The recent oil boom in North Dakota is driving an increase in demand for archaeologists.

Kildeer Mountain monument marker
A monument marks the Kildeer Mountain area where U.S. soldiers clashed with American Indians in 1864 near Killdeer, N.D. The site was surveyed by a team of archeologists when a power company wanted to run new power lines through the area. Indian tribes feared the project could disturb the remains of native people who were killed there but archeologists hired by the utility found “nothing of consequence” along a 150-foot right of way. AP Photo Charles Rex Arbogast

Archaeological survey is not necessarily a requirement for all oil projects, but they are a mandate for most federal drilling permits.

The work involves inspecting a site for the presence of artifacts, features, or any other evidence of past human habitation and cataloging each aspect of the project for future research.

The projects that these archaeologists sign up for often include a degree of tension: researchers are trained to look for evidence of past human interaction, but the companies that pay them have their own agenda in that they’d prefer not to have anything turn up at all (a common situation in many CRM projects across the nation).

Now that more archaeologists are busy in North Dakota, the number of historic sites in the area has jumped from 846 in 2009 to nearly 2,260 in 2013, according to the state’s Historic Preservation Office.

Included among the newly discovered sites are settler cemeteries with graves marked in foreign languages, abandoned homesteader farms, and stone circles created by American Indian tribes thousands of years ago.

North Dakota Oil Boom - Keep Off Signs
Several signs remind drivers of large trucks used by the oil industry to avoid the road to farmlands and the Killdeer Mountian historic battlefield Wednesday near Killdeer, N.D. AP Photo Charles Rex Arbogast

While the oil boom is the engine behind the increase in archaeology jobs, the projects are not focused solely on drilling sites. Much of the work targets buildings designed to support the oil business and other infrastructure construction such as roads, bridges, and airport improvements.

Read More: Oil Boom Produces Jobs Bonanza for Archaeologists


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