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Public Archaeology Field School to dig in at Fort Vancouver

Public can visit site in July; effort focuses on schools for fur traders’ children

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
2 Photos
A painting showing of Fort Vancouver around 1845 by Richard Schlect shows a pair of buildings north of the fort, just north of where Fifth Street is today, that were built to educate Indigenous and M?tis (Indigenous and European) children.
A painting showing of Fort Vancouver around 1845 by Richard Schlect shows a pair of buildings north of the fort, just north of where Fifth Street is today, that were built to educate Indigenous and M?tis (Indigenous and European) children. (National Park Service) Photo Gallery

A team of students from Portland State University and Washington State University, professional archaeologists and the National Park Service are set to study the former site of a school for Indigenous and Métis children at Fort Vancouver.

The annual Public Archaeology Field School will run from July 1-30.

Students at the Fort Vancouver schools were children of fur trade families who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company. They included Indigenous children from local tribes and Métis children of mixed European and Indigenous heritage, according to the National Park Service.

By 1836, there were about 60 students attending the schools.

The public is invited to visit the sites on East Fifth Street and inside the Fort Vancouver stockade to talk with the team during the excavations, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Ranger-led tours will also be available on at 10 a.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays during the month of July.

Katie Wynia, PSU archaeologist and field director, describes Fort Vancouver as “a place where there are many layers of history.”

The archaeology students will have the opportunity to explore the site’s multiethnic history. Wynia said the archaeological resources of the site provide tangible evidence of the past and allow students to explore the depth of colonialism of the West.

“To better understand our current society and the challenges we face, we need to look at the many different facets of our past,” Wynia said. “We need to look at our past more fully to better understand how we got here and how we might move toward a better future.”

Students will learn important archaeological skills through hands-on field and technological experiences, as well as learning how to communicate their findings to the public. Wynia said the Public Archaeological Field School at Fort Vancouver has become a tradition since 2001.

“It brings together our community to support students and learn about the history of this special place,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to talking with visitors at the dig site and showing them what we find.”

Wynia said students will be conducting subsurface survey and excavation, digging into areas to get a sample of what’s in the ground. They’ll then dig out larger excavation sites and record findings on field forms, including any artifact from the original schoolhouse to locate the later schoolhouse sites.

They’ll make note of what was found and where it was found and send any artifacts to the on-site archaeology lab, located inside the Fur Store at Fort Vancouver, where the items will be analyzed and cleaned.

After the field work wraps up, students will interpret data to better understand what activities happened at the schools and what life was like for those who lived there.

Wynia said that although students can learn much from documentation and correspondence between people, there is something valuable about doing field work on the land itself.

“Archaeological excavations help us gather information that wasn’t recorded, sometimes information about the people who lived here but were unable to record their own stories,” she said. “Science helps us understand the world around us, both the natural world and the cultural world.”

Columbian staff writer

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