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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


December 27, 2003 - Issue 103


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Uncovering A Bit Of History

by By Glenn Coin, Staff Writer - The (Syracuse) Post-Standard

Keira Watson spent two weeks last summer digging in the dirt, looking for her past.

Keira, an Oneida Indian, was part of an archaeological dig run jointly by the Oneida Indian Nation and Colgate University.

Colgate anthropology professor Jordan Kerber, about a dozen Colgate students and several Oneida youths dug and sifted for artifacts from an Oneida village.

The village, just north of present-day Munnsville, was occupied from about 1590 to 1620, Kerber said.

Keira found clay, an old nail, a bead, and a quartz arrow point. But there's one thing she remembers most: "It was hot."

On a much cooler day Thursday, Kerber and the Colgate students presented their findings at the nation's Shako:wi Cultural Center in Oneida.

They found 2,000 objects, Kerber said.

All of the objects are returned to the nation after they're analyzed by students.

"We found stone tools to pottery to European objects to trade beads to metal objects to metal projectiles to food remains," Kerber said, pointing to the sealed plastic bags on the table in front of him. "We found maize, beans and squash - all three sisters."

Students Thursday detailed the exacting process of archaeology, from marking grids to digging test holes to sifting the dirt through 1/8-inch screens to cleaning it all up with a toothbrush. They're still working on the report.

For students, it's a chance to get their hands dirty in the field instead of reading books in a classroom.

"I would have to say it's the best class I ever had at Colgate," said senior Kaitlyn Mitchell, a sociology and anthropology major. "Once you get out there and you're actually finding these things, you realize it's somebody's heritage. We realize how important it is to the Oneidas."

The digs help the nation uncover its past, said nation historian Anthony Wonderly.

The Oneida children are learning more than the techniques of archaeology, Wonderly said.

"It helps them better understand their heritage," he said. "One of the obvious benefits of having kids work with professionals is it gives them an idea of what we're dealing with."

Wonderly said the Oneida Nation may be the only tribe in the United States that has reacquired its own archaeological sites.

The program with Colgate began nine years ago, said Randy Phillips, the nation's Youth-Work-Learn Program coordinator. About 70 Oneida children have participated in the program, he said.

"These kids have an opportunity to actually do archaeology, where in schools they read about it and see pictures in a book," Phillips said. "They're working with professionals and college-level teachers and college-level kids, they're really held to a higher standard."

Keira Watson said she learned a valuable lesson from her hours digging and sifting in the hot sun.

"It takes a lot of hard work," she said, "to find something you want."

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