Protecting and Preserving Oregon Heritage

Tom Connolly

Director of Archaeological Research
Museum of Natural and Cultural History

The museum’s Archaeological Research Division has long played a role in the stewardship of Oregon heritage. That role came into sharp focus in 2020, as state agencies undertook a massive cleanup effort following the summer’s devastating wildfires. Tasked with coordinating the effort, the Oregon Department of Transportation enlisted the museum to help protect Native American and other cultural resources located in the state’s nine fire zones. Using maps, spatial data, and findings from decades of field research, our team—in particular our GIS guru, archaeologist Julia Knowles—identified culturally sensitive areas within the burn zones and assessed the need for archaeological monitors or historic preservation specialists to accompany cleanup crews. Our researchers provided guidance to ODOT as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, US Forest Service, US Bureau of Land Management, and the many contractors involved in the cleanup, ensuring that recovery efforts wouldn’t further threaten heritage materials in the impacted areas.

The summer 2020 wildfires destroyed acres of forest undergrowth, exposing archaeological features like this possible section of wagon road at Ben and Kay Dorris State Park.

The 2020 wildfires destroyed acres of forest undergrowth, exposing archaeological features like this possible section of wagon road at Ben and Kay Dorris State Park.

ODOT doesn’t only rely on us in disaster-response scenarios. The agency regularly contracts with the museum during public works projects, tapping our archaeologists to help ensure project compliance with federal and state laws that protect cultural resources. The past year has been no exception, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Following strict social distancing protocols, our researchers have traveled to dozens of construction sites, surveying them for cultural remains and determining whether critical highway, bridge, and culvert projects could safely proceed without harm to Tribal and other heritage resources. West of Salem, we identified historic archaeological remains at a site slated for the installation of lighting at a busy highway intersection. In Depoe Bay, we assessed the cultural sensitivity of sites where ODOT aims to complete a bridge upgrade and streetscape enhancements. Meanwhile, south of Tillamook, we’ve been monitoring construction near a site where the museum previously identified archaeological remains estimated to be between 5,000 and 10,000 years old.

Projects with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department have also brought us to sites throughout the state last year, where we conducted archaeological surveys, evaluated historic fish hatchery facilities, and more.

Klamath Tribal member Charlene Wilder monitoring construction on the Williamson River

Klamath Tribal member Charlene Wilder monitoring construction on the Williamson River

One project, conducted in partnership with Klamath Tribes, involved coordinating the installation of an improved boat ramp on the Williamson River in Chiloquin. Our research at this large Klamath village site confirmed roughly 4,500 years of continuous occupation and helped guide design and placement decisions as museum archaeologist Marlene Jampolsky and Tribal member Charlena Wilder monitored construction. The improved boat ramp, along with new ADA-accessible parking and restroom facilities, reopened to the public in October.

Locally, we’ve been working with the City of Eugene and Housing and Community Services Agency of Lane County on a number of transportation, recreation, and development projects—including the Downtown Riverfront project. There, the archaeology is helping to highlight communities long underrepresented in the popular history.

A few of the early 20th century dish fragments recovered in downtown Eugene. The site was home to a Chinese restaurant and apothecary owned by Kee and Mary Wing.

Among the findings were artifacts associated with a small cluster of Chinese-owned businesses in downtown Eugene. Watch for a short piece on this by museum researchers Chris Ruiz, Marlene Jampolsky, and Jon Krier; it’s slated to appear in Oregon Historical Quarterly later this year.

With 2020’s pandemic-related travel restrictions and changed workplace protocols, the museum’s archaeological research team has faced a number of new challenges in our efforts to study and preserve Oregon’s past. I’m pleased to report that we’ve managed to effectively work around all of them. Through our collaborations with state, federal, and Tribal agencies, we continued to expand the picture of Oregon’s cultural history, build connections among stewards throughout Oregon, and provide essential services to the public—charging ever forward in service of our mission.


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