AEG Meeting—Thursday, December 5 Holiday Party and Fundraiser

“Please join us for a Holiday Party and Fundraiser.”
Thursday – December 5th, 2019
Speaker: Dr. Paul White, Ph.D.
Topic: Legacies in Refinement: Archaeological Perspectives on Alaska’s Historic Gold Mills

ABSTRACT: The mining of hard-rock gold tends to go hand in hand with the construction of onsite processing facilities to crush ores to a size suitable for the recovery of valued products. Mills are inherently dynamic structures, with processing circuits often modified over the course of their operating lives to meet changing circumstances at the mine, be it variations in ore bodies, changes in operative scale, or fluctuating company finances. Yet, despite processing mills being a common sight in Alaska’s gold districts, details about historic operations remain sparse. Comparatively few companies systematized paperwork about milling operations or ultimately preserved these records in archives. Some mills were designed without the aid of blueprints, and even the most meticulously designed plants could undergo adjustments and modifications made on the spot. Little is known also about the laboring experience, partly because milling textbooks seldom covered social conditions, and also because mill workers had better things to do with their time than report the drudgery of their jobs for posterity. 

This talk describes results from a multi-year historical and archaeological study of gold milling practice in the Frontier State. Although abandonment, salvage, and vandalism have reduced the visibility of this once common feature on the industrial landscape, dozens of milling structures survive in varying states of preservation. The archaeological portion of the project documented several mill buildings using hand methods, and with field drawings forming the basis for developing illustrations of each facility in its prime, depicting mills at their maximum developmental extent, righting walls that had collapsed, and setting equipment back in place. Archival research complemented this physical documentation by revealing networks through which technological knowledge was conveyed, the daily routines that millworkers developed to operate equipment, and the human costs of milling as revealed through the analysis of accident records. All told, this project provides a detailed look into the technological and social history of ore processing, highlighting ways that industry practice became adapted to the Alaskan frontier, as well as the differences between textbook descriptions of milling practice and what was always left for people to learn on the job.

BIO: Paul White is an Associate Professor of Geography, and recent hire at the University of Nevada, Reno, with two decades of experience in the archaeological documentation of mining sites in North America. A New Zealander by birth, he came to the United States in 1996 to pursue graduate study in industrial heritage, and stayed, earning a MS in Social Science at Michigan Technological University and a doctorate in Anthropology at Brown University. His research interests have centered upon the social, technological, and environmental transformations associated with mining, examining sites in California and the Great Basin, Alaska, Arkansas, Michigan, and Vermont. This work has involved collaboration with mining companies as well as several governmental agencies, including the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, US Army Corps of Engineers, US Air Force, and the Environmental Protection Agency. He has worked as a cultural resource consultant during a Superfund cleanup and served as an expert witness in the prosecution of a federal Archaeological Resource Protection Act case. Prior to joining the UNR faculty, he taught for 10 years in the Anthropology department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. His recent book, The Archaeology of American Mining (2017), which synthesizes 50 years of archaeological scholarship, received the 2019 Mining History Association’s Clark Spence Award.

COST: Members: $30.00; Non-Members: $32.00; Students: $25.00

The Bar is sponsored, and we are providing complimentary dinners to the first three students who submit RSVPs. Any additional students will be charged $25.

We have some very generous supporters. These are the sponsors for the December meeting:

  • Geotechnical & Environmental Services, Inc.
  • Axion Geotechnical, LLC
  • Diane Phillips Ferree and Wayne Ferree
  • Social Hour sponsored by Doug and Merrily Graham

This month’s meal will be a Special Prime Rib Holiday Dinner with house salad, rolls, vegetables and pecan pie for dessert. On the RSVP, please indicate if you have a dietary restriction such as a non-beef, vegetarian or gluten free options.


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