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North Dakota man helps tell state’s history

July 16, 2018

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Doug Wurtz has found his niche as a volunteer with the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Wurtz, of Bismarck and originally from Ryder, said he read a story in the Minot Daily News 12 years ago about an archaeological project to be conducted at Beacon Island, northwest of New Town. At the time, he had been retired for six years and serving as a volunteer and president of Habitat for Humanity in Bismarck. He retired in 2000 as a director of market development for a Minneapolis corporation.

“I was looking for a new challenge and had always been interested in history and archaeology,” he told the Minot Daily News .

He volunteered for one of the nine-day Beacon Island project sessions and ended up being totally hooked on archaeology.

“When the project was done I followed the artifacts from Beacon Island into the archaeology lab at the Heritage Center and ended up working as a volunteer there the winter of 2006-2007, helping to analyze the artifacts,” he said.

Since then Wurtz has been a volunteer for the State Historical Society of North Dakota, the agency that preserves and presents history through museums and historic sites in North Dakota. SHSND has its headquarters in the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum.

After the Beacon Island project and other archaeological projects that he volunteered for (Fort Clark, Chief Looking’s Village and others), Wurtz became president of the North Dakota Archaeological Association, serving as its president for two terms.

“By then I was totally committed to all things archaeology,” he said.

Wurtz has done a number of presentations at the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum in Bismarck, including a six-lecture series on the cyclorama, original work commissioned by the SHSND about Double Ditch Indian Village (north of Bismarck), circa September 1550, and on the Chief Looking’s Village Archaeological project.

He likes to work on projects with outreach possibilities, and the “In A Box” series is his latest effort. He said one of those projects was assisting Erik Holland, curator of education for the SHSND, set up a full-sized teepee with 12-foot poles and all the component parts at an event in the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum.

“I thought there must be additional and an easier way to educate kids and others about the precise pattern that must be followed in order to set up a teepee. It doesn’t stand up properly unless the 12 poles are set up in the correct order,” he said.

He designed six model teepees with a 1-inch to 1-foot scale.

“I put all of the component pieces into a plastic box, which was quickly dubbed the ‘Tipi In A Box,’” he said. He said the program is still used quite frequently by the SHSND Communications and Education Division as an outreach program, in addition to using the full-sized teepee.

In April he delivered one of the “Tipi In A Box” programs to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn for use at its Fort Mandan site.

Wurtz said the archaeology division of the SHSND has a Beacon Island exhibit in the Early People’s Gallery in the Heritage Center.

To help tell the story of Beacon Island, he put together the “Beacon Island In A Box” presentation. He said the presentation is designed to tell the archaeological story of Beacon Island in addition to the interpretation of the exhibit in the gallery.

Wurtz said his “In A Box” series are vetted by the professionals before he delivers them, and he then turns them over to the SHSND for others to use. The “Beacon Island In A Box” presentation was approved by Dr. Wendi Field Murray, archaeology collections manager for the SHSND.

Wurtz’s next challenge was to get kids interested in the field of osteology, the study of structure and functions of the bones.

“Bison In A Box,” using a collection of bison bones found south of Mandan, became the third in the “In A Box” series.

In late April, Holland and Wurtz went over the “Bison In A Box” presentation together at the Heritage Center. A few days later, on May 2, Wurtz delivered 11 presentations to 265 students from 14 schools during Education Day at the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown. There, he used the models of the human hand and human foot to show similarities between human and bison bones.

“There are already some off-shoot programs in the works from that program. We are considering a ‘micro-archaeology’ program, that is archaeology through a microscope. We will examine bone, hair (from bison and others), pottery, stone tools, etc. All are designed to be delivered in the Learning Lab (in the Early People’s Gallery of the North Dakota Heritage Center),” Wurtz said.

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Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com

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