“It was face-up,” said Tait, a Portland State University student.
When it was removed from the soil and turned over, the little metal loop on the back that was used to sew the button onto the uniform “was completely intact,” she said.
The button was in a productive layer of artifacts that went down about 2 inches. The 100 or so artifacts included a piece of pipe bowl, a sliver of bottle glass, a hand-painted fragment of a dish and the rusty remnant of an iron nail: all familiar finds at Fort Vancouver, but not much that advances the research.
The brass button is literally another story. The story it tells documents the U.S. Army’s arrival in 1849, said Doug Wilson, National Park Service archaeologist.
“The ‘A’ means it was an artilleryman,” said Wilson, the project’s principal investigator.
On May 13, 1849, two companies of the 1st U.S. Artillery under the command of Maj. John Hatheway arrived at Fort Vancouver.
“We know through records that the Army rented a building here from the Hudson’s Bay Company,” Wilson said. “So that ‘A’ is a clue to the first American soldiers here.
“That’s the moment of transition from the fur trade to American immigration,” Wilson said. “You rarely get that kind of tie.”
“That’s pretty amazing,” said Tait, a geography student from Portland who is interested in archaeology.
“It was probably a cuff button,” added park service archaeologist Beth Horton. “Those were the ones that soldiers were most likely to lose” during their daily duties.
On Friday, Kimberli Fitzgerald uncovered another brass find, a container lid measuring about three-quarters of an inch by about 1 1/2 inches.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said Fitzgerald, a Portland State student from Hillsboro, Ore.
They don’t know yet what was in the container, but as research continues, “We try to understand how people lived and worked on this site,” Fitzgerald said.
The annual field school is held in partnership with Washington State University Vancouver and Portland State University.
The field school runs through July 28. Members of the public can drop in from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays, and learn about the research. However, the dig will be shut down this Tuesday because the students will be at a different site.
The summer archaeology field school includes other events, including a lecture series. All events are free and open to the public.
The final two lectures are at 7 p.m. at the Fort Vancouver Visitor Center, 1501 E. Evergreen Blvd., opposite the east end of Officers Row.
• Thursday — Fort Apache Pasts, Presents, Futures: John R. Welch (associate archaeology professor at Simon Fraser University) will discuss relationships among the Apache people, soldiers, bureaucrats and advocates for cultural perpetuation, economic development and historic preservation at the Arizona heritage site.
• July 27 — Smudge Pits, Clay Pots, and Ball Courts: Understanding the Relationship Between People and Things: James Skibo (Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Illinois State University) will describe relationships between people and things by exploring clay cooking pots, ball courts from the American Southwest and fur-trade-era smudge pits in Michigan.