Guest Post – By Undergraduate Alyssa Schoeffler

The artifact researched for this blog post was a single sherd of whiteware with a molded edge featuring a decal design of a blue bird and pink flowers.  After conducting several fruitless internet searches in an attempt to identify the manufacturer, I finally made contact with a University of Idaho graduate student, Ashley Morton, who was able to solve the mystery.  The sherd turned out to be a classic “blue bird” design manufactured widely by the Homer Laughlin Ceramics Company.  Homer Laughlin used this decal in several different ways on several different dinnerware designs in order to create new, affordable styles between 1917 and 1959.  The sherd recovered from Kooskia came from a piece “Republic” style dinnerware, identifiable by its slightly scalloped molded edge. The blue bird motif was most popular in America in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

"Blue Bird" Homer Laughlin Sherd
“Blue Bird” Homer Laughlin Sherd

Based on the fact that the bluebird sherd was recovered from the incinerator feature, it is likely that it was deposited as refuse.  Unfortunately, the disturbed nature of the context in which it was found on the surface precludes any kind of dating that we may have been able to attain from soil stratigraphy.  Without such a reference, we are left with the manufacture dates of this particular kind of ceramic which ranges from 1917-1959 to use as a relative dating tool.  We know that the Kooskia Internment Camp operated as a Civilian Conservation Corps camp and federal prison in the years prior to World War II, becoming operational as an Internment camp in May of 1943 through May of 1945.  Since even the earliest dates of occupation, when Kooskia was established as a CCC camp in 1933, correspond with the manufacture dates of Homer Laughlin Republic tableware featuring the bluebird decals, it is hard to narrow down when it may have been deposited.  Knowing when it was deposited may offer insight into who deposited it which in turn may illuminate questions as to whom it may have belonged to.  Perhaps the first research question should be how was it deposited?  If we are going to assume that it was discarded as garbage there are more questions that beg answering: Was all refuse from the camp disposed of in the incinerator?  Was internee refuse separated from refuse created by the guards?  If they were disposed of separately, was this behavior prescribed or coincidental? Answering such questions may provide insight into such issues as sanitation practices, socioeconomic status of non-internees and possibly the modes of acquisition of personal possessions belonging internees.

One thought on “Guest Post – By Undergraduate Alyssa Schoeffler

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  1. I am glad someone got to research this piece more in depth; I have laid my eyes upon in several times in the lab hoping to get around to it at some point in time.

    Just to add another point to the conversation, the Kooskia Camp was disbanded in May 1945 because it was the close of the war. In this instance, internees were being released to their homes, not to another camp, and may of the officers, along with their families, were likely being relocated to another job position. Due to this, we may be seeing a higher volume of discarded items than would otherwise be normal during occupation of the camp; meaning some items are likely being “tossed” regardless of ware, by internees and officers alike, even if there is another refuse pile, yet to be located, that was separate for the officers. This was also probably the case when the CCC was disbanded prior to the internment camp.

    For archaeologists, examining “dump” sites can provide a lot of insight, for example people can lie about things like consumption, but what they throw away can tell the truth for them. Seeing a mass closure of the camp, through the eyes of the incinerator, can provide many more insights than just normal use over time.

    Alyssa posits some amazing questions as the end of the blog, and I agree that, despite the lack of dating from stratigraphy, by the end of this project, hopefully, new insights into power structures from American internment camps will be gleaned. The unique situations that surround the Kooskia Internment Camp will provide much toward comparative studies on the topic in the future.

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