Associate Professor of Anthropology Mark Tveskov (by Rory N. Finney)
Archaeologist Mark Tveskov is the Indiana Jones of Southern Oregon University. Through SOULA—the Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology—Tveskov, SOU anthropology majors, and the staff archaeologists have discovered hundreds of historically significant artifacts across Oregon. They have conducted excavations on the Oregon coast, at Fort Lane, and in the Cascades and Jacksonville, collaborating with organizations ranging from the Southern Oregon Historical Society to the Coquille Indian Tribe, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Oregon State Parks, and Jackson County.
Since childhood, Tveskov has been fascinated with Vikings and Native Americans—passions that evolved into expertise in ethnohistory and the persistence and innovation of cultural identity in colonial contexts. Tveskov has studied the cultural ecology of maritime cultures on the Atlantic Ocean and in southern California, the Channel Islands, Alaska, and Iceland. He enjoys teaching students about spatial analysis of archaeological data, zooarchaeology, and geoarchaeology.
This past year, professional archaeologists and historians working in the State of Jefferson honored Tveskov with their annual Jeffersonian Award. He has also received the Federal Highway Administration Environmental Excellence Award for his work on the Old Columbia River Highway Restoration Project.
Tveskov earned his PhD in anthropology from the University of Oregon and his master of arts in anthropology from the University of Connecticut, where he had previously received his bachelor’s degree. He has been a visiting lecturer in the Department of Archaeology at King Alfred’s College in the United Kingdom and project supervisor for the Oregon State Museum of Anthropology.
More than two dozen of his articles have appeared in publications such as Archaeology in America and American Anthropologist, and he is currently working on a book manuscript titled Pioneers, Indians, and Dragoons: Fort Lane and the Conquest of the Oregon Territory. An editorial board member for the Oregon Historical Quarterly, he has authored or co-authored twenty-one research reports and monographs and delivered twice as many presentations across North America and the UK. Tveskov has secured three dozen grants and contracts from organizations throughout the state of Oregon.
His fifty excavation projects include more than a decade’s worth of research at Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, where he has studied Ni-Les’tun archaeology in collaboration with the Coquille Indian Tribe and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2002 and 2003, he participated in the Mosfell Archaeological Project, an international cooperative effort directed by Dr. Jesse Byock of UCLA and the late Dr. Phillip Walker of UC Santa Barbara. In cooperation with the National Museum of Iceland, the group investigated the Norse history of the Mosfell Valley in southwestern Iceland. Previous long-term undertakings include the Upper Rogue Archaeology Project, Siskiyou Trail Project, Southwest Oregon Research Project, and Mashantucket Pequot Ethnohistory Project.
As excited as Tveskov gets about a new archaeological find—like the Fort Lane spur fashioned out of a silver dollar discovered by anthropology major Liza Tran—the true joy of anthropology comes not from the artifacts but from the stories. Watching a portrait of a people, a community, or even a sole individual emerge from the excavated ruins of a town and telling that story for the first time—that’s where the real-life Indiana Jones gets his thrills.
Interview conducted by Melissa L. Michaels on September 30, 2010
In the field at Fort Lane, a US Army post occupied during the Rogue River Wars in the 1850s (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: When did you first know you wanted to be an anthropologist? Do you remember digging around in the backyard when you were little and trying to imagine where things came from?
MT: I always had an interest in history and also in technology. It runs in my family. Ever since I was a little kid, that stuff fascinated me. Vikings and Romans and Native Americans. I don’t think I specifically thought about archaeology or anthropology as a career until I was an undergraduate in college, and I just found that the classes in anthropology were the ones that most appealed to me. As I moved into that field, the physical part of it—being outside and doing a lot of hands-on work—in combination with the research and the reading and the writing seemed to be the best balance for me.
Coos and Coquille Indians at the turn of the nineteenth century (courtesy of the Coquille Indian Tribe)
MM: You did your PhD dissertation on the Coos and Coquille Indians. What did that research entail? I know you’ve continued to work with that tribe as well as other tribes, so I was wondering if you could talk about that work as well.
MT: I came to Oregon from the East Coast in 1993 after having completed a master’s degree at the University of Connecticut. Back there, I worked with historic documents from the colonial period, and I worked with the archaeology of the coastline and the history of the Native American people. I’d gotten some training and experience in those kinds of topics, and I wanted to explore them further. So when I came to Oregon, I knew that was generally what I wanted to do, and as a graduate student at the University of Oregon, I met some folks from the Coquille Indian tribes, specifically a gentleman named George Wasson, and he was a tribal elder who had come to school to get his PhD. It was a very fortuitous set of circumstances. I had talked to an archaeologist and asked about the kind of archaeological sites I was interested in, and he said, “Well, I think there’s some on the Coquille River.” I went out and bought maps of the Coquille River from the bookstore. Then this fellow, George, asked me out for a beer, and I had the maps under my arm. He asked me what I was doing, and I said, “I’m looking at these maps for these sites on the Coquille River.” And he said, “Well, that’s a coincidence, because I’m a member for the Coquille tribe, and I’m starting grad school, too.” We just went from there, and we did a lot of work assembling historical documents relating to the history of the Coquille tribe and the Coos tribe and some of the neighboring tribes. We also spent a lot of time working with the tribe and the state, surveying for and excavating archaeological sites and helping the tribe document these places where their ancestors had lived. I ended up writing my dissertation about that.
MM: That must’ve taken a great deal of sensitivity to work with those sites and to gain the trust and participation of the tribal community.
MT: Ideally, that is part of what you do as a social scientist or an anthropologist. We have a long history—in our society and in these disciplines—of being selfish and basically treasure-hunting or having an ivory tower kind of perspective on things.
Philosophically and ethically, we have an obligation to be responsible to the community we live in and to the different members of that community. As far as sensitivity goes, you have to stay true to your own interests and beliefs while also recognizing that you’re obligated to be of service to your neighbors. That’s the sort of philosophy I followed. I had some good inspiration and mentoring in that direction from professors at the University of Oregon and at the University of Connecticut. I’ve tried to follow that and also impart that to my students as well.
MM: Well, it shows. One of your areas of expertise is the persistence and innovation of cultural identity in colonial cultures. What are some of the ways that Native cultures preserve their identity? I’m assuming probably the obvious answer is storytelling and art, crafts.
MT: Well, strangely enough, those aren’t—in my opinion—the most influential ways the ideas and the identity of Indian communities have survived what was basically a holocaust that was perpetrated upon them in the nineteenth century here in Oregon. That conclusion has sprung out of my research with contemporary Indian people, and what strikes me—and they often have a different opinion about this than I do—is that it’s not the regalia or something you wear in a ceremony, and it’s not even necessarily the storytelling—although the storytelling is definitely a part of it. To me, it’s about the communities they’ve managed to maintain. It’s about, despite all of the things that happened—and a lot of things happened—some Indian people, some of those families, managed to stay where their ancestors had lived for generations. They were facing a lot of challenges in the 1800s—and even in the twentieth century—of racism and outright genocide and discrimination. Throughout all that, there were very strong individuals, and oftentimes, they were women. They were matriarchs, they were the great-grandmothers and grandmothers of contemporary Indian people. Whatever they needed to do, they did, and they stayed in those places, and they raised multicultural families. They had white husbands, and they converted to Christianity, but the whole time, they were telling their kids, “Don’t forget, this is your land. You’re an Indian. They broke those treaties. We have to do something about this someday.” And they did it in the face of a lot of challenges. Their grandchildren benefited from that strength. It’s not necessarily that they were wearing feathers or something like that—it was that they had a strong sense of place and community that was never broken.
Mussel beds on the Oregon coast (courtesy of Mark Tveskov)
MM: You mentioned your studies of the cultural ecology of maritime cultures. Could you talk a little bit more about that?
MT: Sure. I have always been interested in the sea—historically and culturally and personally. I grew up on the Atlantic Ocean, and I swam and fished and sailed in the Atlantic Ocean. I wrote my master’s thesis excavating a big mound of shell and bone that was had been left by Indians 3,000 years ago. That got me started professionally on that topic, thinking about the ecological relationships between human societies and the maritime environment. I followed that through with the Oregon Coast research and as a graduate student did research in southern California at the Channel Islands with a professor from University of Oregon. I also did research in southeast Alaska and had an opportunity to work in Iceland on a Viking site. The commonality of all those projects, in addition to my New England research, was that people lived on the ocean, which is different from living in the desert, so I’m interested in what makes it different.
MT: Are you gonna ask me what makes it different?
MM: All of these incredibly different climates, but the one commonality is that they live on the coast. So do you see there are striking similarities among those coastal populations?
MT: There are literary and artistic and personal kinds of associations that people make, going back to where you’re from and where you live. People who grow up in the desert, they can wax eloquent about the desert, and people who grow up on the ocean can do the same, and if you grow up on the plains, I imagine you’d do the same as well. Trying to make that transition to understand the quality—that more ephemeral quality of lived experience of a landscape is part of that of that research on both a professional and personal level.
(clockwise from top left) Wood-engraved illustration by Gustave Doré for “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”; illustration of the final chase in Moby-Dick by I.W. Taber (Charles Scribner’s Sons); cover of The Old Man and the Sea (Charles Scribner’s Sons)
MM: Well, there’s certainly a strong literary heritage of fascination with the sea and the ocean.
MT: Yes. I think it’s so big, and it moves, and it’s filled with bounty. People have it easy who live on the ocean in some ways. It’s also very dangerous. I think those qualities have an impact on cultures, whether it’s modern American cultures or 1,000-year-old Viking cultures or Native American cultures. They all sort of experience the same things, and they all have their different artistic and literary traditions, but they all reflect some of those same aspects.
(left to right, top to bottom) Karl Marx (by John Mayall), Claude Lévi-Strauss (by UNESCO/Michel Ravassard), Michel Foucault (courtesy of the Exeter Centre for Advanced International Studies Research Priorities), and Kevin McBride (courtesy of the University of Connecticut)
MM: Haunting. Who are some of the anthropologists or other thinkers who have influenced you?
MT: On the broadest possible scale, the scholars who have influenced my work the most include some important folks like Karl Marx, who emphasized the importance of power in structuring social arrangements and the critique of uneven social relationships, and I think that’s fundamental. I liked Claude Lévi-Strauss, who was a famous French anthropologist, and Michel Foucault, who was a French philosopher, as well. They talked about similar things—about how society is structured by relationships between people that are mediated by power and symbols of power. To me, those are always compelling kinds of analyses.
More locally, I’ve been influenced greatly by my advisors. Kevin McBride, my professor back in Connecticut, built his career working with the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, and that has served as a model for how I’ve built my career to some extent. At the University of Oregon, there are two professors there, Jon Erlandson and Madonna Moss, and they also espouse a very ethically based community approach to archaeology while at the same time not giving up the academics, the scholarliness of it. Taken together, that’s how I like to approach archaeology as well.
MM: It’s interesting you mention Lévi-Strauss because I was going to ask if you consider yourself a structural anthropologist. Thinking about his perspective of people perceiving the world through binary opposites and that shaping their understanding of the world.
MT: Well, it could be binary opposites. For me, though, what I took away from reading Lévi-Strauss was that there are things in society—stories we tell again and again, there are patterns of social interaction that we repeat again and again and again, and those have meaning, and they reflect other aspects of society—like politics. So it comes down to ideology, where you do something relatively prosaic, like play a game of football, but there’s a structure to that game that mirrors power relationships in society. That’s a little overly simplified, but it’s a subconscious kind of process, so I find it interesting how one society can live a certain way, and it’s arbitrary to some extent because another group of people living in the same place—say Ashland, Oregon, a thousand years ago—living in a completely different way. But we’re the same people; we’re the same Homo sapiens. So why are they living that way, or how would they live that way? Things like the stories we tell or the games we play contain structures that reinforce the pattern, so things that are unfortunate, like social inequality or gender inequality or our orientation towards the environment, like do we regard the environment as a set of processes that we can work with or a set of resources we can have domination over? Those kinds of values are reflected in the structures of stories we tell and games we play, and I think Lévi-Strauss was getting at some of that in the way he described kinship structures and the like.
Waxing archaeologic (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: Have you had a chance to do much cross-cultural studies of myths around the world?
MT: I would say no, specifically about myths, but in a way, yeah. A large part of my research has been into things that people say about themselves. With the Native American research I’ve done, I’ve looked at transcripts of interviews from older generations of Native Americans with anthropologists of the early twentieth and late nineteenth centuries, and I’ve talked to many contemporary Indian people. For the Norse research, I’ve read the Icelandic sagas, which were themselves oral traditions passed on to Catholic monks, who wrote them down. I’ve done a lot of research on the pioneer period of the Rogue Valley, and I’ve read pioneer journals and army officers’ journals and the like. Those are people telling stories about who they are themselves, what they experienced, and how they see the world around them. That’s that Lévi-Strauss part of it again because there are things they repeat over and over again that reflected the values and experiences they had. And to go back to the other point about the persistence of Native American culture in Oregon and other places. As an example of that, contemporary Native American people have many oral traditions thousands of generations old that they still tell. I’ve noticed that some of the most strident tales they tell are stories about their great-grandmother and her travails. What she went through when the soldiers came and took her away to the reservation and then escaped from that reservation, and how she raised her family in times of economic and social marginalization. That was the kind of thing that helped see them through.
With an outdoor installation on the SOU campus (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: Did you have an “aha!” moment during your studies when you were starting to recognize these power structures? Maybe you started seeing how the different pieces were falling together and recognizing the validity of Marxist theory about the influence of socioeconomic status?
MT: I think my “aha!” moment, as a person and a scholar getting older, was when I realized you have to let go of sophomoric notions of James Bond villains and Mr. Burns from The Simpsons as forces of evil in the world because that’s an overly simplified thing. It’s easy to ascribe to a conspiracy theory—that there has to be some evil James Bond villain causing bad things to happen, that you can simplify things that much, which of course is an issue in our culture today. For me, the “aha!” moment was to see how powerful those elementary structures that Lévi-Strauss spoke about are in our day-to-day lives. You could do something simple, like come home from work every day and do something in your house that your children see that will influence how they go about running their lives. That has as much influence as anything else. The power of a cultural belief—so if you believe, for example, that you have dominion over the land as a cultural story that you tell, then you will behave in that fashion, and you’ll go home and be a good person, but the effect of that cultural belief has consequences on the other side of the world. You’re not a bad person, you’re not an evil person, you’re not Mr. Burns, but that takes a much more complex analysis to understand the chain of relationships between you and what happens on the other side of the world. We’re not necessarily well-equipped to understand the complexity of those relationships, but if there are good things to be done in the world, then that’s what you need to understand because it’s not somebody evil making that happen. Anthropology, however inadequately, does try to pull at some of those threads.
(left to right) Mary Catherine and Welborn Beeson; John Beeson (courtesy of the Southern Oregon Historical Society)
MM: Something you said reminded me of a conversation I was having with Bob Casebeer, who’s the president of the Talent Historical Society, just yesterday actually. I was doing some research on Welborn Beeson, who actually, you may know him and his father’s father’s work, A Plea for Indians—
MT: That’s right.
MM: So Bob got off on a tangential story about one of the pioneers who came to Oregon in the mid-1800’s. He took a lot longer to get there because he was actually bringing trees and seeds, but he had a much safer journey because the Native Americans saw that he was bringing life, and they respected that, and they helped him, building fires and helping to care for him along his journey.
MT: There were certainly a lot of middle-ground stories in that pioneer period. There are the stories of the worst atrocities and injustices, and there are stories like that, and there are a lot of lessons to be learned from that. In the case of the Rogue Valley, there are as many stories of pioneers who settled here and respected the basic rights of their Indian neighbors, married into Indian families, as there are stories of pioneer militias who massacred Indians at the drop of a hat. So yes, there’s tremendous variation in those kinds of stories.
The reference to Welborn Beeson and his father John Beeson is interesting because that’s one of the journals I’ve looked at in the course of my research. Those guys were fascinating. In a political atmosphere that was literally advocating for the extermination of local Indians, this guy John Beeson was trying to protect their rights. He wrote in his journal about feeling guilty about building his house on top of where Indians had lived. He found artifacts on his property. He’s held up as a hero in many circles, but at the same time, that’s similar to what I was talking about before because he had this deliberate rhetoric of helping the Indians—A Plea for the Indians was the name of his book. On some level, he’s the liberal do-gooder, and he’s appropriately lauded for that, but at the same time, his whole perspective was very paternalistic towards the Indians. He regarded them as children who needed to be protected—and of course, they did need to be protected—but it was more than that. He felt like they were children who needed to be protected until he could missionize to them and they could become “proper”people who farmed and were Christian and the like. A lot of our pioneer forebears here in the Rogue Valley were on one side of that divide or the other, where half of them regarded Indians as part and parcel of the wilderness that needed to be killed or removed or dominated in one form or the other, and the other half regarded them as the sort of noble savage child of nature that needed to be carefully tended and taught how to become like actual people. That goes to that point about the ambiguity of things. Obviously, it’s better to argue against the massacre of people, but at the same time, it wasn’t so straightforward.
Hanging in the Archaeology Lab (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: “White Man’s Burden.” So anthropology itself has gone through a transformation over the decades, going from using words like “savage” to having a much greater respect for all peoples, and I’m curious what your take on that transition has been.
MT: Just like anything else, anthropology is part of the society it’s a part of, and it reflects the values that society holds. It stakes out for itself a corner of that society, and in this case, it’s trying to understand diversity and cultural practice. So wherever anthropology is at a given moment in time reflects that society trying to understand diversity and cultural practice. Back when anthropology had it origin in the Victorian Era, the majority of Western culture regarded non-Western people as savages. Anthropologists were like, “Yeah, they’re savages, but what does that mean? Maybe we can think about savages making sense to us in some way. We have these savages, and their bows and arrows are used to hunt animals, which actually helps them eat quite sufficiently if you look at it.” So anthropologists come back to the larger society and say, “Look at what these savages are actually doing.” They’re still filled with the prejudices and biases of their time, but they’re doing the best they can on some level. Over time, we’ve had to reevaluate the things we do in relation to changing times. We started out in a colonial setting, and we took colonial values for granted—assuming we could go into these villages or dig up these archaeological sites or do whatever it was we wanted because that’s what society did. As time progressed, anthropology—and society on a larger level—realized these communities had rights of their own and we couldn’t go in and do whatever we wanted, and we had to think of what their wishes were. Sometimes that message came at anthropology in a very rough way—through laws or people protesting or whatever. There’s been a longstanding debate between Native Americans and archaeologists about the place of archaeology. It’s like, “Who are you to write our history?” and archaeologists have had to absorb that lesson and try to change their ways while at the same time staying true to some of the things that have made anthropology worthwhile over the years. It isn’t always easy, but it is part of the moment we happen to live in. It’s easy to condemn the language of people writing 100 years ago, but they were just as much part of their times as anybody else.
Former Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
MM: Maybe this is dangerous territory to get into, but your mentioning imperialism makes me think about certain political constituents, albeit small, who are very vocal in this country, and they’re actually wanting to return to embracing imperialism, and there’s an inherent racism that comes with that philosophy. I’m wondering what your perspective as an anthropologist is on the political attitudes of—
MT: Who’s embracing imperialism?
MM: There have been individuals within the Tea Party movement who’ve talked about imperialism and who want to return to that sense of dominion.
MT: One of the most valuable lessons of anthropological research going back those 150 years—or whatever it’s been—is that the world is very big, that there are a lot of different ways of looking at the world, and that every little thing affects every other little thing. In relation to some of these contemporary political discussions, what I find discouraging about some of them is this assumption that we have a God-given right to a certain way of life, regardless of—well, it’s not even regardless of the consequences. We don’t even want to hear about the consequences.
A few years back, someone asked George Bush’s Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, “Is the president going to expect the American people to change their habits and make sacrifices and do anything in relation to the larger world and the war we’re fighting over there?” And Fleischer said, “The president believes the American way of life is blessed. So, no.”
I couldn’t disagree more with that statement, and I think that that’s one of my biggest problems with some of the contemporary political dialogue—it posits this, in my opinion, blind faith in the belief that we have the right to live the way we think we’ve always been living—and archaeology tells us we haven’t actually been living this way for very long—but this ideological conception that our way of life is a God-given right, and the consequences be damned. You can just look around the world and see that there is a lot of impact from our way of life, and everything is interrelated.
MM: On to more positive topics. Tell me about SOULA.
MT: SOULA is the Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology, and it consists of myself and a staff of several people—two full-time archaeologists and a number of part-time archaeologists—and we do archaeological research in southern Oregon. It is a way to conduct research into the cultural ecology of Indian people, the pioneers of Oregon, and Indians in the Rogue Valley and on the Oregon Coast. We are interested in a lot of the topics we’ve talked about during this interview—cultural ecology, technology, history going back thousands and thousands of years and right up to the pioneer period.
All of the projects we do are in collaboration with regional partners. There are a number of policies and laws in place at the federal, state, and local levels that are designed to protect cultural resources. That includes archaeological sites, historic buildings, sacred landscapes, and different kinds of places. This comes up in the course of doing projects like highway construction—the Oregon Department of Transportation is one of our biggest partners—or in the development of state parks. We work with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department quite often. We also work with private entities. We worked with a group of people who are planning to construct a natural gas pipeline from Coos Bay to Klamath Falls. We work with Indian tribes, and all in the course of doing different kinds of projects mandated under these laws, we take care of the culture and resource management. We serve these regional partners and at the same time get research done.
In addition to benefiting the community and regional partners, SOULA also benefits our undergraduate students. I talk about these topics in my classes, and the anthropology majors and environmental studies majors get involved with our projects and actually work in the lab. By the time they’re seniors, they’ve had experience working in the lab professionally on projects, performing analysis of artifacts and a variety of other things. They get fieldwork experience, and by the time they graduate, they’ve had an extensive set of hands-on experiences. It serves an education component, it serves our mission at SOU to be responsive to our regional partners and be of some use, and it also serves the academic interest of conducting research.
SOULA excavations at the Peter Britt home in Jacksonville (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: SOULA recently conducted an open-site dig at Peter Britt’s home in Jacksonville in partnership with the Southern Oregon Historical Society. Can you talk about that experience?
MT: We’ve worked with the Southern Oregon Historical Society since before I got here—my predecessor did as well. That’s a perfect example of our regional research partners. It wasn’t just the historical society, it was also the City of Jacksonville, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary. The city wanted to have a celebration of their heritage. Part of this celebration involved conducting a dig at grounds that had belonged to Peter Britt, an early pioneer and a famous guy who was a wonderful photographer. He had this beautiful Victorian house that sat on the hillside sloping down from where the Britt Festivals concerts are today. It’s a garden now and has pathways going through it. The City of Jacksonville wanted to renovate this property to make it ADA-accessible and improve peoples’ experience of visiting that spot, but because it was on top of what was certainly a significant historic site, they needed to do archaeology to make sure they weren’t damaging anything in the course of that construction. My colleague, Chelsea Rose, works for SOULA as an archaeologist, and she talked to the City of Jacksonville. Together, we came up with this idea of doing the archaeology they needed to do to make sure their construction could go forward without damaging the archaeology. We involved the public through a program of using volunteers through the Southern Oregon Historical Society. Because of the visibility of the Britt grounds, we could put it right in the middle of this jubilee celebration and have the public come and see what was going on there. We had a lot of students volunteering as well, and they’ve all been working in the lab on the artifacts that are coming back. It was a combination of all those things we try to do at SOULA, and it’s ongoing, and it’s been very successful.
In the trenches with students at the Bandon excavation on the Oregon coast (courtesy of Mark Tveskov)
Summer was also a very busy time for us. We had a large-scale project that we’re still in the middle of, and it’s similar to the Jacksonville one. It’s with the City of Bandon on the Oregon Coast. There’s an Indian village site that’s 4,000 years old. This is a site that’s been known to archaeologists, the city, and the Coquille Indian tribe for years, and it’s had a troubled history. The City of Bandon burned down on top of it, and when they originally built Bandon, they disturbed this large graveyard associated with it, and they destroyed the majority of the graves. Over time, the site has been badly impacted by construction activities, and the City of Bandon had an opportunity to improve the area by taking dangerous above-ground utilities like power lines and putting them in a utility trench under the ground. But they had the issue of this significant archaeological site, this Indian village that had houses and graves and everything right there under the surface. I’ve worked with the Coquille tribe for years and years, so we had a lot of discussion with the tribe and the city, and we developed a plan of what to do. We did a series of excavations and recovered information about the site in the path of the proposed construction, and we helped the construction workers avoid impacts to human burials. In the field, while we were doing it, we had folks from the tribe there and volunteer students and professional staff from SOULA and the townspeople were all there. And we’ve kept the town involved by giving presentations for the public and giving tours of the site. We recovered thousands and thousands of artifacts, including artifacts from old town Bandon from the 1936 fire. And there were hundreds of Native American artifacts—arrowheads, spearpoints, harpoon points, whistles, beads. We were able to see and characterize the Indian houses—all manner of things that are going to keep students and staff in the SOU Archaeology Lab busy for the next year-and-a-half. That is the culmination of years of research and a good example of the kind of applied focus to our research that also involves students.
Examining artifacts with students in the lab (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: That’s fantastic. Over the course of your career, what are some of the most exciting archaeological finds that you’ve experienced?
MT: That’s a question everybody asks, and I think I’ve found some pretty cool things over the years. I found a Chinese bronze incense vessel down on the south fork of the Coquille River that was evidence of nineteenth-century Chinese miners. That was pretty cool. I’ve found lots of really interesting artifacts over the years, but truthfully, that’s not the thrill or the fulfillment that comes out of archaeology for me. It’s more about telling larger-scale stories. The cumulative effect of telling about this work, where you can dig holes really carefully, find lots of little bits and pieces, spend time in archives and find old maps, and after a long period of time, you can tell maybe a really small story, but you think you have it right, and it’s something nobody else has really said before. To me, that’s the thrill.
(left to right) A fireplace discovered during the Fort Lane excavation and an 1852 pioneer house burned by Indians in the Rogue River Wars (courtesy of Mark Tveskov)
That’s what I’ve found that I think is really cool—stories that have not been told before that are sometimes hidden, either because no one’s ever written about them because they’re from thousands of years ago, or they’re part of more famous stories, like Peter Britt or the Rogue River Wars or whatever it is, that aren’t in the history books. For example, we’ve done a lot of work at a US Army fort from the Rogue River Indians Wars called Fort Lane, which is up northwest of Central Point. That was where several companies of US soldiers were stationed in the 1850s and participated in the Rogue River Indian Wars.
(left to right) Anthropology student Liza Tran in the Cascades; silver quarter carved into a spur found by Tran at Fort Lane (courtesy of Mark Tveskov)
One of my students, Liza Tran, found an artifact that was a silver quarter from 1854, when the site was in use, and it had been carved into a spur with a hot iron knife. It’s just a little thing, but that was as far out on the frontier as you could be at that point, and these guys were being supplied from San Francisco, and silver was really valued because of the Gold Rush, and just the thought of some guy sitting there, having to improvise, because he couldn’t get fresh equipment, by cutting up this quarter. It’s a little thing, but it’s pretty cool.
MM: There must be a detective part of your brain that enjoys the investigation, putting the pieces together.
MT: Yeah, that’s right. We first got involved with Fort Lane when we did a limited excavation project with the Oregon Department of Transportation, and it ended up being just this wonderful place filled with artifacts. We did a lot of documentary research with it. It gained us enough public attention, and in working with the county—who owned the property—we were able to get the state interested in the site, and through our lobbying efforts with the county, the county gave the property to the state, and it became state parks property. They’re going to develop the property into a park with interpretive panels, and they want to fund some additional archaeology to help them plan that for interpretation.
Anthropology students in the lab and on the field (credits from left to right: by Rory N. Finney; student totem pole and digging courtesy of Mark Tveskov; lab shot by Rory N. Finney; students at Britt dig by Jeremy Speer)
MM: What kind of skills do anthropology majors develop during the course of their studies at SOU?
MT: Anthropology is a solid liberal arts major, and we pride ourselves on that fact. It’s holistic; we’re interested in everything—we like literature, we like art, we like technology, we like biology. We incorporate all of those disciplines into anthropology. We also emphasize writing and reading. We think students should be able to write well—that sounds kind of pedantic, but all of our classes have a writing component and a speaking component. You have to do presentations. That holistic dimension and that emphasis on critical thinking and reading, that’s what my colleagues and I think are important for our undergraduate students. And that cross-cultural perspective—those are the specific skills you get out of being an anthropology major, in addition to literacy in the discipline of anthropology.
Anthropology alumna Molly Mclaughlin working with Medford Opportunity High School students in SOU’s Community Garden
MM: You’ve been teaching here for about twelve years, so you’ve had some time to see what your graduates have gone on to do. Can you think of any alumni you’re particularly proud of who’re doing really gratifying work that you’d like to share?
MT: I have a large number of former students who work professionally as archaeologists, either in the private sector or they’ve gone on to graduate school and gotten master’s degrees. I’ve got two PhDs about to finish for the first time, which is pretty cool. All federally recognized Indian tribes have staffs of cultural resource managers and a staff archaeologist, and three of the nine tribes in Oregon have a staff archaeologist who’s an SOU graduate from our program, which is something I’m really proud of.
Taking a moment to reflect (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: Having worked with Native Americans for all of these years, if you could think of one piece of wisdom or lesson that you’ve taken away from their teachings, from that experience, from their mentoring, what would it be?
MT: I think the most valuable lesson I’ve learned from working with Native American people is the value of listening and agreeing to disagree to solve a common problem. You can have all the opinions in the world about how right you are, but that doesn’t necessarily help a problem get solved among a group of people who have different opinions about what has to be right. Success can come if you’re willing to focus on what you can work on together and not get bogged down in the things you don’t necessarily agree on.