Archaeology on the Oregon Coast

The Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology, or SOULA, is a small on-campus archaeology firm that conducts archaeological research in southwest Oregon.

On the 2014 Day of Archaeology, SOULA was tasked with finding the remains of buildings from a late nineteenth century homestead. We georeferenced aerial photos and nineteenth century maps in order to locate the location of the former buildings on today’s landscape. Industrial development in the area has led to some coastline alterations, and what was dry land in the early twentieth century is now up to 5 feet below water (depending on the tide).

In an attempt to catch the site when it was as dry as possible, the crew headed to the beach at the crack of dawn to test the site during a minus tide event. Working in tidal mudflats poses a whole series of logistical issues- there is quicksand-like mud, unstable sediments, and an ever replenishing flow of water. While archaeology is best conducted under controlled conditions, it is important to be flexible and ready to do some creative problem solving. After hours of slumping, collapsing, and frustrating work in units, we decided to work with the water, rather than against it. Check out the photos below to see what our day in the field was like!

The view from our office today.  SOULA archaeologist Katie Johnson is using a hand held GPS unit to identify the precise location of the former historic buildings on the site.

The view from our office today. SOULA archaeologist Katie Johnson is using a hand held GPS unit to identify the precise location of the former historic buildings on the site.

We used driftwood to create wooden pathways that would allow us to move around in the quicksand-like mud.  A boat was equipped with a pump, allowing us to use water to screen the excavated material recovered from the units.

We used driftwood to create wooden pathways that would allow us to move around in the quicksand-like mud. A boat was equipped with a pump, allowing us to use water to screen the excavated material recovered from the units.

 

We were a little optimistic about how dry it would be out on the mud flats, and found out real quick that square holes just weren’t going to happen in the soggy mud.   We also found….

We were a little optimistic about how dry it would be out on the mud flats, and found out real quick that square holes just weren’t going to happen in the soggy mud. We also found….

A baby clam!! (don’t worry, we put it back safe and sound!)

A baby clam!! (don’t worry, we put it back safe and sound!)

Buckets of sediment removed from the units was taken over to the water screen station to be sifted through 1/8-inch mesh screen. Wet, messy work, but the most effective way to process the muck.

Buckets of sediment removed from the units was taken over to the water screen station to be sifted through 1/8-inch mesh screen. Wet, messy work, but the most effective way to process the muck.

Even with the minus tide, flooding in the unit forced us to come up with a Plan B.  Since we could not avoid or eliminate water from the unit, we decided to work with it, rather than against it.

Even with the minus tide, flooding in the unit forced us to come up with a Plan B. Since we could not avoid or eliminate water from the unit, we decided to work with it, rather than against it.

When the remains of a building began to come up in the sand, we used the screening station hose to carefully remove the non-cultural bay sediment and expose the feature.  A series of ditches were used to control the flow of the water away from the feature. We were even able to channelize the water above the feature so it would help us remove the fluffy sand and silt on top of the archaeological deposits.

When the remains of a building began to come up in the sand, we used the screening station hose to carefully remove the non-cultural bay sediment and expose the feature. A series of ditches were used to control the flow of the water away from the feature. We were even able to channelize the water above the feature so it would help us remove the fluffy sand and silt on top of the archaeological deposits.

We got flooded out by the return of the tide and have to wait until tomorrow to find out more about our buried site.  We will head back out at first light, with more shovels and hoses! Wish us luck!

We got flooded out by the return of the tide and have to wait until tomorrow to find out more about our buried site. We will head back out at first light, with more shovels and hoses! Wish us luck!