The Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology: Public Archaeology and History

Article excerpt

THE SOUTHERN Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology (SOULA) produces knowledge about regional history and prehistory ranging from cultural and ecological practices thousands of years old to locations of shipwrecks and battlesites from the mid nineteenth century. Located in Ashland in the Rogue River valley of southern Oregon, SOULA staff and students conduct projects, funded through grants and private contracts, that investigate the past through archaeological excavation as well as ethnohistoric and oral history research. Its mission is to conduct research that serves community interests. SOULA houses a curation facility that meets the standards of the Department of the Interior, which provides a means for tribes, municipalities, agencies, and researchers to store and access their archaeological collections.

We currently hold archaeological collections for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Forest Service, the Coquille Tribe, and many other entities. We select projects in partnership with private, local, state, federal, and tribal organizations in such a way that our collaborators' needs are met creatively and the resulting information supports both additional research and public education. Our first priorities are stewardship, collaboration, community involvement, and public and undergraduate education. Students pursuing anthropology, Native American Studies, and environmental studies degrees at Southern Oregon University (SOU) benefit from the hands-on experience of participating in the fieldwork and laboratory analysis of our projects, and SOULA staff and students frequently give presentations for the public and at professional meetings. Many of our archaeological projects include "public days," when we offer tours of the sites and display some of our findings.


SOULA has long worked with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) to understand and protect the cultural resources present in our state's parks system. We undertook, for example, excavations in 2007 at Tseriadun State Park in Curry County, because a proposed culvert and outfall installation for Garrison Lake had the potential to disturb a large Native American archaeological site. Our work ensured that the additions could be built so that the site was undisturbed. The project identified residential and shell midden deposits --that is, the remains of plankhouses, seasonal hunting and gathering campsites, as well as the mounded detritus of shell, bone, and artifacts left behind by these uses--dating back 5,000 years. We also found food remains and artifacts such as clay tobacco pipes dating to the 1850s, when the U.S. Army used the site as a detention camp for Indian people captured during the Rogue River War.

Oregon State Parks and SOULA have also worked together at the Fort Lane site in Jackson County. Situated on the south bank of the Rogue River, Fort Lane was built by the U.S. Army in 1853 to guard the short-lived Table Rock Indian Reservation. The fort was abandoned only three years later but was saved from private development in the 1980s by members of the Southern Oregon Historical Society, who, working with historians Jeff LaLande and Kay Atwood, got the property listed on the National Register of Historic Places and transferred to Jackson County ownership. SOULA's work at Fort Lane began in 2005 and has included primary document research at the National Archives and other repositories to compile quartermaster records, orders, and diaries left by the officers and enlisted men, as well as extensive excavations of many of the fort's buildings, usually through a SOU archaeological field school. In the process, SOULA personnel worked with Roger Roberts and Karen Smith of Jackson County and Nancy Nelson of OPRD to transfer the property to the State of Oregon in 2008. Since then, SOULA has worked with the state to characterize the physical parameters and informational potential of the archaeological deposits of the site and to help make plans to share that information through public interpretation as the property is developed into a state park. …