Life & Culture

WSU archaeologists dig in to unearth cultural history

Undergraduate and postgraduate students gain valuable experience while helping them dig North Chisolm Creek Park. Photo courtesy of WSU University”/>
Undergraduate and graduate students gained valuable experience while helping excavate North Chisolm Creek Park. Image courtesy WSU

Via WSU . Strategic Communications

Archeology fieldwork can be arduous and painstaking, but it is a vital part of preserving Aboriginal heritage and history.

Dr. Crystal Dozier of Wichita State University recently led a team of students on a project to manage Wichita’s cultural resources, ensuring that modern infrastructure is not destroyed or artifacts are damaged.

Dozier, assistant professor of archeology, was called to work as part of her official duties as a city archaeologist recently when the city wanted to improve the infrastructure of North Chisholm Creek Park in northern Wichita.

The city has applied for a federal grant to improve park infrastructure with an ADA-accessible loading area. The grant required a cultural survey of the boardwalk to ensure that no ancient artifacts were destroyed when construction began on the project.

“Through the city’s archaeologist’s office, the state of Wichita provides these archaeological surveys to our local government,” Dozier said. “I felt that this was the responsibility of the office. This is the whole reason for the establishment of the office.”

Dozier said North Chisolm Creek Park is a beautifully restored prairie, which means there’s a lot of vegetation and it’s not easy to see everything on the rooftop. Kansas Historic Preservation laws require a subsurface survey, particularly because the pond in the area was a creek that is an area with a high probability of finding archaeological sites.

Dozier, along with alumnus assistant Laura Kennard, seven alumni and six undergraduate volunteer archeology students, bring up their shovels and get down to business.

The team dug holes every 15 metres, drilling additional holes if any cultural material was discovered. In all, 84 holes were drilled over a six-day period of eight hours each. It should be noted that the high temperatures on the drilling days ranged from the high 80s to the high 90s.

In total, archaeologists found? Three isolated pieces of shale, which are “pieces smaller than a quarter of which flake off during the stone tool making process. Not all of them were made into those stone tools, but it is a binary product,” Dozier said.

When the parts were found, archaeologists were asked to conduct an additional investigation.

“Every time we found one of those, we had to do eight additional shovel test pits in the four cardinal directions around to make sure it wasn’t there anymore,” Dozier said.

Dosier said that all of the fragments found ended up in isolated finds, which means they could have been traced to the site by someone traveling through the area, but it’s possible that the site wasn’t where the tools were made.

All of the stone pieces were collected and returned to the Archeology of Food Lab in Neff Hall, Wichita, for further testing.

“But we found nothing to stop the city from making improvements to the park,” she said.

city ​​archaeologist

The archaeologist’s office in Wichita has been part of Wichita State University since the 1960s. It’s a supervisor position that saves the city tens of thousands of dollars when you need to do these types of surveys.

“It is not often that there is a need that arises that we need an archaeologist in the city because we have surveyed the majority of public land in Wichita at this point,” Dozier said. “But a lot of times I get the email, and I say, ‘That’s what this office is supposed to do. “

When Jan Long, who works with the Wichita City Parks Department, read the requirements for the cultural survey, she immediately emailed Dozier.

“It was cool because she took it from there,” Long said. This could result in more than $281,000 being awarded in funds. And certainly, the study is very useful.”

There are chests of artifacts found in the Neff Hall Archeology Lab — remnants of earlier excavations by former WSU archaeologists in their official role with the city, Dozier said.

One occasion when archaeologists at Washington State University were called in to survey and consult with the city was in 2005 when woolly mammoth tusks were discovered during construction along Kellogg Street.

Dozier and her graduate assistants also allow themselves to review all upcoming zoning proposals for the city and county and to review any calls for additions to the historical record.

“We have an ear on the ground for the development going on. Are there any archaeological risk areas that we know about in the city? We are ready if such a need arises,” she said.

The city archaeologist also talks to middle and high school students and consults with private landowners.

“This is exactly the area of ​​cultural resource management that we train our students to do. We have been doing it by industry standards. These are exactly the kinds of jobs they are training to do,” Dozier said.

Long said she appreciates the response and comprehensiveness of Dozier’s team.

“I feel good that we did our due diligence, and we can provide an easy way to know we’re not ruining anything in the process of improving the park,” she said. “It makes this part of creating improvements to our park system that much easier and a lot more responsible.”

Realistic and practical experience

The opportunity for applied learning provided by the North Chisholm Creek drilling has been invaluable, said Douglas Chrisley, a senior researcher in anthropology from Lucas, Kansas.

“As an anthropology student, these types of experiences are very useful, as they provide hands-on, real-life experience on an archaeological project and allow for a glimpse into what a career path might have in store,” Chrisley said.

Each project presents its own set of challenges and successes, said Jennifer Banks—a graduate student from Van Mitter, Iowa, whose focus is archeology and cultural resource management.

“This project has given a greater appreciation to everyone involved in the Kansas prairie soil, which can be difficult to dig and sift through,” she said. “This project has helped me grow as a researcher and student by providing hands-on experience to apply what I learn in the classroom to things I might try on jobs after graduation.”

Drilling North Chisolm Creek was the third field expedition recently undertaken by 68-year-old Arland Wallace, a sophomore in anthropology.

“I am always grateful to have the opportunity to participate and learn different methods and outcomes. This project is challenging, but I have learned that when a group of like-minded students participate in a project like this, it can be very educational,” he said. “There was such a wonderful thing about being out digging, working, being a part of nature while trying to solve the mystery, and getting away from the project to answer our archaeological questions.”

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