Oregon Outback Tour 2013: UO's MNCH takes group back in time

Talk about time travel: UO president and interim provost, along with the Eugene mayor and other UO alumni and staff, walked last week in the footsteps of the world’s oldest shoes – 10,000-year-old sagebrush sandals – in south-central Oregon.

Dennis Jenkins and Tom Connolly, archaeologists from the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History (MNCH), led the July 18-20 “Oregon Outback Tour 2013” to explore where some of the continent’s earliest residents lived nearly 14,500 years ago (Paisley Caves), and where the world’s oldest shoes were found (Fort Rock Cave).

The area known as the Oregon Outback is a high desert plateau where seasonal changes in the climate are extreme. Vast lakes and marshes that once covered the area provided food for the continent’s first families. Now dried up, the Summer Lake and Fort Rock Basins are covered with sagebrush, rabbit brush and other desert plants.

Water was the key to the boom and bust cycles for the area’s first people, as well as for homesteaders in the early 20th century.

This is a landscape that captures the imagination, imbued with a sense that we can still “see” the tribes going about their lives … digging up nutritious roots, gathering tules for mats and baskets, herding rabbits into long cordage nets for much-needed food, and organizing a rendezvous of neighboring families trying to marry off young clan members. 

Many stories are found in and around the caves.

Participants in this year’s tour included UO President Michael Gottfredson and his wife, Karol; Interim Provost Scott Coltrane and his wife, Wendy; Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy and her husband, David; UO supporters Scott and Kellie Chambers, and Mike and Penny Wilkes; Museum Advisory Council member Ty Zeller and her husband, Richard; as well as archaeologists and other staff from the MNCH.

The final stop of the outback tour was at Paulina Peak of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, the peak overlooks majestic geologic features formed by volcanic activity. The caldera houses lava flows, obsidian domes, East Lake and Paulina Lake, where American Indian ancestors lived 11,000 years ago.

After this travel back in time, President Gottfredson commented on the pre-Clovis research site, “It is exciting to see first-hand the sites where this world-class research takes place.”

- by Patricia Krier, UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History