Digging into Oklahoma's past - MetroFamily Magazine
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Digging into Oklahoma's past

by Karen Mitchell

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Move over Indiana Jones—there’s a new treasure hunter in town! Thanks to the annual Spring Dig coordinated by the Oklahoma Anthropological Society (OAS), it could be you. You and your family may uncover the secret to Oklahoma’s past, not to mention a new passion. What an exciting way for you and the other treasure hunters in your group to explore Oklahoma—by digging into it!

Each spring the OAS, in conjunction with the Oklahoma Historical Society and the University of Oklahoma Archeological Survey, coordinates a public archeological dig at one of their Oklahoma sites. Offering the public an opportunity to participate in these digs serves several purposes: OAS acquires additional hands for the project, the public receives education about archeology and Oklahoma’s past, Oklahoma’s history is preserved and artifact enthusiasts enjoy each other’s fellowship.

“When you are tenting with a group of people who have like interests, it can be a most satisfying experience,” says Kathleen Gibbs, past OAS president and current 1st Vice President. “When we are actually digging, it’s always exciting when someone finds something and shares it with the group. It’s hard work to dig, and you don’t always find something, but when you do find a point or a piece of an ancient tool and hold it in your hand and think that someone maybe a hundred or even a thousand years ago used this or made this and held it in his hand—well, you can’t describe the feelings.”

This year’s Spring Dig will be held May 23-31. It’s a follow-up to last year’s dig at Ft. Gibson, in the northeastern part of the state. According to Dr. Leland Bement of the OAS, the purpose of the Ft. Gibson dig is to uncover the stockade and foundation of the original fort built in 1824. The actual physical location was never officially recorded. Though a replica of the fort was built in the 1930s under the Works Project Administration, the Oklahoma Historical Society would like to preserve information about the original fort.

According to Dr. Bement, last year’s dig verified that they had indeed found the appropriate site including parts of the original fence stockade. Items found have included old nails, buttons, parts of broken glass and plates. “The kids on the site ended up finding most of the artifacts to the chagrin of the adults,” Dr. Bement mused. Many of the items discovered were items that fell through the floor boards of the original fort. The focus of this year’s dig is to expose more of the wall and uncover the foundation to get a feel for where the officer’s quarters and other rooms of the fort were located, said Dr. Bement.

If digging isn’t your thing, Dr. Bement suggests other volunteer opportunities including working the registration table, mending equipment, working the screen sifters (a standing job) or acting as a gofer to fetch needed items. As Dr. Bement mentions, “Some folks will come out to watch for a little while then by the second or third day they start digging and then get hooked for life.” On average, about 20 diggers participate per day.

The process for getting involved is simple. First, you must be a registered OAS member, a simple and inexpensive process. You can register on the society website at ou.edu/cas/archsur/ oas or when you arrive at the dig site. Membership costs range from $10 per year for students to $20 for an active” membership. For additional family members, an annual “associate” membership is available for $5 per year for one person or $10 per year for two or more. Besides the opportunity to get a hands-on education working an actual archeological site, memberships include regular society newsletters and the Journal of the Anthropological Society, Oklahoma Archeology, published annually.

While the dig goes on for nine days, it’s not necessary to stay for the duration. Digging times are from 8am-3:30pm. In the evenings, OAS provides interesting educational programs pertaining to archeology and the site itself.

A variety of sleeping accommodations can be used. If you want to bring a tent, primitive camping is allowed directly on the site (restrooms and running water are available). The society usually reserves a nearby campground for those who would like to camp with more modern amenities. Also, there are a few motels in nearby Muskogee and Tahlequah, a short drive away.

No fancy Indiana Jones costumes are necessary for you and your family to get into real treasure hunting. By digging into Oklahoma’s past, you may uncover an archeologist in your family!

For more information about the OAS Spring Dig, visit their website at ou.edu/cas/archsur/oas, contact Charles Cheatham, current OAS president at charles@oba.com or call Dr. Leland Bement at 405-325-7211.

Karen Mitchell, a life-long resident of the Oklahoma City metro area, has been married to Mark since 1983 and is the mother of two teenagers. With a degree in Journalism and a career in sales, Karen is enjoying her return to writing.

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