Tyler Davis works on an archaeological dig near the intersection of Oak and Third streets Tuesday in Central Point. The dig started May 20 when artifacts were found during a project to pave a gravel parking lot near City Hall. - Mail Tribune / Julia Moore

A lot of history

CENTRAL POINT — Like a typical dump site, it contains bottles, broken cans, chipped cups, saucers, buttons, bones left from meals, marbles, broken toys and what appears to be a stopper for a perfume bottle.

But to Chelsea Rose, the cast-aside items found in the ground beneath the parking lot are priceless.

"It isn't Richard the III, but we are pretty excited about what we've found in this parking lot nonetheless," said Rose, staff archaeologist at Southern Oregon University's Laboratoryof Anthropology.

While the midden — garbage deposit in layman's terms — won't have the gravitas in the archaeological community like the finding of King Richard III's remains under a parking lot in the United Kingdom, the material from more than a century ago is important in helping shed more light on the history of Central Point, Rose said.

"It is a humble assortment of things, but to us it is all data that has a lot to say about what life was like here at that time," she said. "We are getting a glimpse into family life.

"When you have something this rich, the sky is the limit about what we can learn about people who lived here," she added.

The archaeological dig, which is expected to wrap up before the week is out, began after a contractor working on a project to pave the city's Oak Street parking lot discovered artifacts after scraping off the layer of gravel.

Using federal grants, the city, working with the Oregon Department of Transportation, had started the project to address dust problems and drainage issues.

The parking lot is off Oak Street across from City Hall between Second and Third streets.

"On the first day of digging they found stuff, and kept finding more things," said Matt Samitore, the city's parks and public works director.

At that point, the construction stopped. Rose and her crew of students and staff at SOU stepped in to check out the significance of the find.

"We don't have a lot of historical items from Central Point," Samitore said of artifacts found in the city. "I'm glad they are taking the time to find out what it is."

The archaeological dig is likely to delay to early July the paving project that had been expected to be completed by the end of June, he said.

"We are trying to get in and out as quickly as possible so they can continue their project," Rose said, estimating the dig that began May 20 will be wrapped up in a few days.

"Archaeology is nonrenewable," she added. "We need to make sure we record what we find and think about what we are doing going forward. We won't ever get this chance again."

In most parking lots, the ground has been churned up with utilities and other disturbances over time, Rose said.

Not so at the Oak Street parking lot.

"Since we've started this I've found some newspaper accounts that in 1947 the Favor grocery store, which was a block that way (west), graveled this area," she said. "They didn't put a lot of effort into it. They just put gravel on top of the dirt.

"What they did was cap the historic layer," she added. "All the archaeology that had been building up was just capped with gravel."

But the artifacts from the dump have been found only in a small area, which she speculates is fairly shallow.

"When you have an early urban site, they don't have garbage service yet," she said. "So if you have a hole or a low spot, you will throw your garbage in it. But this has layers of ash so people were using this dump spot for a while."

Tyler Davis, her husband and an assistant on the project, was laying out string marking a one-meter-square dig next to the existing, but smaller, exploratory hole that has yielded a trove of artifacts.

"We'll be going down 10 centimeters at a time and continually evaluate as we go down," he said. "We will be sketching and photographing each layer as we go."

"There are more artifacts than dirt in this little hole," Rose said. "We needed to stop so we could open it up a little so we could excavate very carefully."

The archeological team checked out another ongoing paving project a few blocks away but didn't find anything of major significance.

"We knew over time there was a different series of buildings in this lot," she said. "We wanted to see if there was anything pertaining to those buildings."

They believe the deposit dates back to around 1900, she said.

"One of the things we are particularly interested in is the fact there are a lot of artifacts related to women," she said. "Women are a demographic that is underrepresented in the archaeological record as well as the documentary record."

The block containing the parking lot is part of the earliest section of Central Point when it began shifting from farmland to a railroad town, she said.

"H.H. McGruder, who represented one of the main families in early times, had a house on the corner," she said, noting that is reflected in an 1888 map. "This was part of their homestead claim."

The site also is associated with an early hotelier in town, she said.

"He had a house here and a stable over there," she said, pointing to a nearby site. "In 1902, he sold it to the Williams family. So far that is the time period we are seeing. We think — and are hoping — it gets older as it gets deeper."

She has a map, circa 1910, which shows the "Williams residence and eating house" near the dig site.

Meanwhile, the items being pulled out of the dig are not worth much financially, Rose said.

"There is nothing in here that would make anyone any money on eBay," she said. "But we don't want anyone coming in here to poke around. The value is in the data.

"Those artifacts lose 90 percent of their value as soon as they are taken out of this hole," she added. "We need to know exactly where each item came from."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at

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