With more archaeologists working in the oil fields, the number of historic sites in North Dakota jumped from 846 in 2009 to nearly 2,260 in 2013, the state’s Historic Preservation Office said. Those sites include forgotten settler cemeteries with graves marked in foreign languages, abandoned homesteader farms and stone circles put in place by American Indians thousands of years ago.
“A lot of that wouldn’t be happening without the boom,” said Richard Rothaus, an archaeologist who heads Trefoil Cultural and Environmental Heritage, a Minnesota-based firm that offers “cultural resource management,” an umbrella term for this kind of archaeological work.
While the oil boom is the engine behind the speedy growth, the archaeological work is not focused entirely on drilling sites. Much of it targets building projects designed to support the oil business, such as road, bridge and airport improvements.
Over the last decade, the number of firms authorized to do surveys in North Dakota rose from around 30 to 50, said Paul Picha, chief archaeologist at the historical society.
No one in the field keeps track of exact archaeology employment numbers, but the oil boom has almost certainly expanded the ranks of North Dakota archaeologists from as few as a few dozen to several hundred, if not more.
For instance, the Bismarck office of Metcalf Archaeological Consultants has roughly doubled in size every year for the past three years, according to Damita Engel, regional director of operations at the firm, which is based in Golden, Colorado.
Three years ago, they had 10 to 12 employees. Now they have 53.
“And we’re still hiring,” Engel said.
The added jobs have helped scores of archaeologists such as Dodson, 30, who received a master’s degree in maritime archaeology in 2009 from England’s Southampton University. After graduating, he moved back in with his parents in St. Louis and worked as a bartender and bouncer while searching for a position in his specialty.