The Past Leads to a Future: Preserving Artifacts From Historic Site
by Amanda Cairo
Digging into the soil, hoping to find the evidence to help support her theories, graduate student Tiffany Brunson is on a mission. Gaining field work experience not only supports her thesis, but it gives her the leadership skills and the physical skills to take with her into the future.
Brunson, of Moscow, is part of a team working at Fort Spokane in Washington’s Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, through a research partnership with the National Park Service and paid for through a grant from the John Calhoun Smith Foundation. While the site is largely known for its military days, the team is hoping to find clues about a relatively unstudied corner of history – American Indian boarding schools.
“Being out here, looking for evidence, digging where you think something might be, it brings you closer to what you are studying,” says Brunson, an anthropology graduate student advised by Dr. Stacey Camp.
As a former archeologist for the park service prior to attending University of Idaho for graduate studies, Brunson was familiar with the area, but it was her thirst for knowledge that made her dig deeper.
Having chosen a relatively unresearched specialty in archeology – focused on Indian boarding schools and children -- Brunson also chose a site that has little excavation history. Added to that challenge, most of the buildings are gone, part of the parade grounds had been used by farmers and the area had been a favorite picnic and recreation site between the years of closure and the park service taking it over. Brunson added that there has been unreported digging on the site, especially at the turn of the 20th century “trash pit.”
“It’s getting harder to preserve some of this history, and the longer we wait to record it, the further away it gets,” says Brunson. “There’s so little on the history, and even less on the archeology.”
It’s not just Brunson who is gaining experience, graduate student Daniel Carlini is taking on crew chief responsibilities and gaining supervisor experience in the field and lending his expertise in the lab. In addition to Brunson’s project, he will be visiting his site on the Salmon River later in the summer to look at soil horizons and the correlation between environmental changes and human development.
“It’s a good way for me to get experience and help others learn on the job,” says Carlini.