Archaeology students dig for history at Fort Vancouver

Clark County

National Park Service overseeing the dig through end of July

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — In the 19th Century, Fort Vancouver was a major hub for the lucrative fur trading industry and headquarters for the British conglomerate, the Hudsons Bay Company.

“Fort Vancouver was really the colonial capitol,” said Doug Wilson with the National Park Service. “It was the center of colonial operations during the 1830s to 1840s, and really was a center of commerce, as well as interactions with indigenous people, as well as Americans coming over the Oregon trail.”

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site — US National Park Service

Right now there are 5 giant pits on the Vancouver waterfront, east of the Interstate Bridge, where two dozen archaeology students dig for artifacts from Fort Vancouver. Their efforts could reveal more about one of the most important historical sites in the Northwest.

The students are mostly from Portland State University and Washington State, will dig through July.

“Who doesn’t want to dig in the dirt? It’s so awesome. I feel like a kid,” said PSU student Shelby Larson. “It’s like summer camp out here.”

Students in the Public Archaeology Field School will use tablet computers to record archaeological data. (NPS photo, undated)

Many artifacts from Fort Vancouver have already been uncovered and stored at the reconstructed Fort Vancouver just north of the site. But the National Park Service, supervising the dig, said the waterfront may have house everything from boat repair to a distillery, a hospital and a Native American fishing camp.

“I really kind of like the idea of learning about the past through the kind of stuff that we can find here,” said WSU student Isaac Schwartz.

Richard Schelcht’s painting of 1845 Fort Vancouver, the site of the Pacific Northwest’s earliest experiments with brewing English-style beer. January 10, 2020 (Clark County Historical Museum).

Among the rusty nails and broken ceramics the students are making some significant finds. Jake Cobb of Tulane University dug up a couple of arrowhead points.

“This is where they would wrap the arrowhead to the actual arrow,” Cobb said. “I ran around and showed everyone, like, ‘Look at this, guys!'”

It’s a learning experience for the students and the public about life and death at Fort Vancouver. The students are documenting everything they find at Old Apple Tree Park and the public is invited to check it out.

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