J. David McMahan (Alaska State Archaeologist & Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, retired)
Exploring the Archaeology of Colonial Russian America
The Russian conquest of Siberia in the 16th century, and the establishment of the port of Okhotsk in 1649, opened the way for exploration and expansion into North America. As the colonial Euro-American powers of eastern North America moved north and west in search of furs and new lands, Russians moved east for the same reasons. The Russian strategy for enlisting Native peoples to harvest furs, however, was in marked contrast to the strategies employed by the other Euro-American powers. The archaeological record of 18th-19th century Russian America, intertwined with elements of indigenous culture, complements and enriches the oral and written record. While many of the details of daily life in the colonial settlements remain obscure, recent years have seen the completion of important multi-disciplinary archaeological investigations both on land and underwater. Research directions have included questions on architecture, trade and supply, industry, food preference, consumer choice, and Russian-Native interactions. Largely supported by public funds, the studies have included significant public education and outreach, as well as preservation components.
Douglas Wilson (National Park Service, Portland State University)
Interpreting Fur Trade Sites: A View from the Pacific Northwest
This talk will explore how the National Park Service and its partners and volunteers interpret Fort Vancouver National Historic Site and other fur trade era sites in the Pacific Northwest through the lens of historical archaeology. In particular, I will address how archaeologists with their nose in the dirt interface directly and indirectly with re-enactors, interpreters, and others who are enthusiastic about these protected spaces and in their love of its history. Together, specialists, citizen scientists and interpreters are on the front lines of representation of these colonial spaces to the public. At Hudson’s Bay Company Fort Vancouver, historical archaeology has been of particular importance in the reconstruction of historical buildings, the exploration of technology tied to various industrial activities at the fort, and the study of a very diverse fur trade community and its colonial connections to both indigenous and global peoples. I argue that interpreters and archaeologists have a common purpose to build dialogs with increasingly diverse publics who have complex reasons for visiting heritage sites. Historical archaeology has a special role in interpreting material culture to make connections between past practices and modern understandings of the past for all people.