by the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, UI Architectural and Engineering Services, Hoffman Construction and Motley-Motley, Inc.