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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow STUDENTS DIG UP THE PAST


IN THE TRENCHES: La Grande Middle School students, left to right, Travis Grunenfelder, Tyler Jones, Eric Dinger and Kyle Stein search for artifacts at la Grande's historic dump site. (The Observer/DICK MASON).
IN THE TRENCHES: La Grande Middle School students, left to right, Travis Grunenfelder, Tyler Jones, Eric Dinger and Kyle Stein search for artifacts at la Grande's historic dump site. (The Observer/DICK MASON).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Its got to be one of La Grandes largest time capsules.

And 50 La Grande Middle School eighth-graders are having the time of their lives examining its contents.

The time capsule is actually a four-block historic dump site in northwest La Grande. The citys garbage was deposited there from the 1800s through the mid-1940s. Late last week the students in an earth science class taught by Anne Marie Fritz conducted an archaeological dig at the site.

The students reached depths of up to 3 1/2 feet at some of their sites, uncovering artifacts from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Items included medicine bottles, soft drink bottles, automobile parts, bowls, shoe soles, scissors, food jars, a plate from a La Grande inn, animal bones and much more.

The items were taken back to the middle school where the students are now recording, studying and in some cases restoring what they collected.

They could not wait to get back to the classroom and research what they found, Fritz said.

Three students called Fritz at home over the weekend and asked if they could get started before school started on Monday.

This has been all-around fun, said student Amanda Johnson.

Kenny Forsythe, another eighth-grader, agrees.

This has been awesome, he said, noting that he found several automobile parts.

It is cool to think that I might be standing on an old car, he said.

Melissa Wickam was also excited.

I learned a lot about what things used to be like, she said.

The dig was conducted with the help of George Mead, a retired U.S. Forest Service archaeologist. He advised Fritz on how to conduct the dig. Students worked at 25 3-by-3-foot dig sites.

The initial digging was done by Fritz and several other adults and students the weekend before. The group dug up the grass and then another six inches.

This was a lot of work. The soil was very rocky, Fritz said.

Digging beyond this point was much easier for the students who were to follow.

A number of area businesses donated supplies and services for the project. They included Bi-Mart, D & B Supply Co., Grocery Outlet and CBs Portable Toilets.

There is no way that we could have done this without their support, Fritz said.

La Grande City Manager Wes Hare gave Fritz permission to conduct the archaeological probe on the city-owned site.

Plastic was placed over the trench. This will allow next years eighth-graders to pick up where the group left off.

Fritz hopes to make this an annual project. Perhaps down the road her students will reach Oregon Trail-era artifacts.

On Monday students were still buzzing about the dig, said English teacher Sandy Woodward.

They came up off their chairs when they started talking about it, Woodward said.

Fritz said she was encouraged by the response of one boy who had appeared to be uninterested in school.

The youngster asked Fritz during the dig if archaeology is taught in college. Then he asked if he could make a living working in archaeology.

On Monday the student asked Fritz how to prepare for college. The teacher said this is remarkable considering that earlier she feared the boy might drop out of school.

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