2011 Public Archaeology Field School

Field School student excavating a trash pit
A 2011 Field School student excavates a trash pit feature in the Village. Note the large sherd of Chinese exportware ceramic .


Exploring the Roots of Diversity in the Far Northwest: The Public Archaeology Field School at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Tuesdays through Saturdays, June 14 - July 30, 2011

The 2011 Public Archaeology Field School at Fort Vancouver continued the 2010 research on land use in the Village. Nineteen students from around the country learned valuable skills in the areas of excavation, survey, laboratory work, and interpretation over the course of seven weeks. Under the direction of National Park Service Archaeologist Dr. Douglas Wilson, excavation took place in Fort Vancouver's multicultural employee Village located to the west of the fort Stockade. For many students, the school was their first experience in the field and a vital step toward becoming an archaeologist.

While learning archaeological methods, the students' work added to the over 50 years of archaeology in the Village. Archaeology is an important research method for understanding life in the Village because most Village occupants were illiterate, leaving few written accounts of their experiences. The research goal for the 2011 Field School was to continue the exploration of how Village residents utilized the landscape around their houses. This included the use of outbuildings, activity areas, and land for gardening and raising livestock.

Dog Burial
One of the two dog burials discovered in the Village during the 2011 Field School


The field school completed unfinished units from 2010 and opened additional adjacent units. This allowed further exploration of a refuse pit, a fire pit concentration, one house location, and the yards of two houses. Excavation units were also opened in an area previously excavate in the late 1960s that intersected a large cluster of cobbles. This concentration was thought to possibly represent a building foundation or a Hawaiian shrine. Further, soil sample collection continued in 2011 to assess pollen, phytolith, and trace elements in the soil. These samples will be processed to determine activities like plant cultivation in house yards.

Excavators encountered numerous artifacts and features during field school, providing insights into life in the Village and the use of the area after the Hudson's Bay Company left. Students uncovered a variety of Village features, including two dog burials, a portion of a house floor, and a concentration of fire pits. The dog burials demonstrate the relationship of Village residents and their pets. The dogs were carefully laid in the ground, one wrapped in what appears to be a green blanket. Excavations intersected a portion of a house floor, possibly representing a new house location. Work in 2012 will possibly continue in this location to determine whether this is a new house or part of a previously identified house.

2011 Field School
A 2011 Field School student uses an optical level to measure elevations in the Village


Finally, work in 2010 and 2011 uncovered a cluster of fire pits thought to represent an activity area for processing hides, or for producing smoke to clean the air of disease according to medical theories of the period. Students also found artifacts and features relating to the later use of the area by the U.S. Army and the Civilian Conservation Corps in the twentieth century. The results of the excavations will add to the understanding of not only Village life, but also the varied usage of the area throughout time.

The public component of the field school involved training the students in interpretation, enabling interaction with park visitors. Students spent a portion of their time in the field explaining what they were finding to the public and answering questions about archaeology. Through their efforts, students provided a unique way for visitors to connect with their local history.

2011 Field School students survey at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park
2011 Field School students work to survey property at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park


For their final week, the field school traveled to a newly acquired property of Lewis and Clark National Historical Park near Warrenton, Oregon. Students learned archaeological survey techniques consisting of how to use a compass, pedestrian survey, site mapping, and shovel probe excavation techniques. Their efforts assisted the National Park Service in assessing the cultural resources of the property.

The field school trained the students in basic archaeological techniques, and the students' efforts over the summer produced invaluable information for both of the parks. Their work at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park will aid the park in the protection of cultural resources. At Fort Vancouver, the excavations provided new insights into Village life. The students' seven weeks of work in the summer of 2011 add to the ongoing efforts to better understand and protect our past.

Last updated: February 28, 2015

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