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The People from the Top of the Land

Correspondent Moira Noiseux works on her dispatch from camp. Correspondent
Moira Noiseux works on her dispatch from camp.
Approaching the end of the Kashaya Pomo Interpretive Trail project

FORT ROSS, CA — The Kashaya have lived on this land forever, or at least for 8,000 years. The 2004 field school at Archy Camp has been in session forever, or at least for four weeks. It doesn't matter what reality you subscribe to: we continue on against a background of campfires, stink, wind and dirt. We love it.

I was taught that there are five branches of anthropology: linguistics, cultural anthropology, physical anthropology, archaeology, and applied anthropology. I'm here to tell you that we are utilizing every one of those aspects, along with some sociology, teamwork, environmentalism, and sunblock-applying skills. We speak with Native elders in the morning, have dirt flung in our faces by the wind in the afternoon, and burn our backsides by the campfire in the evening. All of my fine-tuned anthropology training is utilized in new ways I had never imagined.

Week One was education. Week Two was skills and training. In Week Three we dug in our archaeological sites, mapping and discovering. In Week Four, we've become a well-oiled archaeological machine.

Our research is in Fort Ross State Historic Park. Our project is to correct the impression that the story of the Russian Fort is the only important story at Fort Ross. There are layers of history, peoples, values and lifeways. We are designing an Interpretive Trail, winding around the landscape of the Park, that will give a voice and context to the Kashaya people, the indigenous inhabitants of the land.

New sites have been discovered, mapped and are on their way to being analyzed. We have found a site with lithics (the remains of stone tool manufacturing), which includes heat-treated chert (a type of stone used for stone tools). People in the past were changing the chemical composition of their raw materials with heat. The firing of the chert causes it to break in a manner more conducive to creating beautiful and useful stone tools. This is an excellent example of the developed tool technology of the Kashaya peoples.

New information is being divulged, digested and distributed. The elders of the Kashaya tribe have become more comfortable speaking to us, and we have gained a greater understanding of their cultural history. Now the students have an array of information and knowledge to share with the public through our experimental tours. A fuller understanding of the Park is in process.

New contacts are being made between undergraduates, graduates, and professional archaeologists. This week we met Melissa Nelson, who teaches in the Native American Studies department at San Francisco State University. She discussed her work with other Native groups on similar projects. She has dealt with issues such as the repopulation of native plants used by indigenous peoples, methods of interpretation, and the importance of saving cultural knowledge and languages.

We also met Charles Beeker, a marine archaeologist who has worked with a shipwreck in the Fort Ross Cove. He showed us a movie of his crew diving on the wreck and being nibbled at by sea lions. I have been fascinated by the historic timber-loading chute (not part of the Kashaya history per se, but part of the layers of history involving the tribe). My team had a great day last week playing Indiana Jones, locating leftover parts of the chute based on 20-year-old maps that were not drawn to scale. Well, Beeker has been researching the chute for years, and can show us everything we found and more. We are bringing together research from many and varied people, and applying it to this challenging project.

It doesn't matter what you call it - the UC Berkeley Field School 2004 at Fort Ross State Historic Park, the Kashaya Pomo Interpretive Trail project, the month-long experiment - it has taken me out of my comfort zone. The class has made me feel community with other Berkeley students, and it has engaged and challenged all 15 of us. Our journey ends this Friday, just as I am beginning to think of this as home.

- Moira

Moira Noiseaux is a fourth-year Anthropology major.