|September 7, 2000
Volume 31 Number 2
|A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico|
Bones in Context:
Zooarchaeology/Field Ecology Summer School at Eagle Lake
The drive up Highway 139 out of Susanville toward Eagle Lake rises to over 5,000 feet, and affords an incredible view of the arid Great Basin Desert and the Cascade Range. Archaeology students at the remote Eagle Lake Biological Field Station studied the secrets hidden in these mountains this past summer.
The station itself sits at the end of an un-improved gravel road like a small oasis, a handful of clapboard plunked down amid deer trails and backed up to Eagle Lake. Each year for over a decade, Frank Bayham, Raymond Bogiatto, and Antoinette Martinez have run the Zoo-archaeology and Field Ecology School in this remote site.
Here first- and second-year graduate students are immersed in a rare and intense interdisciplinary field study course that allows exploration of several major archaeological sites in three diverse ecological systems, involves students in original research, and exposes them to guest lectures from some of the top names in the field. This summer's guest lecturers were Dwight Simons, considered the founder of California zoo-archaeology, and Virginia Butler of Portland State University, whose specialty is fish bone analysis.
"There's nothing quite like this anywhere in the world, that I know of," said Bayham about the field school he conceptualized in the mid 80s. "There are zooarchaeology courses and a handful of programs but no interdisciplinary zooarchaeology field schools. A student came here from Israel last year, and another from Portugal this year, exclusively for this class."
Part of what they're getting is the area itself, with its diverse ecosystems. Eagle Lake is the second largest freshwater lake in California, and boasts the Sierras to the south, the Cascades to the west, and the Great Basin Desert to the north and east.
And while the station proper is 62 acres, literally thousands are available to students, including marshes, streams, forests, vernal ponds, and volcanic ice caves.
Over the course of three weeks, students take field excursions that expose them to recent archaeological projects, as well as what Bayham calls "archaeological shrines" or "classic" archaeological sites, where they see important pre-historic and contact period material, some newly revealed.
The combined expertise of the staff, each with a specialty, weaves together the broad, interdisciplinary approach necessary in zooarchaeology.
Zooarchaeology is the analysis and interpretation of animal remains from archaeological sites -- most commonly fragmented bones -- which help archaeologists and anthropologists interpret past human behavior.
In America, the science has developed as a subfield of archaeology, a niche that leaves gaps in student experience during regular campus hours.
Bayham, who understands the value of an interdisciplinary, hands-on field experience, came to CSU, Chico from the University of Arizona after studying with a pioneer in the field, Stanley Olsen. Having experienced major stints on several Southwestern digs, he knew of the need for field training.
"I could teach students to identify bones, but they couldn't analyze and make qualified interpretations without first understanding the complexities of an organism's ecological relationships." These are relationships best understood in context, through field study of organisms in their habitats.
Which is where Bogiatto, Bayham, and Martinez come in with their combined expertise in archaeology, zooarchaeology, biology, and ecology. The 2:1 student/teacher ratio gives students and teachers lots of interaction as laboratory work, methodology, and field study are woven together.
As Bayham said, "We simply can't duplicate that in the classroom."
That's because the field school "classroom," those vast tracks of public and private lands available for research, reads like a who's who of archaeological sites.
There's Tommy Tucker cave, called a Lassen One site because it was discovered early in California archaeology, and is distinguished as the first documented site in Lassen County. Students from previous years analyzed late prehistoric material from here, such as deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep bones.
Another classic site, King's Dog, was excavated by well-known archaeologist James O'Connell from the University of Utah.
"From the bone material recovered there," Bayham said, "O'Connell built an argument regarding the settlement of the Western Great Basin.
Karlo, another classic site, was excavated in the 50s and is one of the few open-air archaeological sites from prehistoric California, occupied nearly 3,000 years ago. Five years ago, the school extracted material from this site, and by redoing the faunal (bone) analysis, "added to the picture of settlement and subsistence for the region," Bayham noted.
"So that's one of the reasons we take a look at King's Dog, to see how it compares with Karlo," he said. Karlo mirrors his own interest and expertise -- finding patterns in evolutionary ecology from prehistory.
These patterns help Bayham put bone material "not just in a dietary context," as he explained it, "but show what the animals meant to individuals from different groups, and how they competed over them. It's a window to past social dynamics. That's the key."
In addition to such classic sites, the field school travels to archaeological projects on the Tuscarora Pipeline and Alturas Powerline, what Bayham called "recent, big-money archaeological projects," that put the older sites in context.
"Basically through these excursions," said Bayham, "students see the whole spectrum of the kinds of sites that animal material comes from."
And this is only from the archaeological angle.
Bogiatto, whose specialty is biology, provides a framework to study animals interacting in their natural context. Students can better understand an animal's life history and ecology when both are given equal time. "Students develop a much greater appreciation of the intimate interaction between people and animals."
Along with Bogiatto's expertise in biology and Bayham's long view of history is Martinez's knowledge of the "contact period," the time when Europeans first reached California, with their immediate effect on the native population.
Having worked in the Fort Ross area studying the Metini tribe -- specifically how men and women dealt differently with cultural changes -- she brings another eye to material such as the Colusa County Courthouse dig, where this year students conducted first- time research on the site excavated by the director of the Archaeological Research Program, Gregory White.
Late prehistoric and contact period remains were unearthed in the course of lifting an 1800s sidewalk for improvements and are in very good shape.
"By looking at these remains we can determine ethnicity," Martinez explained. "We saw signs of animals that had been butchered in European ways, which is something we watch for, and which suggests ideologies and practices present at the period of contact."
In all, it's a very personal educational experience students find at Eagle Lake. The hours are long, the study intense, and the interaction creates a special group bond.
"Students work so hard because they know your personal investment," said Bayham about the weeks he and the other instructors dedicate to the field school. "They know how much you care. And that makes for a very humanistic approach to a scientific enterprise." -- ZV
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