Historic Archaeology

Spreading the Word about Archaeology in Illinois

My archaeological career began as a high school student participating in a field school at the Center for American Archeology in Kampsville, Illinois. Although my job responsibilities have changed over the years, my research interest still focuses on bioarchaeology and learning how people lived and died in the past. I have been working for almost 20 years at the Illinois State Archaeological Survey/Prairie Research Program at the University of Illinois.  Our organization has a long history with the Illinois Department of Transportation where we are responsible for conducting archaeological investigations prior to any type of road construction. During this time, I have had the opportunity to work with an amazing group of archaeologists who are dedicated to Illinois archaeology and site preservation.

In recent years I have become more involved in outreach and public engagement.  This is a very broad field and includes being involved with events such as ‘Archaeology Days’ at day camps, formal presentations to community groups, presenting research at professional conferences, and helping to organize events where we are able to share our knowledge with school groups and families as well as professional conferences.  In addition, we have recently made a push to disseminate information about Illinois archaeology through social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and our website. Fortunately, I work with three other amazing people (Mike Lewis, Angie Patton, and Linda Alexander) and we are each able to focus on one aspect of the process (selecting images, posting in Facebook or Twitter) so that the task doesn’t become overwhelming. My days often consist of lots of emails, attending meetings, giving presentations, assisting researchers gather information, entering Facebook posts, as well as – occasionally- my own research projects in bioarchaeology.

from David Davis History Career Day Camp website

I feel strongly that one of our responsibilities as archaeologists is to give back to communities and teach them about archaeology and the importance of preserving the past- whether it is preserving the site materials or the site itself.  One area of my job that I particularly enjoy is when I can interact with children and teach them about archaeology. Earlier this week, a coworker of mine (Alli Huber) and I assisted the staff at the McClean County Museum of History for their Archaeology Day – part of their week-long History Careers Day Camp. This is a wonderful program where the campers (grades 4-6) learn about the importance of history and the different types of careers. On Archaeology Day, Alli and I met the counselors and campers at the David Davis Mansion in Bloomington, Illinois, where the day started with the campers learning about the history of the David Davis family and the mansion, discussing the close relationship between history and archaeology, and what we can learn from each area of study. The days’ activities included a tour of the historic Mansion with some inside activities as well as a mock dig outside where fragmentary historic material similar to the time period the Davis Mansion was occupied were buried in sand. In addition to teaching them the basics on how archaeologists excavate using maps, trowels, measuring tapes, collecting and sorting materials, they learned how artifacts can tell us important information about who lived at a site and what their life was like. The last part of the day each of the groups sort through the material they discovered in their excavations and answered questions about what the artifacts tell us about the people who used them.  Inevitably, all the campers are excited about what they learn on this day and several tell me that they want to be an archaeologist when they grow up. When I hear those words, I feel that I have succeeded in my goal to pass on my curiosity and appreciation of the past to the next generation.

NPS Fort Vancouver Public Archaeology Field School 2011

This is the last day at the 10th National Parks Service (NPS) Fort Vancouver Public Archaeology Field School  based in Vancouver, Washington. Over the past 7 weeks the 18 students from Washington State University Vancouver, Portland State University and a few graduate students from all over the United States have come together to excavate a multicultural village, called Kanaka Village by the Americans due to the large Hawaiian population brought in by the English traders, that served to support the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post on the Columbia River in the 1830s and 40s.  We have been well trained in field techniques and methodology while investigating the purpose of a fenced-in open area in the middle of the village. We have also been interacting with the public on a daily basis. Interpretative training is a part of our curriculum and an essential part of our mission to raise awareness and foster public involvement in the history of the Columbia River and the Oregon-Washington coast. In addition to all this we have been attending regular lectures from visiting archaeologists on topics ranging from Saloon Archaeology to Fur Trade Archaeology in the Great Lakes region, and race and ethnicity in a constructed landscape in the American South.

The Hudson’s Bay Company Village was built along side the fort in the late 1820s as a place for non-officers or ranking company officials to live. The population dwarfed the fort population at its smallest with around 250 inhabitants and could swell into the thousands during the brigade season. It was the most culturally diverse area of the Western coast of North America for a significant portion of the 19th century with workers being brought in from across the globe by the Hudson’s Bay Company trading and interacting with over 30 distinct Native American  tribes at a major trading hub along the Columbia River. Most of the historic record of this era concerns itself with the lives and dealings of the officers and officials of the company and their perspectives of the villagers. Almost nothing is known about the daily lives of the villagers that is not revealed to us through archaeology.

Each of our trenches were investigating a different aspect of the open area in the village and students were rotated from trench to trench and would hone their interpretive skills informing any visitors who came to see what we were finding. Many times we would learn more from the public than they did from us but this is part of the beauty of Public Archaeology, each party walks away with a new outlook on the site.

This last week in our field school has been spent working on survey techniques. We have been camping at the Yeon Property, a new Parks Service acquisition by the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park on the Oregon Coast. New properties must be first archaeologically surveyed in order to identify any sites of significance in the area and to set up an archaeological baseline to protect and preserve any cultural resources on the property. We have been split into three groups of 5 or 6 each and over the past few days have rotated between digging 1m deep shovel probes at regular 30m intervals, conducting pedestrian surveys through the woods and sea grass to the ocean, and mapping the property with hand held GPS devices and today is no different.  It will be sad to say goodbye to all of our new friends and the Fort and its Village which we’ve all come to know and love but this will be tempered by the knowledge that we got to participate in something special – a uniquely designed Public Archaeology endeavor that involves and educates the public and trains all of us students to enter the field as well-rounded professionals and future leaders in archaeology.


If you’re ever in the Vancouver/Portland area please come and visit the Fort and experience part of the rich colonial and frontier history of the Hudson’s Bay Company and US Army eras on the West coast of the Oregon Territory, you won’t be disappointed. For more information about the field school, Fort Vancouver, or Kanaka Village, please visit our website.