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Digging Down

WC archaeology students participate in Newberry Cabin excavation.

Since she was a child, Chloe Walden has dreamed of participating in an archaeological dig. That dream came true this semester at Weatherford College.

Walden and several other eager students are enrolled in the second semester of WC’s new Introduction to Archaeology course, developed in a partnership between the college and the Doss Heritage and Culture Center and their Pioneer Cabin Park project.Newberry Cabin

The Doss project entails relocating four Parker County cabins to the grounds adjacent to the Doss Heritage and Culture Center building on WC property on College Park Drive. The Newberry Cabin is the only one of the four cabins currently on its original site dating back to the 1870s – making it a gold mine for archaeological finds.

“When we approached Weatherford College about the opportunity we wanted a way to get students involved in the discovery process,” said Amanda Edwards, Curator at the DHCC. “So often students are left looking at research done by those who came before, and we had a unique opportunity to let the students make the discovery and learn how we take artifacts found at an archeological site and use them to piece together the history of the people who lived there.”

The class is taught by adjunct instructor Katrina Nuncio and currently counts as an elective credit, although Lori Gouge, WC’s Physical Science Department Chair, is hopeful the course will soon become part of the core curriculum.

WC Archaeology studentsThe new course has been a hit so far with students.

“This has totally piqued my interest in archaeological projects,” Walden said. “It has been such an amazing opportunity.”

Students Valerie Winn and Elisa Brantley both expressed surprise they were able to go to a physical excavation site.

“I was not aware we had sites right here in Parker County,” Winn said.

“The most surprising part has been actually getting to go out to an archaeological site and experiencing what excavating and being out in the field would be like if that were my career,” Brantley said.

So far, students have discovered buttons, pieces of glass, a tiny china doll measuring about an inch long, an almost intact piece of crockery, part of a walkway, the inner workings of a clock as well as pieces of a stove and farm equipment. But reaching the point of discovering artifacts didn’t happen overnight.

Students enrolled in the first semester of the course completed a survey of the land, marked out a perimeter for the work, registered with the State of Texas and started shovel tests.Archaeology find

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“What you do is dig a shovel full of dirt and put it through a screen and see what you find,” Gouge said. “Most of the things we find are square nails and glass fragments. What they want to find is the highest concentration of material within that particular shovel test.”

Once locations are determined to be of interest, two-by-two meter square sections are marked off with rope and the students, along with volunteers from the Tarrant County Archaeological Society, dig approximately 20 cm down to the original surface.

“We had all last semester to get ready, so we’ve only really just begun excavating the units,” Gouge said. “Then, after the cabin is moved, we get to go under the cabin into the crawl space and excavate there. And that’s not all.

“We are going to work with the Doss Center to clean and identify the artifacts. Semester after semester after semester, this is a very long project, potentially, that could be enriching to the students at Weatherford College.”

Objects found by WC students will be part of an interactive display to permanently tell the story of the Newberry Cabin at the DHCC.

Archaeology Student“These students and Weatherford College are helping us find insights into these pioneers’ lives by discovering pieces they left behind,” Edwards said. “Professor Nuncio shared with me a little doll figurine they found at one of the recent digs. As we do more research we will hopefully be able to figure out the timeframe in which this little figure was made and see if it could have belonged to one of Sam P. Newberry’s daughters who lived in the cabin during the late 1800s and early 1900s.”

It is anticipated the cabin will be moved by the end of 2017. The DHCC is creating the Pioneer Cabin Park on 1.9 acres behind the museum as part of the land lease between the Doss and the college. 

“What better way to start off that educational partnership than allowing students to get involved in field research that will eventually shape the story the cabins will tell in perpetuity at Pioneer Cabin Park,” Edwards said. “We are very grateful for all the work Professor Lori Gouge has done to get this class started. It would not have been possible without her enthusiasm and work to get everything started. We look forward to continuing to partner with Weatherford College on educational opportunities as we develop Pioneer Cabin Park.”
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