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!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Continuing work at the William Kaulehelehe House Site

 The Queen Anne's Lace is still blooming in the area around the William Kaulehelehe House site and we are still finishing up excavations there, although most of the activity has been at the Little Prouxl site.  I spent a bit of time last week doing some finishing up work to close out the small 1 X 5 meter trench that tested the Hawaiian preachers house (Block K).  I had expected to find a few subsurface post and stake holes like we often encounter in the area beneath the dirt floors of the fur trade houses at Fort Vancouver.  After carefully troweling the floor and finding a few minor stains that had little depth and may have been associated with natural processes, I decided that the western-most unit needed at least one more level to make sure that we had not missed anything.  As often happens, this decision led to an increasingly more complex excavation challenge and some very interesting finds.  The eastern margin of the unit contained a nice gray clay, similar to the house floor at the Little Prouxl site, although this was on the outer, western edge of a shallow pit feature that we had excavated earlier in the summer.  Importantly, this clay seemed to dive to the east.  Following this clay proved to be very surprising as what had been thought to be culturally-sterile sediments below the floor turned out to be a fill with a similar color and texture, but that contained a number of artifacts from the house construction including square nails and window glass.

Gilt ring found at the William Kaulehelehe house site.
Interestingly, on the western margins of the clay-lined pit or trench, a man's gilt ring was found. While not of much real value (the gilt is all but gone), this ring is somewhat more fancy than the typical trade rings found at the Fort.  While far from a priceless piece of jewelry, it is intriguing to think that this may have been the personal property of the Hawaiian minister that was lost one day.  One wonders if it had any meaning to him or if he even mourned its loss.

The clay dipped further east into the hole requiring some time to clear.  Surprisingly, a small ceramic sherd was found that has very
rounded edges.  While the transferprint pattern is quite distinctive, the rounding and the small size of the object suggest that it may be an artifact that was subjected to a unique formation process after it was deposited.  Another site associated with the Catholic Mission that we dug on City of Vancouver property about 9 years ago contained similar objects that we interpreted to be gastroliths, or gizzard stones, probably from chickens or some other domesticated fowl.  Birds don't have teeth and to compensate for this, they injest small rocks and other objects (sometimes glass and sometimes ceramics) to help in grinding down their food.  These gizzard stones have been found on archaeological sites before and give a clue, albeit diminutive in size, as to the presence and sometimes the processing of fowl.  

Gastrolith found at the
William Kaulehelehe House Site

On a related note, the clay beneath the ring appears to contain a great deal of bird shot although it is unknown if this represents an area where birds were processed or simply the loss of many very small objects.  In a small test of the clay, I found nearly 50 pieces of shot.

As we had some cloud cover today, I spent a bit of time cleaning up the features of Block K including the newly exposed clay-lined pit/trench and then took photographs to create a 3D model of the test trench.  I made a short YouTube video that you may access at the link below.
YouTube video of 3D Model of Block K

Monday, August 12, 2013

Working with the Oregon Archaeological Society

Oregon Archaeological Society Volunteers help out at the Little Proulx site. Staff Elaine
Dorset and Katie Wynia are training the volunteers on the first day.
 Well, the field school is now over and we have begun the next phase of excavations with the Oregon Archaeological Society.  This is a less frenetic pace, as the lecture series is now over, the work at the Spruce Mill is completed and we have volunteers out on Wed, Friday and Saturday. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we catch up on paperwork and finish work that the volunteers have left us.  We have been working at the Little Proulx site with the volunteers and are completing the removal of the clay-lined house floor.  There is a significant concentration of artifacts in the eastern part of the house and appear to have encountered the western edge of the house floor in units pictured above. Surprisingly we have not yet encountered the hearth.
Key and hardware found at
 the Little Prouxl House Site.

We found a very interesting cupreous fragment that may be part of the lock for a large key found in the adjacent unit.  The size and characteristics of the key appear to match that of a very large door key. This may match the time period when a U.S. Army Surgeon, Levi Holden, occupied the house (early 1850s). The Army rented some of the buildings from the Hudson's Bay Company, including the Little Prouxl house.  Additional information on Holden is listed in an article that was prepared by one of our volunteers last year, Jason Ainsley:

Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom, found at
the William Kaulehelehe house site.

We are also finishing up work at the William Kaulehelehe house site.  A feature that lines up with the hearth may be a footing feature, which also incidentally lines up nicely with the southern wall of our reconstructed House 1 (the Engage' house).  We appear to be on the north wall of the structure.  On excavation of the area immediately west of this feature, a bit of clay house floor was identified and a curious set of metal fragments.  These appear to be part of a tin (perhaps a tea tin) or the lid to a can or jar.  At first they appeared to have an Irish theme, with a harp and possibly a clover, but on closer examination we have discerned it is the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom.  As noted by Meagan Huff from the Fort Vancouver Facebook page, "The top fragment is half of a crown, the second from the top contains part of the phrase "Honi soit qui mal y pense," the motto of the Order of the Garter. The fragment third from the top has two barely-visible lions, which represent England. The bottom fragment has a harp, representing Ireland. The banner below it would have contained the words "Dieu et mon droit," the motto of the English monarchs. Research into what this object was for will be ongoing although its presence at a Hawaiian minister's house is quite intriguing with its statement on colonialism and identity with the British empire.

The change in pace has also given me the opportunity to work more closely with the digital forms and iPads to directly explore their use in the field.  A couple of thoughts after a week.  I found the same issues with the glare from the iPads that the students did, particularly when holding them level over the excavation units to attempt to get a plan view of a level or feature.  Even with the brightness increased to maximum, it was difficult at times to get a view of the unit and snap the picture and not lose part of the unit in the image.  This usually required a few shots to get the images I wanted.  Not a huge issue but an aggravation.  The nice thing is that the camera is available at any time for photographing, so I am taking many more images than I would normally.

Another benefit is the ability to use photos to help draw shapes.  Last week I was unhappy with the way in which a mule shoe had been drawn on the house floor by one of the students.  In order to get a better drawing, I took an image of the artifact in-situ, imported it into my level form, then scaled it to the correct size and location, zoomed in and traced the edges of the artifact.  This was done much more accurately and quickly than the hand-drawn method.  I have since tried this method with unit level rocks and the edges of surfaces/floors to improve the quality of the drawings.  I think this has been done to good benefit.  Once the image is traced, the photo is deleted leaving only the line drawing work.

I have been working on some fairly complex levels, with a variety of objects, sampling locations and artifact recording.  The forms seem to take a lot of time, probably longer than a paper form in the field.  The good thing is it is the result is quite legible (a chronic problem for some researchers and students) and the data can be extracted out of the form.  I think I like the annotation  capabilities the best. 

In reviewing the notes from the field school, I have seen that some of the students were quite unhappy with the iDraw program for drawing profiles, and felt they could draw the profiles much faster using paper and pencil (in fact some of them did).  While this may be a factor of unfamiliarity with the program and use of a tablet computer as much as frustration with the speed of entry, there are likely some valid thoughts.  I will explore the use of iDraw to annotate some of these student profiles this week and will report back on its use later.  Regardless, the longest time expended in the field, however, is still the bagging and recording of artifacts, particularly when there are a lot of artifact bags (a typical problem of historical archaeological sites). I will need to think about a means to improve the speed of this process with tablet computers.