Saturday, November 22, 2014

Laboratory Work in the Winter

This winter, Portland State University graduate student Emily Taber is running our avocational archaeology laboratory. Our dedicated volunteers-in-park archaeologists are working with Emily, Portland State University Research Assistant Katie Wynia and myself in preparing collections, analyzing, and interpreting the results. This year is special as we are preparing a synthetic report for the multi-year project in the Village. We also have three Washington State University Vancouver and one Portland State University interns helping out. Two are working on the flagstaff project from the summer and they have built a small exhibit in the fur store archaeology corridor inside the reconstructed fort. After about a month of laboratory work, everything is running smoothly and we are getting a handle on the multi-year project.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Notes from Jodi: In Lab and Field

This week I was assigned to lab. I was able to see what had come in from Block L and survey which was interesting because when I am up at the flag staff I have no contact with the rest of the group until the end of the day. As expected, there were many small sherds of many different types of ceramics to process because the week before block L had reached the house floor. There were also a lot of square nails, broken glass, broken clay pipe pieces, and many different types of artifacts to clean too.

On the first day we had a group of kids visiting from the Chehalis Tribe. There were about 35 kids and 6 adults. They were really interested in how we clean and process each different kind of artifact and they really seemed to enjoy viewing the many different artifacts we had out on the table at the time. 

I was also able to process my own finds from the flag staff and that was pretty nice to be able to see the artifacts come from the ground covered in soil to cleaning them up and getting them ready for processing. They look very different when all of the soil has been removed. I was even able to clean the wood that we recovered. We had to lightly brush the wood so that we wouldn’t destroy it. I think it’s pretty amazing to find wood in such great condition after being buried for over 125 years! It almost looked brand new!

After 2 days of lab, we were moved out to Block L because there wasn’t that much left to process in the lab. I began to work on unit L31 and was able to uncover over 40 sherds of ceramics and at least 20 pieces of glass. I also began to uncover a large triangular shaped piece of metal but I had to leave it in situ because it is still protruding out of the next level. I can’t wait to see what it may be!

In the unit next to me is where all of the action seemed to be. Heidi was working in that unit and uncovered a very large iron key! 

She also uncovered a large molar tooth that turned out to be pig's tooth. There were also many other large animal bones and post holes uncovered in Block L. In other news, I heard that at the Flag Staff dig they have reached 120 cm down and still have not reached the bottom of the pit that was dug to hold it. I wonder if they will uncover the flag staff this week? This is very exciting!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Student's View of the Flag Staff Dig

Jodi Marshall: This week I was back at the Parade Ground in search of the elusive flag staff erected about 1850 after the U.S. military took over the fort. It was said to be so tall that it could be seen up and down the Columbia and might have been as tall as 150 feet! It disappeared from pictures and writtenrecords in the mid 1870s. As far as we know, it was not documented as to what happened to it so it is a mystery. We are also not sure as to how it was erected so we only have the knowledge of how it would have been traditionally done. What we are looking for is the base or ballast of the flag staff. The park would eventually like to reconstruct it along with the original path that lead from the front of the Grant house ( now a restaurant on the City of Vancouver's Officers Row) directly to the flag post. This is very exciting!

On the first day back at the site, I was brought up to speed as to what had happened while I was gone. There were four small holes or voids that had opened up within three of the four units. This was exciting at first but they ended up being Krotovina (rodent holes.) Bits of wood had became more abundant along with fire-cracked rock.

On the second day Dr. Beth Horton decided to bring one of our 1x1 meter units down farther than the rest as she was suspecting that it was near the flag staff. I screened all day and began to recover lithic debitage, which are stone flakes or biproducts from making stone tools. This was very puzzling because the level that we were in was the age of the US military and not of a precontact American Indian site. So how did the debitage get in there? We are still not sure. There were also many new holes that opened up within the unit but looked like they were Krotovina again or perhaps just loose dirt from the flagstaff hole.

On day three Beth uncovered a very large piece of wood in the middle of one of the Units. The next day it was uncovered even more and turned out to be a larger piece of timber sitting at about a 45 degree angle. There was also a larger piece of timber discovered sitting on the western side of the same unit. There are still many pieces of lithic debitage being recovered in this unit too. The south east corner began to collapse or crumble down as if there were a large void underneath it. It turns out that it was just loose soil due to having been disturbed some time ago. Could this mean we have found the site of the flag staff? Stay tuned…      

Editors note: a story in the Columbian just ran on the flag staff dig. Here is the link:

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Student's View of Archaeological Survey

I had the opportunity to be on the survey team this week. Earlier in the week we learned how to measure our own personal pace unit. My magic number is .701cm per each step I take. We also learned to walk in transects as a group and using a compass. It was much harder than I thought it would be due to the hills and uneven terrain we were practicing in. Who knew walking a straight line could be so hard! When we first did it, we were directly outside of the fort in the field and Heidi happened upon a hatchet left after a demonstration probably for the Fourth of July. Later on I found a woman’s bracelet up on the upper parade ground and turned it in.

We spent a few days digging 40cm wide by 80cm deep test probes in the area of the old Spruce Mill site to help locate the tent city that was within the mill area. In all we dug 12 holes. We mostly found a lot of asphalt and concrete left over from the old hangers but we also found some broken glass, a few machine cut nails, fire-cracked rock, small pieces of brick, a small metal hook, and even an old cigarette butt. It was very hot during the week and there was little shade to enjoy throughout the day. It is in a large field however and there was an abundance of birds to watch. I even found a wasp’s nest within the tall grass. We had just a few visitors this week, surprisingly mostly people that had a lot of knowledge about the site or archeology itself.

Today we finished up the week learning how to read and create maps by utilizing a compass and GPS. Our team leader Justin created two different “sites” and we had to map them out using both methods. One was an old cabin with a “fallen plank,” tin can, a piece of broken glass, and a shot gun shell so we hypothesized that the depositshappened by someone sitting on a porch, eating out of a can of beans, and shooting their gun. The second “site” was of a precontact site due to the absence of any European or post contact material. There was a projectile point, a ring of cobbles as if there were arranged for a fire, flint knapping debris, and animal bone. I really enjoyed this exercise. Next week I will be working again at the flag staff. I heard that they might be getting close to uncovering the post. How exciting!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Another student blog post

From Last Week:

Jodi Marshall: Today I was happy to find out that I would be working up at the flag staff this week. Last week I heard that they were beginning to find things like nails and glass. I too found similar things today. It seems peculiar that there is any kind of debris at this site where the flag staff is thought to have stood. Given all of the shards of glass and fire-cracked rock, I feel that we have some sort of dump site that was burned. I am pondering this however because I can’t understand yet why the military would have thrown any kind of rubbish on the parade grounds.

Students excavate at the Vancouver Barracks Parade Ground. The hole you see in this photo is a void that may be related to the site of the post's Flag Staff. Hopefully our excavations this summer will let us know for sure!

The parade ground itself was quite busy today as the Fourth of July is almost upon us. The Army was there practicing for a change-of-command ceremony. A few soldiers came over to inquire what we were doing. We also had a group of young people come over to watch us.  One of the girls asked how we found the area where we think the flag staff is located and Mikayla and I had a chance to explain to the group that we had used a magnetometer to help locate it. They were also excited to be able to watch Heidi screen a bucket of excavated sediment. This site is so interesting and I can’t wait to reach the next stratum. 

Blogging about Fort Vancouver, a Student's View

As part of an internship in public archaeology, some of our students will be periodically posting about their experiences at the Fort Vancouver Public Archaeology Field School. This will provide a different perspective on the school that will augment my posts.  Enjoy!

Jodi Marshall: I have been working on Block L (the Little Prouxl House Site) for the last few days and have found it challenging but very interesting. When we first uncovered the fill from the block that had been placed in it last year, you could clearly see the different levels of strata along the exposed walls. Doug Wilson mapped out eight new units to excavate west and south of the block.

So far we have found a piece of flat glass, bits of charcoal, and a few wire cut nails. In the unit across from ours a piece of transferprinted whiteware was discovered. There have been many pieces of expended copper bullets (they called it shrapnel two years ago until they figured out they were bullets, probably shot at a target) found within my unit. Overall, it has been interesting peeling back the layers from different time periods and I am very excited to see what lies beneath.

This field photo of a piece of transferprinted ceramic whiteware was found in 20th century deposits above the World War I railroad spur line. It is an out-of-context artifact that suggests that earlier fur-trade and early U.S. Army deposits are nearby.

The weather overall has been good. There have only been just a small handful of people coming and visiting the dig site but I am sure this will increase as the summer progresses. We have been touring the fort as well and have been learning many interesting facts about not only the structures but the people that lived here as well. I was surprised to learn that General Ulysses Grant never actually lived at the Grant House (named in his honor after he had finished his presidency). It is also interesting that there were so many other buildings at the fort that were reconstructed based on archaeology.  I am excited to start the excavation on the parade grounds at what we think is where the old flag staff was. Since there are no up close pictures of it, we are relying on old images of the landscape that include the flag staff. By looking at the pictures, it was very tall and could probably have been seen for many miles up and down the Columbia River. It must have been quite an impressive sight to behold as people traveled by.   

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Return to Fort Vancouver

Exploring Fort Vancouver National Historic Site: The Public Archaeology Field School at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Tuesday - Saturday, June 17 - August 2, 2014

Well, it is time for the archaeologists to return to the Village and elsewhere at Fort Vancouver. This summer, Portland State University, Washington State University Vancouver, and the National Park Service will be conducting its 13th  field school in historical archaeology at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Students in the field school will work with Park Service archaeologists to conduct archaeological excavations throughout the park.

Students will be primarily working in two areas. Teams of student archaeologists will be returning to work in the area to the west of the fort that was once the site of the Hudson's Bay Company Village. This area was a densely populated and ethnically diverse neighborhood made up of employees of Fort Vancouver. Excavations will focus on the sites of two Village houses: the house of Little Proulx, a French-Canadian fur trader, and the house of William Kaulehelehe, a Hawaiian educator who served the fort's Hawaiian population. Later, this area was the site of the U.S. Army's Quartermaster's Depot, part of the World War I Spruce Mill, which cut aviation-grade spruce for America's war effort, and a barracks and training compound for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Another team of students will be working on the Vancouver Barracks Parade Ground, excavating the site of the historic post's flag staff. A recent study that I put together with Dr. Elizabeth Horton, a National Park Service Archaeologist who recently completed her doctoral dissertation on the historical archaeology of the soldiers and their families at Vancouver Barracks, has identified the location of the 1854-1879 flag staff, which will be the subject of this year's explorations. As Dr. Horton has written, "The colors, or flag, that flew from the post's flag staff was a tangible object that served as a visual reminder of the common group identity of the soldiers on the post. It was a highly significant and symbolic location for the post. All of the early U.S. maps of the post and region measured from the flag staff."

From 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM Tuesday through Saturday, June 24-August 2, the dig sites will be accessible to the public. Members of the public are invited to visit the dig sites and talk with archaeologists and students about this year's finds. Stay tuned for more updates as the excavations unfold for 2014!