Digging for an Answer

In light of all the new technologies available to archaeologists today, augering may seem to be a fairly dated technology. So why choose the laborious task of augering over the array of other methods and technologies at hand?

There are actually a variety of reasons that augering continues to be useful as an archaeological method. For example, it is particularly useful in low-visibility areas such as forests, where aerial photo and surface survey opportunities may be limited. Augering also gives us the ability to cover a wide area in a short time while revealing what is happening below ground level.

In order to attempt locating a known, though yet unidentified site of an Umpqua encampment dated to the mid-late 1800’s, we have enlisted the use of augering to help verify its location and test the validity of a map created by Lt. WB Hazen of the reservation in 1856. While many land features changed since Hazen created the map, the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) has used a combination of LiDAR and GIS imagery to pinpoint specific landforms where the encampment was likely to have been.

There are many who feel that augering is fairly invasive archaeological method, as it does churn up earth, and thus carries the potential for damage to a site and its artifacts or features. As a field project focused on minimally invasive techniques, why include augering as a methodological choice? This is a question that archaeologists must face in all of our chosen survey strategies and is often one of the most difficult to defend.

While augering does come with a certain set of downfalls, it ultimately helps decrease the need for larger excavations or test-trenches being dug, as augering gives us a quick snapshot of what is happening below the surface and allows us to move on from areas of low interest with as little damage as possible with the technologies currently at hand. Used in conjunction with the images and maps of the Umpqua encampment study area we were able to further narrow the area of our auger survey and use it as an alternative to other more invasive methods of site testing.

The augering method we have chosen for this particular location entails the use of as 20 centimeter (cm) diameter auger used to create test-holes 1 meter (m) deep from the surface. Every 20cm of depth from the surface, the soil picked up in the auger body is visually examined, the sample is contained, and further examination in a lab setting will follow. Lab based examination is done in order to detect inclusions such as small artifacts as well as faunal and floral remains that may not be readily visible to us in the field.

Each test hole is a minimum of 10m apart, covering a total area of about 60m x 100m. Once we have completed creating these test-holes, they will be mapped using Trimble GNSS Receivers in order to preserve the site-survey information. This information will serve to prevent needless augering of the same area in the future if the site remains unidentifiable once our initial survey is complete. If the site is identified through augering as hoped, we will have avoided enlisting the use of more invasive methodologies as previously described.

Last, and most importantly, this work will help to answer a variety of questions posed by the THPO regarding the historic Umpqua encampment site, such as where it is located, what activities took place there, and the ways in which Umpqua peoples relocated to the reservation began to make a new home and community for themselves. Answering the questions posed by the community most affected by archaeological research is the ultimate goal of all Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR), and one that we hope to meet in every aspect of the work that we do.

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