Becky’s Dig at Sage Hen Gap

Last week, I was able to go on my long awaited “dig”. I attended the University of Oregon’s field school as a volunteer. We dug at Sage Hen Gap, a site near Burns, Oregon. I have to admit that I’m not particularly fond of the desert and that I don’t like arrowheads, but I did indeed enjoy myself.

Our mission, as is the mission of any archaeological crew, was to find cultural evidence. Specifically, we were looking for arrowheads/projectile points that contained the base, not just a flake or a point or a “hunk”. With the base of the projectile point, we could ascertain the method of production and just who might have been making it. While excavating, however, our sights were not set so high. We spent hours digging and screening looking for the tiniest flecks of flake. 

Steps to Excavation:

Find somewhere to dig, mark out a 50 cm by 50 cm area and start a-digging. Note the tools of the trade shown, including the trowel (mine, not borrowed, mine) and the lovely, high-tech, what they call in the industry, dustpan.

This particular probe was started by me, from just dirt.

We fill up that bucket and take it over to the hoses where we wet screen — we rinse out all the dirt so that the rocks and, hopefully, artifacts are dirt and mud free.

After a thorough rinsing, the screen is set out in the sun to dry. Then we sit and pick through the rocks looking for flakes.

I am pleased to report that I was able to find flakes at all three of these stations: excavating the probe, wet screening and picking.

While out there, a local man named Cecil Coons, came out to the site to watch us and cause some trouble. Cecil is an expert in arrowheads; finding them, stealing them, making them and talking about them. As most of the students at the field school spent their time at another site, Cecil came out to set by our holes and chat. One evening, Uncle Pete and I went out to Cecil’s house to see his famous piles of obsidian. While there Cecil gave me four pieces of petrified wood. Here is Cecil talking to my buddy, Chelsea (baseball cap):

Cecil’s son, Emory, also came out to the site. He also makes arrowheads. He sold me a set of earrings he made from obsidian. As soon as my piercings heal, I will wear them. Emory also told me to put out my hand and promise not to scream. Rather than the stunningly beautiful rock I’d excepted to find in my hand, it was a horny toad.

At another site, away from the excavation, we did surveying. We lined up (a line maintained by “Line Nazis” who yelled at people who did not stay in a straight line — Nick, I would apply for that job) and looked at the ground. I found myself so afraid of stepping out of formation that I could barely pay attention to the ground.  And I whacked into trees left and right. I would scan the area, say, “No, no trees, not here, nope, nowhere” Then I’d take three steps looking at the ground and BAM! I’d take off the top of my head on a low, dry, scratchy, thick branch. Those trees creep up on you, like the ones in The Wizard of Oz. However, despite the Nazis (a good archaeologist never lets them get to ‘em) and the trees (damn you…) I was able to make two diagnostic finds– that is,  projectiles that still have a base…

The one above is called a “step” and is between 6,000 and 8,000 years old and the other one (below) was found just before quitting time and I didn’t stick around to see it put in the bag.

I’m not sure that I want to work in eastern Oregon again, but I was happy with my time there. I met some WONDERFUL people and I learned more than I had ever hoped to about projectiles and rocks in general. I spend hours and hours reading archaeological texts and memorizing this stuff, but when you see it and hold it, and talk to someone about it, it’s so cool. It makes even arrowheads tolerable.

I will soon post other pictures of my time in Burns, but right now I’m going to go watch 24.

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