After 60 years of digs, 2m artifacts reveal history of Fort Vancouver

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VANCOUVER, Wash. -- Archaeologists are using broken pottery, bullets and buttons found over the past 60 years to piece together the history of a 19th century fort along the Columbia River. Some 2 million artifacts have been dug up at Fort Vancouver, which from 1829 to 1866 served as a hub for fur and mercantile trade and military activity in the West.

The salvaged pieces have been stored in a replica fur store on the southern edge of a replica fort. Scientists are cataloguing the items, and hope to learn the history of the fort and the thousands who lived there...

Elaine Dorset, a Portland State University anthropology graduate student, [is] examining microscopic pieces of long-decayed plants in a formal garden that lay north of the fort...Heidi Pierson is finishing a study of the powder magazine, the only brick building at the fort, with a goal to rebuild an accurate replica...

Others will study the fort's sales shop, "basically the Wal-Mart of its day," said Doug Wilson, a Portland State professor and the Vancouver National Historic Reserve archaeologist.

"It was the only store in town. It sold a variety to everyone in the area: people in the village, missionaries, people on the Oregon trail," Wilson said. "If you go to any settler's house site in the area from the 1840s and 1850s, it'll probably have artifacts from this place because it dominated the trade."...

Louis Caywood began the first digs in 1947 in an open field between Pearson Field and downtown Vancouver. He found and staked out the exact location of the original fort.

Construction of a replica fort and buildings got under way in 1960 and continues today...The latest digs have been in the Kanaka Town area west of the fort. With some 600 workers living there, residents included Scots and English, Iroquois, Crees, Metis, Chinook, French Canadians, Hawaiians and Russians.

Scholars have determined that 32 languages were spoken in the town, creating a unique multicultural community, Wilson said.

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