It looks like big Northwest Coast projects on old sites are in the works at Oregon State University. I came across a new blog which is the public face of something called the Pacific Slope Archaeological Lab with the mission of “Discovery, recovery, and interpretation of First Americans archaeology in the New World’s Far West.” The blog points to a large number of projects which have been initiated or are planned under this research umbrella. How is such a wide-ranging and ambitious research project possible? A million dollar endowment making a fund under the direction of OSU Associate Professor Loren Davis isn’t hurting.
As the site explains, In the spring of 2008, Joseph and Maude Cramer established the Keystone Archaeological Research Fund (KARF) at Oregon State University by making a $1 million donation. The purpose of the fund is to promote research in an endeavor to find and study the archaeological sites and geologic context of the “First Americans”. Conceptually, the First Americans were prehistoric humans that occupied the New World during the Pleistocene Epoch. The emphasis of this fund will be to conduct research that focuses on the search for and research of evidence relating to any human presence during the time period predating the Clovis Tradition (i.e., before 11,200 radiocarbon years Before Present). Geographically, KARF’s research is to focus on western North America, extending from British Columbia, the Pacific Northwest states, Alta California, and Mexico’s Baja Californian peninsula.
What this amounts to, then, is a well-endowed research centre devoted to the Coastal Route of First Peopling of the Americas. Wow. But I am not jealous, no sir.
Loren, who usually goes by the nickname “My New Best Friend Forever”, is a solidly trained geoarchaeologist who is well positioned to really figure out some of the complex and challenging site formation processes that plague coastal zone sites from the end of the last ice age. Loren is particularly well aware of this, of course, since two sites he has directed – Indian Sands and Coopers Ferry – have turned up very exciting early dates, and yet site formation processes at both have conspired to mean the earliest components are perhaps more equivocal than he’d like. Sea level change, glacial retreat and re-advancement, and changing flora and fauna all conspire to make it difficult to predict where ancient sites might be. Not to mention that it makes it hard for these sites to even survive into the present. The kind of research needed may involve big bucks and long term persistence, so it is good to see the basis for both has been established.
In lieu of a donation to the fund, some free advice for MNBFF: up here there is a complex archipelago produces a network of protected and exposed niches, and the highly variable sea level history means some places are neither drowned nor highly elevated. This contrasts strongly with Oregon’s straight, high-energy, low-diversity coastline. I’ve argued before that coastal archipelagos are the staging grounds for first peopling processes and we got’em in all flavours. I’d strongly suggest throwing some money at Duncan McLaren to crack the Pleistocene record of the Dundas Archipelago wide open.
Ahem. Well, it is definitely worth browsing around their projects. Amy Gusick’s work on underwater Baja California has a lot of merit – I’ve seen her present at several conferences and it is good to see her getting some more serious funding not just via PSAL but $100,000 from NOAA. One of her talks was how to rig up a standard cheap fish-finder to a GPS to create a high-resolution sea floor model – it worked, but there are standalone tools for that which work better and maybe she can afford one now. I like the coastal processes predictive model previously developed with Michelle Punke (PDF), and I hope that avenue continues to be explored. It would be good if throwing money at Indian Sands (PDF) would clear it up but sand dune archaeology is always going to be hard to nail down. (There has been a long-running debate over this site, which has dates of over 10,000 radiocarbon years ago, between Davis and OU’s Jon Erlandson and others).
I also see Loren has had two more field seasons in 2009 and 2010 at Cooper’s Ferry (nice 2010 project blog), and I am really excited to see what comes of that site with its radiocarbon dates of 11,400 and Stemmed Points – hopefully associated with each other. Actually I should probably do entire posts on Coopers Ferry and Indian Sands.
A bunch of the topics shown on the blog, such as Lower Snake River and Great Basin, currently are blank pages which is too bad. The overall impression though is of the start of a vibrant and multidimensional research project with lots of opportunities for students to be closely involved in cutting edge research. After all, so far as I can tell, Loren Davis is the only NW Coast archaeologist at OSU, and this is a large endowment and a complex series of projects. It would be good if OSU would leverage some funds to hire another full-time faculty, and make the heavy load bearable. If that person came as a trained geoarchaeologist with an interest and experience in areas of the NW Coast with proven Pleistocene potential, then so much the better.
Actually, I know a million dollar endowment probably translates to only 50k/year of usable interest, but that is a nice, reliable pot of money that can be planned on forever, so I am hopeful and confident of good things to come from this program. Good students are the heart of successful research, more-so than piles of 100 dollar bills, but the latter can attract the former. Kudos to the Cramers for their generous donation, and best of luck to Loren.