Category Archives: Local Classes

Paleontology Field Opportunity for OAS members

There is a fascinating site area 30 miles south of Portland. It is ancient, far more than 10,000 years old.  Contained within it is amazing evidence of times’ past.  This resource is a record of the occupants of the Willamette Valley, from 15,500 to 10,500.  It is also a record of dramatic environmental change.  Thought provoking is an understatement!

01
Many giant animals, termed megafauna, lived at Woodburn during the last Ice Age. The remains of these four species have been documented at this site.

 

In July and in August, a limited number of Oregon Archaeology Society members will join IAS staff, in an opportunity to trowel through the soils of two known paleontological sites.  From July 10-15, and from August 14-20, we will be exploring two different site areas.  Both sites are in a locale known to contain numerous extinct, huge animals (figure 1).  These include the giant bison (Bison antiquus), giant ground sloth (Paramylodon harlani), western horse (Equus occidentalis), and western camel (Camelops hesternus).  Some predator species in the area include the Pleistocene bear that became the black bear (Ursus americanus), dire wolf (Canis dirus), coyote (Canis latrans), and a huge predator bird with a 12’-14’ wingspan (Teratornis woodburnensis).  Also at this site are the remains of extant species, including rabbit, muskrat, beaver, gopher, turtle, snake, deer, elk, and five other species of bird.

02
Microscopic inspection of wood (L) helps to identify species, and the magnification of seeds (R) helps to speciate and to look for gnawing marks. Cherry seed photo provided by David Ellingson.

While the recovery of animal bone, mammalian hair, and the occasional lost cultural item are not frequent, nearly everyone recovers something.  After troweling through blocks of ancient soils, volunteers water screen the sediments.  This allows us to find specimens that were previously hidden within clumps of soil.  Some recovered items are then examined microscopically, helping us to better identify each object (figure 2).

The different layers, or strata, reflect the many different ecosystems that have existed here over the last 16 millennia.  Clearly seen are an ancient forest, stratified peat bogs, loamy soil interludes, and flood silts.  Every year, volunteers are stunned by the dramatic changes that have occurred within a single place on the landscape, and by the preservation of even small seeds and ancient leaves.

03
Every stratum, or layer of soil, has a different color and consistency, which can be easily recognized.

Every stratum, or layer of soil, has a different color and consistency, which can be easily recognized (figure 3).  The characteristics of each stratum have been documented, and each stratum has been dated.  Thus, when volunteers excavate the blocks of sediments, the approximate age of recovered specimens is immediately known by the stratum from which items emerge.  Beyond the actual recovery, it is simply exciting to be examining the soils as they existed more than 11,500 years ago.

OAS members won’t have to travel far from home, as we will again be at Woodburn.  If you are interested in being one of the 8-10 OAS volunteers, please contact Alison Stenger, of the Institute for Archaeological Studies.  Email alisonstenger@comcast.net, or call 503-292-5862.  Be sure to check the Institute for Archaeological Studies website for a list of what to bring, and also to see pictures of past projects.  This is a wonderful opportunity to learn archaeological methods while investigating a paleontological site.  All tools, training, and laboratory supplies will be provided, but please bring a pair of clean kitchen (rubber) gloves.  There is no fee, although a voluntary $20.00 donation is appreciated, to help offset expenses.

Start dates for newcomers will be a day later than for people with experience at these sites.  Thus, those new to the Woodburn projects will start July 11 or August 15. This will give experienced personnel an opportunity to get the area prepared and ready for new volunteers.  Those previously involved should, if possible, plan to help with site preparation on July 10 or August 14.

Where Paleontology and Archaeology Meet in the Willamette Valley

The Woodburn paleoarchaeological project began in 1995. Even today, the intent of our work is to investigate paleontological sites from an archaeological perspective. In other words, we are exploring ancient plant and animal sites, while employing the methods that need to be used in sites containing archaeological material.

Figure 1 (Right): OAS members working at a real paleontological site, honing their skill sets, and still having fun.

Happily, some of these areas do have it all, from plants and animals to naturally shed human hair. But there is another wonderful aspect to these projects. It is almost impossible to hurt anything. Whether volunteers are working on troweling techniques or documentation skills, these field opportunities provide a great environment in which to do this, and people manage to have fun in the process (Figure 1). When we excavate sites such as these, which are contained far below the surface, we bring in commercial excavating equipment.

Figure 2 (Above): Each stratum has a distinct color, texture, and age. Any specimen removed from one of these layers can thus be assigned an approximate date.
Figure 3. After troweling, sediments are processed with water (Left). This allows us to recover very small specimens (Right). The bone shown here is the partial mandible to a very small 12,000 year old minnow, about 1” (2.54 cm) in length. Fish photo provided by Joe Cantrell.

This makes our field time much easier and safer. The more recent soils are mechanically stripped off and placed to one side. The older sediments are then removed, and placed apart from the recent layers. Then, before we begin inspecting the older deposits, the newer material is looked at and then put back in the trenches. This makes the trench area much more stable.

Figure 4 (Left): Each independent layer of soil has its own characteristics, from color and texture to age.

Our focus is upon the late Pleistocene (Ice Age) to the early Holocene (modern epoch) sediments and their contents. The job of volunteers is to trowel through the soils, looking primarily for ancient animals and hints of a human presence. Each soil type has its own color, texture, age, and depositional history. Thus, people know something about these distinct strata when they first start troweling (Figure 2). Because we have already documented the age of each stratum, or layer, we know the approximate date for anything that is uncovered, based upon the sediments from which the item emerges.

Once the soils are inspected initially, they are moved to the water screening table for further investigation (Figure 3). This is where our recovery of microfauna (tiny bones) increases tremendously. Thanks to the North American Research Group (NARG), specialized screening stations have been developed to aid in our recovery of these very small specimens. New OAS volunteers, working with NARG and other experienced field people, learn about water screening, as well as about minerals and other interesting parts of the natural world—what we oldies call natural history, of course.

The sites in Woodburn are particularly compelling. With their consistent stratigraphic sequences (layering of sediments), the depositional history of the last 16,000 years is available for us to inspect (Figure 4). The environment that changed so significantly over time, from bog to forest, is clearly portrayed. Because of this, we are often joined by other archaeologists, geologists, paleontologists, and botanists. Specialists from natural history museums, and from some tribal groups, also venture here when we are working, and they often share their expertise with us. This gets especially interesting, when we journey with them to one of the specimen repositories and see what else has emerged from the sediments during our years of working here (Figure 5).

Figure 5 (Right): Specialists from many disciplines, including some tribal groups, share their expertise with us. This is true in the field and during lunch breaks, making our days at work very special.

To date, we have recovered the remains of over a dozen species of extinct Ice Age fauna (animals), as well as the remains of animal species that still exist today. The animals range in size from huge to tiny! The list includes giant bison, Pleistocene bear, mammoth, mastodon, ancient species of horse and camel, dire wolf, and giant ground sloth. Deer and elk, of the type that exist to this day, are also represented in the Ice Age deposits, along with coyote. Sometimes we see the animals represented by their skeletal remains, and sometimes by their teeth. A lot of bird material is also evidenced, from extant species of ducks and geese to a giant predator bird called a teratorn that is long extinct. We also have mink, muskrat, squirrels, gopher, turtle, fish, frog, rattlesnake, and snails represented. Occasionally, too, we see flaked stone or cut animal bone, and naturally shed hair. Some of the hair is human, and some is from animals. There is never very much, but it is enough to keep us investigating. The sediment layers change dramatically and quickly, over the fifteen hundred years that represent the ending of the Pleistocene. From the time before the very last Missoula Flood affected the Valley, just over 12,300 years ago, until the Pleistocene’s end at 10,800 years ago, we see four stunning changes in the environment. Then, after the ending of the Ice Age, we see another three very different ecosystems represented. Thus, in total, our volunteers experience seven different ecologies. Their job for much of the project is to focus upon the oldest four. One of the many fascinating things about this long term project is that the presence of Pleistocene animals and Ice Age humans terminates with the transition into the Holocene. At 10,800 years ago, these valley inhabitants completely drop out of the stratigraphic record. The early post-Ice Age here is archaeologically and paleontologically sterile. From our field work, we know that preservation is not the cause of this sudden absence of these population groups. The early Holocene sediments reflect the same neutral pH level as the layers from over 11,000 years ago. Therefore, as wood and teeth from the Pleistocene are remarkably well preserved (Figure 6), the same level of preservation should be reflected in the more recent sediments. This expectation is clearly supported by the early Holocene botanical materials that are excavated. But, animals and any evidence of a human presence have disappeared.

Figure 6. Even after being left out in the sun for a week, wood is still remarkably preserved (Right). Teeth, too, come out of the Pleistocene sediments in an excellent state of preservation (Left).

What happened to cause this change, leaving the valley floor remarkably barren? That question is part of what keeps us coming back.

Click here to download the original file: Where Paleontology and Archaeology Meet in the Willamette Valley

Paleontology Field Opportunity & Learning Archaeological Methods

July 21-24 & August 21-23, 2015 Sign up with the Oregon Archaeological Society for July, or PCC for Aug. (9TR 610P, or CRN 34060)


For a few days in July and August, a limited number of people will have an opportunity to trowel through the soils of a known paleontological site. We will be exploring two different sites that are known to contain numerous extinct, huge animals. These include the giant bison (Bison antiquus), giant ground sloth (Paramylodon harlani), western horse (Equus occidentalis), and western camel (Camelops hesternus). Some predator species in the area include the Pleistocene bear that became the black bear (Ursus americanus), dire wolf (Canis dirus), coyote (Canis latrans), and a huge predator bird with a 12’-14’ wingspan (Teratornis woodburnensis). Also at this site are the remains of extant species, including rabbit, muskrat, beaver, gopher, turtle, snake, deer, elk, and five other species of bird.image-01Examples of Woodburn megafauna from the terminal Pleistocene. Graphic courtesy of H. G. McDonald, NPS.

The different layers, or strata, reflect the many different ecosystems that have existed here over the last 16 millennia. Clearly seen are an ancient forest, stratified peat bogs, loamy soil interludes, and flood silts. Every year, volunteers are stunned by the dramatic changes that have occurred within a single place on the landscape, and by the preservation of even small seeds and ancient leaves.image-02

Every stratum, or layer of soil, has a different color and consistency. Each layer is dated, so the approximate age of the specimens can be readily determined.

Participants won’t have to travel far from home, as we will again be at Woodburn, just 30 miles south of Portland. If you are interested in being one of the limited number of volunteers, please complete the form on this website, or contact the Oregon Archaeological Society (for July) or PCC (for August).

Be sure to check this website for a list of what to bring, and also to see pictures of past projects. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn archaeological methods while investigating a paleontological site. All tools, training, and laboratory supplies will be provided, but please bring a pair of clean kitchen (rubber) gloves. See you this summer!

Woodburn

In July and August, we again participated in investigations of Legion Park and Mammoth Park. These sites are in Woodburn, located close to Salem and Portland. We excavated, mapped, and water screened. We also visited the laboratory where the recovered items are stabilized and cataloged.

In 2015, we again expect to be working at these two sites. If you are a member of the Oregon Archaeological Society, please check with them for dates. The August experience is offered through Portland Community College. Please check their website or catalog for enrollment instructions.

Don’t forget to take a look at the college field work page of this website. Other Woodburn site information is available at Webshots–just google astenger webshots, or http://community.webshots.com/user/astenger, and the link will take you there. The letter report of this project, and the summary of past work, can be accessed through WBHS (1).doc.

Paleontology – Archaeology Field Experience

People with an interest in paleontology and archaeology will have an opportunity to try both field and laboratory work in August!  The planned site is at Mammoth Park, where the excavation of a 11,000 year old extinct giant bison (Bison antiquus) will continue.  The partial remains of other extinct giant animals (megafauna) may also be excavated.  As we work down to the depths of these extinct animals, we may locate and document evidence of a past human presence, in the form of stone flakes that were produced during the times that these ancient creatures lived in the Valley, and naturally shed human hair from the same time period.  This class always fills quickly, so if you are interested, please contact Gary Palmer, at PCC, to be added to the list. This is a different part of the same site we tested last summer, and some photos are posted on this website.

cache_2759126904

If the flood deposits from winter prevent our accessing this site, then we will work at Mammoth Park, in Woodburn.  This is the site of an extinct giant bison (Bison antiquus), as well as approximately a dozen other species of now extinct Ice Age animals.  


 

In past years, we have been able to participate in McMinnville projects. These opportunities are due to a partnership between researchers and volunteers from the Yamhill River Pleistocene Project and those of the Mammoth Park Project.  Instruction is provided by professionals from the Institute for Archaeological Studies, with assistance from members of the OMSI paleontology laboratory, and other visiting professionals from the University of Oregon.


images-website-8-57-55

These field experiences are open to both adults and students (over 18 years of age), through the Continuing Education program at Portland Community College.  A classroom session, discussing the peopling of the Americas and excavation protocols,  will precede field work.
This opportunity is thanks to partnerships between the professionals and volunteers of the Yamhill river Pleistocene Project, Mammoth Park, and the Institute for Archaeological Studies. (Be sure to look at the Yamhill River Pleistocene Project website!)

cache_2753628204

Participants will learn field and laboratory methods, and will be invited to participate in all aspects of fieldwork, from recording the items they have excavated to screening of both dry and wet sediments.

 

 

River Survey: Examining the area near the sites

Each year, the area upriver from both the McMinnville Mammoth and Bison sites is affected by the flooding of the South Yamhill River. Animal bone, tusk material, and occasionally flaked stone items are recovered from the water each summer, when archaeologists and trained volunteers survey the area.  The following images, provided by Dr. Lyle Hubbard, demonstrate the river environment.

images-website-9-35-29

 

The debris that accumulates in the river makes snorkeling and diving hazardous.  It also, however, slows the flow of the river, allowing paleontological material to accumulate.  Occasionally, artifacts are also observed.

images-website-9-33-09

Instructions of how to survey, how to document any potential finds, and how to stay safe are part of a day’s work.

images-website-9-45-32

The water is fast, dark, and cold.  When possible items of interest are observed, the shore crew documents locations.

images-website-9-34-21

In one area where the river has ripped away the grassy bank, a gravel stratum is exposed. Based upon radiocarbon dates from excavations on land, this stratum is believed to be over 40,000 years old.

images-website-9-45-43

Partially submerged flood debris, and slumpted banks, are evidence of a chaotic winter.

images-website-9-45-51

A tusk fragment is shown in cross section, showing the inner layers.  This is a remnant of a very large tusk.

images-website-9-45-58

Recoveries from the river include a golf ball, a probable deer tooth, a fragment of megafauna (large animal bone) , and a possible flake off the tooth of some species of megafauna.

images-website-9-51-58

A lot of equipment, and well trained people, are needed to properly survey even a small section of river.

The McMinnville Mammoth Site

This site that contains the remains of a Columbian Mammoth. During the summers of 2007 and 2009, volunteers from the local community and from scholastic institutions joined together to excavate a portion of the animal. In 2007, the site of an extinct giant bison was also tested. These projects are only possible because of a partnership between the City of McMinnville, the Thomas Condon Sate Museum of Fossils, the Yamhill River Pleistocene Project, and the Institute for Archaeological Studies. Images from two summers of testing the site will be posted shortly. In the interim, please check the Yamhill River Pleistocene Project’s website, and this website under the College Field Work pages.

Despite being only 33 meters apart, the Mammoth and Bison Sites reflect some surprising variations in depositional history.

Stratigraphy of the Mammoth Site
Stratigraphy of the Mammoth Site

A non-credit class about paleoarchaeology was offered throughPortland Community College in August of 2010.  This mini-course provided an opportunity for members of the public, including Seniors, to excavate at the McMinnville Mammoth Site.  Participants learned proper methods while excavating a real paleontological site.  Members of the Yamhill River Pleistocene Project were on site throughout the project to help enrich everyone’s experience. Those wishing course credit were required to contact their professors or advisors prior to the beginning of the project.

Stratigraphy of the Mammoth Site
Stratigraphy of the Mammoth Site

A non-credit class about paleoarchaeology was offered throughPortland Community College in August of 2010.  This mini-course provided an opportunity for members of the public, including Seniors, to excavate at the McMinnville Mammoth Site.  Participants learned proper methods while excavating a real paleontological site.  Members of the Yamhill River Pleistocene Project were on site throughout the project to help enrich everyone’s experience. Those wishing course credit were required to contact their professors or advisors prior to the beginning of the project.

This same class will be offered again soon.  An additional location will be at Mammoth Park, where the remains of an extinct giant bison are the focus.

In the image to the left, a student from the 2009 class uncovers the tusk socket and partial tusk of a mammoth. After getting over his shock of the discovery, he did a brilliant job of excavating the specimen.
In the image to the left, a student from the 2009 class uncovers the tusk socket and partial tusk of a mammoth. After getting over his shock of the discovery, he did a brilliant job of excavating the specimen.

A special thanks to Barrier Corporation, for providing the special foam that allowed us to safely transport the tusk, when excavated, to the laboratory. Without the help of the Barrier Corporation, in Tigard, it would have been far more difficult and risky to move the tusk from its excavation area to the lab.