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Past Research Projects

Past Projects

Investigating English Camp, San Juan Islands
In 2006, Tyler Faith, now a George Washington University Museum Studies graduate student, studied the bifacial points and faunal remains recovered in 1950 by A. E. Treganza from English Camp (45SJ24). Since the 1950 excavation, archaeological field methods have improved substantially. The goal of this research was two-fold: first, to explore the potential use of past excavations as a means of refining our understanding of Northwest Coast prehistory; and second, to understand how the quality of data recovered from past excavations compares to more recent excavations. Although it was found that sub-standard recovery techniques did bias the archaeological data, it was determined that it is possible to use old collections in conjunction with data recovered from modern excavations to develop improved interpretations of human behavior.

Watmough Bay Archaeology, San Juan Islands
In August of 2004 the Burke Museum, in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management, conducted an excavation at the Watmough Bay archaeological site on Lopez Island. In 1968 a portion of the site was excavated as part of a University of Washington field school headed by Dr. David Munsell. The re-excavation in 2004, led by Dr. Julie Stein, was conducted on a portion of the beach that was eroding into the bay and needed stabilization. The Watmough Bay site was occupied by Coast Salish peoples who netted birds in the nearby wetland and used reef nets to capture large numbers of salmon just off shore. Radiocarbon dates from the 2004 excavation suggest that the site was occupied from approximately 900-600 BC (3000-2700 years ago). To see additional photos from the 2004 excavation, visit Dr. Julie Stein’s Research Projects page.

Feature uncovered during excavation at Watmough Bay.
Photo courtesy of Bureau of Land Management and Marcus Donner

Excavating at Burton Acres.

Public Archaeology on Vashon Island
During the summer of 1996, the staff of the Burke Museum Archaeology Department led a unique archaeological investigation of a shell midden (shell and artifacts that accumulate around a dwelling) at Burton Acres Park on Vashon Island, WA. This project, co-sponsored by the Burke Museum, the King County Landmarks & Heritage Commission, McMurray Middle School, and the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, involved nearly 400 volunteers who helped excavate and sort materials from the site. Radiocarbon dates indicate that the site was used as a fish processing location and summer camp between 1000 and 200 years ago. Researchers at the Burke Museum and the University of Washington analyzed the fish, mammal, and bird bones, the stone tools, the shells, and the historic items recovered during the project. The collection is owned by the Puyallup Tribe.  The resulting collaborative publication is called Vashon Island Archaeology: A View from Burton Acres Shell Midden. For more information, please click here.

Why So Many Wings?
Kris Bovy, now faculty at University of Rhode Island, under the direction of Dr. Julie Stein, studied bird bones excavated at British Camp, 45SJ24, in the San Juan Islands. She found that there are an unusually high number of bird wing bones at the site (relative to other bird bones). There are a number of hypotheses for why this pattern may exist. For example, do wing bones survive because they are less fragile than other skeletal parts of a bird, such as the skull? Did prehistoric occupants hoard the bird wings for their colorful feathers or bones (used to make tools)?  For more information, see Bovy’s dissertation, available from the University of Washington Libraries.

Bones of a bird wing.

Dateable charcoal (charred wood) from San Juan Island.

How old are Northwest Coast sites?
Burke Museum Director (then Curator of Archaeology) Dr. Julie Stein received funds to sort and upgrade the storage of collections from the San Juan Islands. During this process, organic materials (charcoal and shell) were pulled and sent to a lab for radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon dating is a method of finding out how old a once-living object is, by measuring the amount of carbon 14 that it contains. She hopes to develop a detailed chronology of the San Juan Islands based on dates from these and other well-known sites. For more information, please click here.

Diabetes and Archaeology
This project used archaeological data about past diet in Puget Sound to investigate the causes and possible treatment of Type II diabetes among contemporary Puget Sound Native Americans. Curator Peter Lape was awarded a planning grant for the first phase of the project by the Institute for Ethnic Studies in the US in March 2003. Since then, Burke staff and students have been working with members of the Tulalip, Muckleshoot and Suquamish Tribes to find ways to best use this information about the past for current health concerns. For more info, see the project website.

Women cooking salmon, Muckleshoot Reservation, ca. 1950.

Archaeological project at Fort Clatsop.

Looking for Lewis and Clark
Dr. Julie Stein, Roger Kiers, and Laura Phillips conducted geoarchaeological testing at Fort Clatsop National Memorial during the summer of 1998. They hope to find evidence of the location of Lewis and Clark's fort by locating their privies.

Soil samples have been tested for phosphorus and mercury levels. Since mercury was ingested by members of Lewis and Clark's crew as a treatment for numerous diseases, the presence of mercury in the soil could indicate the location of the privies.  For more information, please click here.