Standing knee deep in mud on the edge of a ravine, nine archaeology students sifted through pile after pile of dirt over the summer, searching for clues to the history of the Quileute Tribe.
The students involved in a summer course were going through midden – dirt containing artifacts – that was moved to the ravine when the Quileute Tribe built a senior center in downtown La Push, Wash.
The class found tools that were used for fishing, sea mammal hunting, basket making and woodworking. Most of the objects were between 400 and 800 years old, and one fishing tool is believed to be 1,000 years old.
“In a short period of time, it is unusual to find very many archaeological materials,” said Huelsbeck, who took the students to La Push for his course to help archaeologist Gary Wessen. “Because of the nature of what we did with this site, we found lots of materials.”
The project gave students hands-on experience. “I learned how to get my hands dirty in archaeology,” said Anthony Anderson ’05, who participated in the dig.
Anderson, who is an anthropology major and a geosciences minor, said this class was different because actually trying to figure out whether something is an artifact is nothing like looking at it in the book.
Some of the items the class found help tell the history of the area. Fur seal and northern sea lion bones were common finds. These bones show that there were once breeding colonies in the area – fur seal is not found there at all now and the northern sea lion is less common than it used to be. The dig yielded a rare find: traces of sturgeon, which is not a local fish. The group surmised there either used to be sturgeon in the area or the tribe fished elsewhere.
“We know the biogeography of the area has changed,” Huelsbeck said. “We found evidence of it.”
It wasn’t the only archaeological work done by students and faculty over the summer. Claire Barr ’05 went to a field school in New Mexico, and Stefanie Midlock ’06 attended field school in Denmark.
And, two students went to Peru with Kevin Vaughn, visiting assistant professor of anthropology.
Vaughn, who has been studying the Nasca civilization in Peru since 2002, directs a project titled Proyecto Nasca Temprano or the Early Nasca Craft Economy Project. The project seeks to understand the complexities of Early Nasca ceramic production, distribution and use.
According to Vaughn, the Nasca are known for their highly developed and refined polychrome handmade ceramics. Based on his research, Vaughn says the pottery was usually reserved for elites, but has been found in areas where average homes were. He wants to find out why.
Gabi Brockman ’05 and Ryan Snodgrass ’05 are helping with his research. “I’ve been working pretty closely with them for the past couple years,” Vaughn said. “I’m very excited to have them on the project.”
Brockman and Snodgrass each headed up a surface collection at one of two sites. They collected and analyzed artifacts in regard to different areas of the site – for example, whether the items were found near buildings or other structures. The students then compared their find
Vaughn said archaeology trips are great opportunities for students. “You’ve got all these students going to different places around the world,” he said. “I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Similar to the students in Peru, the class in La Push had both an archaeological and cultural experience. One evening, the students were invited to a healing drummer drum circle where tribal members played songs, talked about things happening in the community, told jokes and performed “love circles,” a dance that provides support for those in need.
The tribe also performed a welcome song for the class. “We danced and sang with them,” Anderson said. “That day we realized how much they did care we were there. I know it’s a day I’ll remember for a long time.”
Anderson said the students’ work helped the tribe preserve its culture. In fact, there are tentative plans to create a museum for the artifacts, which would take care of them in a way that would reinforce traditional Quileute culture. Some artifacts that have been found are also in PLU’s anthropology lab, which gives more students an up-close look at the discoveries. (See related story, page 23.)
“Obviously, it’s an intense experience,” Hueslbeck said. “I often tell students what we do is study other people’s garbage. After about a week of doing it, you either love it or you know you should look for another line of work. It’s really about turning bits of information into data that can help answer questions about people’s lives.”