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The Oregonian: Rocks, fossils and artifacts star at Portland State University's Archaeology Roadshow
Author: Nick Budnick, The Oregonian
Posted: March 26, 2012

To read the original story in The Oregonian, go here

From a cardboard box Chris Kiefer carefully draws out a large object wrapped in a gray towel and lays it on the table; unwrapped it becomes a colorful club, with a head made of smooth brown-beige basalt marked by perfect rings worn into each end. A bright green ribbonlike material holds it onto a shaft wrapped tightly in beads of maroon, green and white.

"Wow," says Ken Ames, a recently retired anthropology professor at Portland State University.

Kiefer, a 56-year-old Safeway cashier from Portland, was part of a horde of history lovers, rock hoarders, artifact collectors and unsuspecting passersby who came, many bearing artifacts, to PSU's Cramer Hall on Saturday for the school's Archaeology Roadshow. Modeled after the PBS "Antiques Roadshow" television show, it brought together dozens of archaeology buffs and experts who volunteered, along with exhibits and demonstrations -- and plenty of candy for the kids.

Kiefer's mallet, along with several pouches and arrowheads, had been sitting in a closet for years, passed down from her grandmother to her mother, who passed away in November. Covered in beads of yellow, maroon and turquoise, the pouches date to the late 1800s, says Dave Ellis, an archaeology consultant and volunteer. "They are probably very valuable. Put them in safe place."

Nearby, is a "bone room" with finds from local digs, as well as skeletons of bear, turtle, rat and bird. There's also a room where a volunteer puts on a display of Native American "flintknapping," hammering limestone into a hunk of black obsidian to produce razor-sharp shards that can cut a pelt or human flesh. Across the room, another volunteer shows off ancient weapons, including a throwing spear that could kill a deer from two football fields away.

Outside, a sweet odor fills the hall near a table where kids try their hand at "chocolate knapping," using wooden tools to carve into confectionery hunks.

The one-day roadshow is the work of PSU anthropology professor Virginia Butler and her community archaeology class. She strides the hall checking in with volunteers such as Dave Harrelson, an expert with the Grande Ronde tribe, and Dave Gilmour, who stands near a large mammoth bone, having recently completed his master's thesis on the subject.

Tables show off old bottles in brown, pink and light blue, and fragments of Bavarian, Chinese and English porcelain discovered in nearby digs. This history is all around us, Butler says. "The beauty of these is we have these under our parking lots."

Back at the experts' table, Ames, the professor, and archaeology consultant Jim Bard, continue to hold forth. Jeff Sturges, a Rieke Elementary School teacher in Portland and his 7-year-old, Zachary, fork over a large piece of layered whitish-gray woodlike material with what looks like mother of pearl on one end. It's clearly a fossil, once either a section of tree or a volleyball-sized prehistoric shellfish, the experts say.

Sturges is just happy to know it's a million years old or more. "All this attention for a rock in my backyard," he laughs.

The experts are happy, too, especially when Kim Seltzer, a local jewelry and accessory designer, shows up with a seemingly bottomless bag of rocks individually wrapped in newspaper. The experts beckon for their colleagues and a photographer to document magnificent examples of ancient Native American tools, showing how they were used to hammer and pound plant material, rocks and wood into useful materials.

"You are absolutely wonderful," Ames says, as Seltzer keeps them coming.

Seltzer has loved rocks since she was a kid.

"I'm always looking," she says. "I guess it's like being a detective: when you're walking around, you never know what you might find. People usually aren't looking."