Archeology Students Uncover History
Chris Mayer’s Introduction to Archaeology class may help write a chapter in the history of Cowley County. The 10-member class spent most of the spring semester in the traditional classroom inside the Brown Center.
But on April 22, Mayer’s classroom became a pasture on the Kenny and Pat Mauzey place northwest of Arkansas City. It was then that the class began to uncover lines in the soil after a walking survey first was conducted by students on the last day of the spring semester in 2001. “Pat told us that this area was a campground for the (Oklahoma) land rush,” Mayer said. “We’ve conducted field work and archival research. Camps south of the spring and north of the spring revealed nothing. “So we took a walking survey (three years ago) and found suggestions of lines in the ground too regular to be natural.”
The L-shaped outline in the pasture, located just south of the intersection of 252nd Road and 31st Road, contains what is believed to be a fireplace. “There is evidence that something is going on,” Mayer said. “Those right angles don’t occur in nature.” A piece of wood was uncovered in one of the four pits that students had been working in just five trips to the site this semester. It was about six inches below the surface. “All four places showed a dirt floor, which indicates a situation,” Mayer said. “These are all signs of habitation here.”
The Cherokee Strip Land Rush occurred in 1893, but Mayer said there were several land rushes before and after the one made famous locally. “I want to turn this into a service learning project and get more people involved,” Mayer said. “I want to go to the classroom, to the (Cherokee Strip Land Rush) museum, and to the field.”
Shaun Simmons, a student from Arkansas City, said the Lewis family had owned the property where the class was working. He said a house was built on the place in 1870. Mayer said the class was being offered again in the fall. In years past, Introduction to Archaeology only was offered in the spring semester. The class didn’t even make in spring 2002 and 2003. “I want to invite alumni, faculty and staff to get involved with this,” Mayer said. “This is a part of Cowley County’s history. This whole area is great for the study of archaeology.”
Just like his 10 students, Mayer wants to make that one big discovery. “We need to find that thing, that fork or something,” he said. “If we can show an artifact, something people can hold in their hand, that will be exciting.” A sweep of the metal detector, which can scan a maximum depth of eight feet, only revealed small shreds of tin foil during class on May 6. The tin foil was 5-8 centimeters deep. “According to very perfunctory research, aluminum foil went into wide commercial use in 1889, when an inexpensive method for the production of aluminum was perfected,” Mayer said. “Tin foil wasn’t replaced until about 1910. Even earlier, (Thomas) Edison was using bits of aluminum foil for his phonograph at the end of 1877. So, the little bits we found could be modern, but we should determine the actual content of the foil before saying yea or nay. It’s suggestive, if not glamorous.”
On May 11, the final trip to the site, the class conducted a walking survey further south of the pits. Mayer said the survey indicated that there was a strong suggestion of features toward the property line. “And that includes metal detector hits,” he said. “We didn’t do any digging. We’ll note all of this stuff for the fall semester.” Mayer called archaeology “the science of disappointment.” Mayer praised his students for influencing him. “I’m learning as much as the students are, maybe more,” Mayer said.