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DIGGING THROUGH TIME

Back to the stone age

Local archeologist helps butcher bison using 10,000-year-old technology
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Members of PBS’s “Time Team America” excavate 10,000-year-old bison bones in Badger Hole, Okla. Photo courtesy of Shervin HesShervin Hes
 Posted: 2:00 AM June 26, 2014

It's not every day that Applegate archaeologist Chelsea Rose gets to butcher a bison using primitive stone tools.

In 2012, Rose, an adjunct faculty member with Southern Oregon University's Laboratory of Anthropology, was at a bison kill site in Badger Hole, Okla., where she and a small team of veteran archaeologists, excavators and geophysicists joined local researchers to uncover the historical secrets buried there.

Badger Hole was one of four places the team visited while filming the second season of the PBS series "Time Team America," produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting and funded by a National Science Foundation grant.

The show was filmed during summer 2012, and the season debuted June 16 on OPB, garnering "really great ratings," said Kelsey Wallace, an OPB spokeswoman. "Time Team America" will air nationwide on PBS in August.

"It's part archaeology show and part reality show, and that's what makes it dramatic and exciting," Wallace said, adding that Rose helped carry the show with her "fun, charismatic on-screen presence."

The second episode, which aired at 10 p.m. Monday, details the team's work in Badger Hole, where members excavated a bed of bison bones buried about 10 feet beneath the surface in a canyon where, 10,000 years ago, American Indians would trap the bison, Rose explained.

This species of bison has long been extinct and was about 20 percent larger than the bison living today, she said.

"These animals were so large they had to be processed on site," she explained. "(The Indians) would butcher them and take the meat but leave the bones."

To better understand this experience, a team member killed a bison, donated by the local Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, and the whole team participated in harvesting the meat using only stone tools.

"We literally tried to replicate what had happened 10,000 years ago," Rose said. "You may think of a rock as a not very effective tool, but it was surprising how sharp it was and how easily you could cut your hand with it."

Rose said they had to butcher "the humongous beast" quickly before the heat and flies could spoil the meat, which was distributed to tribal elders and local community groups, as well as barbecued and enjoyed by everyone working on the site.

"It was so fascinating that I didn't get caught up in the gore of it," she said.

For the season premiere, the crew spent about a week excavating areas of an upscale neighborhood in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., that in the early 1800s was a 270-acre plantation where Josiah Henson was enslaved.

Henson was a slave for about 40 years before he escaped to Canada and later produced an autobiography, published in 1849. His account inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

"We went to that site to see if we could learn more about Josiah Henson," Rose said, adding that they found several preserved artifacts beneath the floorboards of an existing room.

At Camp Lawton in Georgia, they helped a group from Georgia Southern University map a Confederate Army stockade, built in 1864, and look for the compound's magazine, officer quarters, prison and guard towers, Rose said.

"Some of the coolest things we found there were inside the wall where the prisoners were kept," she said. "We found a picture frame that someone probably had on them to remember their wife or family during the war."

In Colorado, the team filmed on the site of a 1,200-year-old, pre-Pueblo village, where they located pit houses and stone mortars used to grind plants, as well as pieces of ceramic vessels.

Rose said the artifacts recovered there reflect a transition from "a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to an agricultural lifestyle."

"Sometimes with archaeology the most exciting finds aren't very interesting to look at," she said. "There's no ruby statues or anything, but if you know the exact context of an artifact, even the most humble artifact has a really big story to tell."

Rose was recommended by a friend for a role in Season 1 of "Time Team America," filmed in 2008, and was excited to be invited back for the second season.

"My main role was to coordinate the filming with the archaeology that was happening," she said. "I had to make sure the film crews were near as things were being found or as artifacts were being brought up.

"Nothing on the show was faked," she said.

Throughout the course of the show, the team had to deal with temperatures in the upper 90s, as well as tornadoes, escaped prisoners, extreme humidity and a river full of alligators, deadly snakes and snapping turtles. But Rose didn't seem to mind any of that.

"Being an archaeologist, you have to have an adventurous spirit," she said. "It's not uncommon for me to have to worry about scorpions, snakes or grizzly bears, but alligators was a first."

Reach Mail Tribune education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.



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