Oregon tribes sift for history in road project

Klamath Falls, Oregon (AP) 10-07

Some clues to ancient life may emerge from the careful excavation of an American Indian site that could be paved over when highway crews begin construction on a safety improvement project.

The last day of the four-week archaeological dig by University of Oregon researchers and tribal members was October 5th. Testing of artifacts from the site indicate that people lived there as far back as 1,500 years ago.

One portion of the site has primarily prehistoric significance while another portion is the location of potential homes built on top of prehistoric remains, said Pat OGrady, staff archaeologist.

Artifacts found include obsidian flakes called debitage and bone and shell fragments. Arrowheads were unearthed as well as blue beads and even fish scales.

One member of the dig was Deborah Herrera, who grew up in the
small town of Beatty along Highway 140 near Klamath Falls.       A descendant of the Modoc, Yahooskin and Paiute tribes,
Herrera’s grandfather was given an allotment of land near Beatty in
the early 20th century.

“Whatever they found out here I wanted to witness first hand,” Herrera said.

The state first sought to improve a dangerous curve on the highway in the 1970s, when artifacts were discovered during land surveys.

The curve is a regular site for accidents because vehicles don’t slow down enough to make the turn safely, said Tom Connolly, University of Oregon research director.

The discovery of artifacts combined with the presence of wetlands and fish spawning grounds complicated efforts to improve the highway.

University researchers led the dig, but tribal members formed a portion of those sifting through soil and cataloging artifacts.

Herrera on Friday worked alongside her daughter, Bonner Moses, and cousin Taarna Herrera, at the site.

Herrera has a degree in museum studies, but never had a chance to do archaeological or paleontological work – so she told tribal leaders she wanted to work on the dig when it happened.

All three women made adjustments to work on the site. Herrera was given four weeks off from her job at Klamath Crisis Center to participate.

Her daughter drives to and from Klamath Falls each day so she can be with her children. Taarna drove from Florence for the dig. She’s earning college credit and plans to attend the University of Oregon this winter to study physical archaeology.

Mario Samson is another tribal member working on the site. Usually a construction and mill worker, he said had to adjust his habit of digging quickly instead of delicately.

He said he hopes the work at the site will lead to other cooperative projects with Indian tribes.

Information from: Herald and News, http://www.heraldandnews.com