A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
October 13, 2005 Volume 36 / Number 2


The Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve Archaeology Project by Antoinette Martinez

This semester marks the beginning of the third phase of a long-term plan for studying the archaeology of the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve (BCCER) through the integration of research and classroom objectives. The BCCER is managed by the Research Foundation for purposes of education, research, and the protection of cultural and natural resources. The BCCER serves as an outdoor laboratory, a natural museum, and an outdoor classroom.

In keeping with the objectives of the BCCER to protect, evaluate, and mitigate the cultural resources of the reserve, I have established a cooperative agreement with the Mechoopda Tribe of Chico to participate in the study of the sites associated with their heritage. We anticipate learning a great deal from each other. Members of the Mechoopda Tribe, including Arlene Ward, Chester Conway, and Eileen Conway, along with the undergraduate and graduate students taking Field Archaeology, have recently begun the archaeological testing of one of the prehistoric sites located on the reserve.

This field course introduces students to field techniques and methods used in an archaeological investigation, including the development of research designs, site mapping, subsurface testing and excavation, artifact collection and processing, and recordkeeping. Chester Conway began the field season with a prayer and blessing of the project. Jim Scolaro of the Department of Engineering and Jeff Mott, reserve manager, have also contributed to the early teaching components of the course. Jim gave a lesson on the use of a Total Station for mapping, and Jeff gave an overview of the BCCER. Graduate student Jennifer Munoz, a Graduate Equity Fellowship recipient and member of the class, is sharing her research on current issues in field course pedagogy with the class as the semester develops.

By the fifth week of instruction, the testing had already produced data regarding site dimension and character, as well as artifacts of basalt and obsidian associated with the daily activities of people inhabiting the region thousands of years ago. These artifacts include projectile points, flakes, or the debris created from making tools, and cobbles used for grinding seed and acorn. The final efforts of the course should result in information regarding the depth, constituents, and exact dates of this site, and possibly others. Final processing and analysis of the cultural materials will be done in Archaeology Lab Methods in the spring 2006 semester.

The first phase of the BCCER Archaeology Project was funded with Strategic Performance Funds from the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences in 2001. Students were hired to research the ethnographic, historic, and archaeological background of the area of Big Chico Creek. The second phase included pedestrian site surveys by students of Frank Bayham in 2002 and 2004 in his site survey class.

These sites represent time periods ranging from prehistory to recent history. In 2003, an honor’s thesis on the archaeology of the flume was conducted by anthropology student Heath Browning, adding a wealth of archaeological information. Other areas to be tested this semester could include sites associated with the Big Chico Creek historic flume and ranching periods.}

Antoinette Martinez is a professor in the Department of Anthropology.

—Kathleen McPartland