So This Is Archaeology – Part III

At last, the long-awaited conclusion to our field school adventures (Here is Part I, Part II, and the Birthday addition). What a great four weeks, and an awesome crew. I can’t wait for next year 🙂

So as I think I’ve mentioned before, archaeology happens in all kinds of environments and conditions. Sometimes you’re going to get very, very wet….
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And sometimes you will get very, very muddy.

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Here’s a collection of some of the lovely bits of chert we found scattered in the sand along the river bank we were exploring (Including the lovely point I found on my birthday). These have clearly been worked by human hands, and a couple of pieces appear to be broken bits of completed tools, but we never did find exactly where they were coming from. We suspect that the area may have been looted, possibly multiple times over the years, and the bits we found were the pieces that looters dropped on the beach as they worked, but we will probably never know for sure. Looting is unfortunately common in many areas, and there simply isn’t the money or manpower to keep watch over everything.

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After spending a good few days in the muck and heat, we took an afternoon to tour around Fort Vancouver. Many of the original buildings have been re-created according to historical records and archaeological evidence in order to make them as accurate as possible. Here we’re talking to a volunteer in the Blacksmith’s Shop. I believe he’s demonstrating how one of the old handmade beaver traps worked.

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Every summer there’s a field school at Fort Vancouver, and they have never yet run out of places to excavate. The fort has a relatively long history with multiple different eras of occupation, so there are sites galore here. If I remember right the students here had just dug down to the floor level of a cabin from the early 1800’s. It’s fun to talk to students from other field schools and trade war stories.

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For the last day of the school a group of us went out to a small island that we’ve been wanting to explore for years. We didn’t excavate, but we did screen the dirt from mole hills (Sometimes moles will dig up bits of charcoal or flint flakes as they tunnel). We didn’t find any evidence of human activity, but it was still a beautiful place and a fantastic day.

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All around the edges of the lakes and rivers we were finding these bizarre clear jelly blobs. Nothing visible inside of them, very firm, no odor. Couldn’t figure out what on earth they were! Then when I posted a picture on Facebook a friend knew immediately what they were: Bryozoans!

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Some sites are just plain difficult to get to when you’re doing field work. We needed to get to the other side of the island, so the kids took the water route, slipping and sloshing through mud and goo. I took the overland route, which ended up being me plowing through Thorny Bushes Of Doom with my face. We all made it to the other side alive (And didn’t drop any of the equipment) and that’s what matters 🙂

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As we were breaking for lunch I spotted a little pile of very dry coyote poop. Now, some people want nothing to do with any kind of poo, but in archaeology waste can sometimes be a fantastic source of information (And it was VERY dry. I’m not messing with fresh poo. Yuck). Here are the crunched-up bits of bone from a single coyote poo. I think I see rabbit and baby deer in there, but I’m not up on my animal bone identification (I always did horribly in that class).

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And the final day is done. Back to the lab to clean and store all the gear. This really was a great season and I miss this group a ton. I hope some of them come back next year for more mud, mosquitoes, heat, dirt, and exploration 🙂

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Another bryozoan colony, because they are TOO COOL!

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2 comments on “So This Is Archaeology – Part III

  1. rangewriter says:

    Fascinating. Especially the Bryozoan, and really, you see all that in the handful of poop remains? That is amazing! I confess to examining poo, too. I just don’t quite know what the heck it is I’m seeing aside from fur. 😉

    • Coyote poop is great, mostly because coyotes are so common across the country, and they tend to gulp down their food in pretty big chunks so you get large bits of identifiable bone. Owl poop is fascinating too, but harder to find unless you happen to live near an old barn or something. I actually have another picture of a tiny baby deer hoof I found in another piece of coyote poo, but I just couldn’t bring myself to post it. I mean……….BABY DEER FOOT ACK!

      The bryozoans were so cool. Apparently they’re quite common, I just hadn’t been in the right place at the right time before. At first we were thinking maybe some kind of weird frog egg mass, but there’s literally nothing to see in the jelly, they’re just totally clear.

      I’m sad about the beach we were on where we found all of that chert. It really looks like looters have come through and potentially taken some really important artifacts, but there’s really nothing anyone can do except keep an eye out for people trying to sell stone arrowheads and such.

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