'We've found evidence that clicked everything into place'

'We've found evidence that clicked everything into place'
Southern Oregon University archaeologist Chelsea Rose holds the bowl of a 1850's clay pipe found near the site of the Peter Britt log cabin, Tuesday Oct. 19, 2010. (AP Photo/Medford Mail Tribune, Bob Pennell)

JACKSONVILLE, Ore. (AP) – If this were a murder mystery, it would be the smoking gun that solved the case.

The bowl from a smoker's clay pipe, believed to be from the early 1850s and found during an archaeological dig at the Britt Gardens, has helped reveal the exact location of the cabin pioneer photographer Peter Britt built late in 1852.

Experts believe it is one of the earliest-known pioneer cabin sites ever discovered and professionally excavated in the region.

The pipe was among relics from last month's dig displayed at a celebratory Jacksonville City Council meeting Tuesday evening. The event, complete with a cake featuring the city's seal, marked the 150th birthday of this former gold rush boom town becoming an incorporated city.

"We are confident it is the cabin site – we've found evidence that clicked everything into place," said Chelsea Rose, staff archaeologist at Southern Oregon University's Laboratory of Anthropology who led last month's dig.

The long-gone cabin was located behind the house that Britt later built on the property, she said, referring to the two-story house he wouldn't complete until the late 1880s. The house burned in 1960.

The researchers, including a group of SOU archaeology students and Southern Oregon Historical Society volunteers, were tipped by the presence of two old garbage sites which would not have been placed so close to the house, Rose said.

"The middens (refuse sites) were in weird spots from where the house stood," she said, adding that the test digs confirmed they had located the old cabin site.

Then there were the items in the dumps, all from the early 1850s, including the telltale pipe bowl with a face molded into the bowl.

"We had found the same kind of pipe at Fort Lane," she said, referring to a pipe found in 2005 at the site of what is known as the Jennison cabin, also circa 1852, which burned in 1853. Located a few miles northwest of Central Point, Fort Lane was built atop the Jennison cabin site.

Like the one from the Britt cabin, the pipe from the Jennison cabin depicts a man with a long beard and tall fur hat, Rose said. The pipes appear to have been mass produced, she added.

The Britt cabin pipe is among hundreds of artifacts recovered during last month's excavation, each of which will be analyzed at SOU. About 40 tests sites were made.

Mark Tveskov, director of SOULA and an associate professor of anthropology at the university, described finding the cabin site as "rare and highly significant, as it is one of the earliest known cabin sites yet discovered and professionally excavated in the State of Jefferson."

The Britt cabin site is located in the Britt Garden now owned by the city, which is restoring the garden that Peter Britt planted in the late 1800s.

"We wanted to get the site excavated because we will be doing some work up there," said Mayor Bruce Garrett. "We don't want to disturb anything of historical significance."

The work by Rose and her crew was essential in achieving that goal, he said, adding that future archaeological projects depend on available funding.

The popular Britt Festivals are now held on the property.

Britt used the cabin as his primary residence until 1856, when he began work on his house, according to historic accounts. The cabin was then turned into a storage shed.

A native of Switzerland, Britt arrived in Jacksonville as a 33-year-old in the fall of 1852 to mine for gold. After striking out in the search for gold, he became a celebrated photographer, horticulturist, vintner, beekeeper and businessman who planted the seeds for today's orchard and wine industries in southwestern Oregon. He died in 1905 at age 86.

The archaeologists and SOHS volunteers are working with the city to discover everything they can about Jacksonville's most famous resident, Rose said.

"Investigations into well known historical figures such as Peter Britt can be particularly rewarding as archaeologists can use existing documents such as photographs, diaries and oral histories in conjunction with archaeological findings to obtain information on specific aspects or events in the person's life," she explained.

For instance, materials uncovered from the middens will reveal a lot about Britt's early life in Jacksonville, she said.

In addition to the old pipe bowl, other artifacts found on the site included dishes, parts of ceramic dolls, countless square nails and bones from wild animals that had been butchered, Rose said.

"We found a lot of elk and deer bones – wild game bones," she said. "In the early 1850s, there wouldn't have been much development."

As a result, Britt and others of that era depended heavily on wild game for survival, she said.

"We haven't gone through everything we found yet," she said of the laboratory analysis. "We will be going through all of it this winter."

– Information from: Mail Tribune, http://www.mailtribune.com