Connecting the Past with the Present: The Mud Bay Archaeological Project
It is nothing new to say that today's culture has its roots in the culture of the past. Everything we believe and do is influenced by an assemblage of ideas, values, traditions, knowledge, art and technology inherited from those who have gone before us. Part of the purpose of archaeological endeavor is to rediscover or recover and preserve the material vestiges of this cultural inheritance. But one archaeological project has embodied the essence of this through a fascinating cooperative effort between scientists dedicated to the study of a past people and those who represent today's living descendants of those people: Through the joint efforts of members of the Squaxin Island Tribe in the State of Washington and the Anthropology Department of the South Puget Sound Community College, an important site of an ancient culture on the shore of Mud Bay in south Puget Sound is meticulously being investigated and studied. For the field of anthropology, this project will serve as a unique example of how archaeological research can be informed through knowledge of a current culture.
At the site, the tribe provides cultural knowledge while college faculty members provide scientific expertise. The excavations are conducted as a field school for cultural anthropology and archaeology students, as well as tribal members. The site includes a 300-foot long shell midden that consists of a variety of stone and bone artifacts. Within the site area is evidence of a possible plank longhouse, a freshwater spring, a food-processing area, and an area of shell midden. A portion of the midden area is waterlogged and contains excellently preserved wood, fiber, and other materials. One of the early artifacts excavated in this area is a 60-square-foot section of gill net made of two-strand cedar bark string. Other excavated artifacts have included a carved harpoon shaft, basket fragments, fiber cordage, and wood chips dating 500 to 1000 years ago. Not far from the shell midden in the tidal flats of the bay are the remains of over 400 cedar posts from a wooden fishing weir recently Carbon-14 dated to 470 years ago.
For the Squaxin Island Tribe, the site provides an important link to the tribe's centuries-old cultural history. For the scientific community, the cultural input provided by the Squaxin Island Tribe helps them gain a more complete picture of the past, including the tribe's oral history, tribal technologies and practices, and belief system. A prime example of this is when the participating tribal members were able to identify the gill net found at the site as intended for small species of salmon because of the size of the mesh openings and its similarity to nets in use today by tribal fisherpersons. This cultural component is rarely included in typical archaeological work.
Dr. Dale Croes of the Department of Anthropology, South Puget Sound Community College, Rhonda Foster, Director for Cultural Resources, and the Squaxin Island Tribe are inviting students to join them in this field school during the summer of 2009. Participants will gain invaluable training in full-scale archaeological excavation techniques, as well as laboratory experience, including conservation, analysis, replication, interpretation, photography and illustration of artifacts. Moreover, working as a team with the Squaxin Island Tribe, participants will also gain invaluable cultural training.
Clearly, this field school will afford a one-of-a-kind experience for those fortunate enough to be a part of it. If you are interested in being a part of this unique opportunity, go to the website for more detailed information.