Lessons from the Bakken Oil Patch


  • William Caraher University of North Dakota
  • Bret Weber University of North Dakota
  • Richard Rothaus Trefoil




Bakken, Oil, North Dakota, Archaeology of the Contemporary World


This article summarizes the recent work of the North Dakota Man Camp Project to understand the largely undocumented migrants arriving in the Bakken Oil Patch for work. It argues that efforts to document short-term labor in the Bakken exposes particular challenges facing the archaeology of the modern world ranging from the ephemerality of short-term settlements to the hyper-abundance of modern objects. The use of photography, video, interviews, and descriptions produced an abundant archive of archaeological ephemera that in some ways parallels the modern character of temporary workforce housing. The final section of this article offers some perspectives on how work in the Bakken oil patch can inform policy, our understanding of material culture in the modern world, and the role of the discipline in forming a shared narrative.


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Author Biographies

William Caraher, University of North Dakota

William Caraher is an Associate Professor in history at the University of North Dakota.

Bret Weber, University of North Dakota

Bret Weber is an Associate Professor in history at the University of North Dakota.

Richard Rothaus, Trefoil

Richard Rothaus holds a PhD from the Ohio State University and currently runs Trefoil Cultural and Environmental, a privately owned cultural resource management firm.


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How to Cite

Caraher, W., Weber, B., & Rothaus, R. (2017). Lessons from the Bakken Oil Patch. Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, 3(2), 195–204. https://doi.org/10.1558/jca.31771