George Bush Homestead Archaeology Project

The archaeological excavation of one of Washington State's earliest homesteads

Out of the Field and Into the Lab

Our time in the field has been productive and fruitful. Now, we focus all of our attention onlab work, as begin to make sense of our many finds.


As we put down our trowels and pick up our books, we meticulously search for clues about the origins of our finds.


We’ve found a match! Judging by the maker’s mark on this piece of ceramic, it was likely purchased from the Hudson Bay Company at Fort Nisqually, a trading post just north of the Bush Homestead.


When we find matching pieces of glass or ceramic, we join them together and, from many small pieces, bring the whole into focus.


Sometimes, this process takes years. Here, we are able to match pieces of ceramic with one that was uncovered last year. We do not know how long it will take to reconstruct any one artifact, but we are patient in our search for knowledge.


If you like doing jigsaw puzzles, you might consider seeking a career in archaeology.


Meanwhile, we clean some of our larger, metal artifacts.

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Meanwhile still, we photograph every burnt piece of paper with readable text. So far, we have found a number of advertisements articles 1894 to 1906, helping to establish a likely date for the refuse pit. As we comb through more fragments, we hope to discover even more information about the Bush family.


Here, we are able to identify a Dr. Scholl’s shoe insert, dating from between 1904 and the 1930s.


This process will continue on. With an abundant backlog of artifacts, there is enough to keep curious students busy for years to come. As this year’s field school comes to a close, we would like to give a special thanks to Mark and Kathleen Clark, the proprietors of Bush Prairie Farm who have graciously welcomed us to carry out this excavation on their land. Thank you for making this possible! We look forward to future excavations in the future. Until then, thanks for reading.

What a Week!

We began the week by reading about our project on the front page of the newspaper. How exciting!


We have already been welcoming a steady stream of curious community members who have come out to take a tour of the site but, with this extra exposure, Bush Prairie  Farm is the place to be!


Pleased with the public’s interest in our project, we continue to make discoveries. Excavating around the hearth which was removed last week, we find . . . another hearth!


Extending our area of excavation around the original hearth has proven to be a fruitful endeavor, but even this pales in comparison to what we are finding in our newly discovered trash pit from last week. Here, we meticulously remove an axe head. This is just one of the many finds coming out of this excavation unit which seems to be bursting at the seams with remnants of the past.


Even more exciting, we find a deposit of burnt paper, with plenty of text and imagery still visible.


Using state of the art technology (Google), we are able to track down one of the burnt pages!


We are less excited about this advertisement for soap than we are about the date. Because this ad is from 1906, we can establish that the deposit must date from after that time. We carefully seal up the fragments of paper for careful analysis in the lab. These fragments have more stories to tell, and we look forward to finding out what they are.


With thousands of artifacts found, we clean up and say goodbye to the site for the year. It is time to put in some serious lab time, cleaning, processing, cataloging, and making sense of our many discoveries. We have uncovered the artifacts, and now we will finally begin uncovering their meaning.

Moving Forward

Many hands make light work, and light is exactly what we’re going for as we finish excavating the hearth. For all we know, this has been in the ground for over a century, so it is extremely important that we treat it with utmost care in order to preserve its delicate structure.


It’s slow going but, with great intention, we work together to remove this historical treasure safely.


Finally, the hearth is removed. We were unable to keep it in one, continuous piece but, considering how delicate this feature is, we are pleased with our slow and careful work. All that is left now is to let it dry before cleaning and analyzing it in the lab. Because many of us are interested in pursuing careers in archaeology, experience like this is invaluable. Who knows what story it will tell?


Meanwhile, our refuse pit from earlier this week is coming into view. With something like this, we first expose the upper level of the feature without disturbing the orientation of individual artifacts. We slowly bring this forgotten deposit into focus, revealing an image of the past. Does this qualify as fine art? You be the judge.


We are excited to begin delving deeper, but also suspect that we will not have time for a full excavation of this particular feature during the current field season. In the same way that we finished excavating the hearth uncovered near the end of last season, it is up to next year’s archaeologists to continue what we have begun this season. Archaeologists collaborate across time, often with people they will never meet in person, and yet it is this kind of collaboration that makes what we are doing possible.


As the sun sits high in the sky, our wonderful professor dishes out ice cream sandwiches to hungry archaeologists in 90+ degree weather. Our spirits are renewed as we look forward to more digging. Thanks Ulrike!


Finally, some of us return to the lab and get a head start on cleaning, organizing, and cataloging our many finds. Tomorrow, we will all take a break from the sun to continue this process together. This is an overlooked but essential part of archaeology. One person’s trash is another’s treasure, and we take a moment to admire how beautiful some of the glass artifacts from the trash deposit appear when laid out together, freshly cleaned and free of the earth from which they came. We look forward to more lab time tomorrow!

Bottles and Bootheels

We have finally investigated all four of the anomalies that showed up in our GPR survey, and what we have found is a whole lot of clay.


But with these possibilities ruled out, we are free to leave this cul-de-sac and get back on the open road of discovery. And so we continue. Here, a pair of archaeologists are hard at work opening up a small but promising test pit for further investigation.


As they dig deeper, we find one of the holy grails of archaeology: a trash pit. The rumors are true. Archaeologists love trash, and this deposit is overflowing with it. Even as we get started, we are presented with an abundance of leather, glass, and metal artifacts, all of historical value.


Here, we see some historical glass and a metal spring. A bootheel rests just outside the frame. These are just a few of the hundreds of artifacts that have come from this pit so far. We have only begun to scratch the surface of this pit, its size and edges are still unknown, and it should keep us busy for quite a while. Who knows what we will find hidden in the earth?


Meanwhile, excavations on a hearth that was previously discovered continue on. Thanks to the great work of last year’s crew, we are able to continue where they left off. Here, they uncovered the existence of this feature near the end of their dig. Now, we continue on and will soon be able to remove, clean, and catalog this window into the past. At the same time, we extend our area of excavation to include the area surrounding this hearth. This is a great example of how digs evolve from year to year, and we are indebted to the hard work of last year’s field school. We hope that future archaeologists will eventually benefit from our hard work this summer!

Searching For Answers

Last week, Steve Hackenberger trained us on how to use ground penetrating radar (GPR) to find anomalies in the earth. After taking a number of readings, we found some!


The task now is to discover whether these anomalies are natural or cultural features. We are hoping to find cultural features, and so we begin digging to find an explanation for these anomalies.


Phew! After going down nearly a meter, we discover a deposit of highly compacted clay. This is not the road we are looking for, but there are other anomalies to uncover, and even the discovery of natural features like this one are highly valuable in that they help us narrow down the possible places where cultural features might be hidden beneath the soil.  Meanwhile, a reporter from the Olympian is taking photos, hopefully to follow up on their recent coverage of the dig as Ulrike crouches in our pit.



Gasp! We thought we had stumbled upon a game changing find, but it turned out to be Jessie taking a much deserved break after a long dig. We hope compacted clay is comfortable.  In the meantime, there are more anomalies to uncover, and a promising new deposit to begin excavating as we continue searching for answers in the dirt.

First Week’s Report


Today was such pleasant weather for the field, cross your fingers a cool front swoops our way and gives us most 70 degree days! Last week it was hot, hot, hot, and the ~15 of us out at Bush Prairie felt every hour of it. We have accomplished great work thus far! We’ve…

Uncovered the original excavation site and laid out the grid again. We are working in around 15 different squares. Most of them are concentrated around the super cool deposit the field school found last year, something that was also uncovered and is being carefully excavated by one of our volunteers.

It's shaded now, but the first two days we were taking full sunlight on our dig!

It’s shaded now, but the first two days we were taking full sunlight on our dig!

We’ve had some groups of visitors come by since last Wednesdays, when our public tours started. (See this post for our tour schedule and details!) There are two model excavation units for those who want to get their hands dirty at the site (especially the kids!) Nathan trained everyone in how to use our Total Station, so now we’re taking points across the excavation and building a map the field school may use for years to come..

Nathan and the total station

Nathan and the total station

Today, Steven Hackenberger from Central Washington University came back out to the homestead to train us in his Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) equipment, from which we have enough preliminary data to start some shovel tests across the field. Those will commence tomorrow. A few more excavation sites have opened up next to a test pit, also started today, that gave us some really, really interesting finds! Pieces of leather, tons of metal, charcoal, some bone, interesting shards of glass.

I know that we can’t wait to see what else we find. Be sure to come out and see for yourself before it’s over!


The Homestead’s Second Season is Nearly Here

Just as the heat wave sweeps over the Puget Sound, our field school’s second season is almost ready to begin! This year’s host of burgeoning archaeologists will spend two weeks in the books, learning all they can about the Bush family homestead, archaeology’s fascinating history, and preparing themselves for three weeks in the field. This year we are hoping to discover many more artifacts and spread the word about this family’s unique place in Washington’s history. If you’re interested in knowing more, bring a friend (or many!) and come by one of our free public tours.

The tours this year will be offered August 17th, 18th,  22nd, 23rd, 24th, 25th, and the 29th from 1:30 PM to 3:30 PM. A new tour starts every half hour. Please bring your kids, bring your neighbors, bring your History Club, bring everyone and help us recognize this piece of our state’s history.

Directions to the site: The address is 8400 Old Hwy 99 SE, Tumwater, WA. You’ll take the Trosper Rd exit from I-5 South, cross over the highway and turn right on Capitol, which eventually turns into Old Hwy 99. When you get to the Olympia Airport on your right, keep an eye out for an old Pacific Pride gas station on the left side of the road. Turn left right in front of it: there is a driveway that leads down to a gate. You can park along the road. We’ll have a student at the gate from 1:30pm on to guide you up to the site. If you don’t see anyone, we may be on our way up or down; please wait for someone to assist you. The excavation is on private property and we need to respect the owners’ space. Thank you!

For questions or for further information or special requests please contact Lee Lounder ( or Nathan Jeffryes (

The Bush Project at NWAC 2016!

I am proud to announce that three of the 2015 project team members successfully presented posters at the Northwest Anthropological Conference in Tacoma on March 24th. Congratulations to Erin Gamble, Alexander Butler, and Kelson McConnell! IMG_1842 IMG_1843 IMG_1840IMG_1836


Bush Homestead Archaeology Open House October 23rd, 5:30 pm

Please join the team, the Thurston County Historical Commission, and WA State Archives for an archaeology open house celebration at the Coach House next to the Capitol Museum, on Friday the 23rd.  More info here:Arch Flyer

George Bush Homestead Archaeology Project 2015 has ended!

Wonderful job, students, faculty, staff, and volunteers!

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