On-campus archaeological site
Ecosystem Preserve celebrates 25 years of education and inspiration

student researchers

Ninety acres of deciduous forest, five or six vernal pools, a swamp, and fields of wildflowers and native grass: hardly the picture of an archaeological site.

“We’re trying to change that whole notion of archaeology,” said Calvin history and archaeology professor Bert de Vries. “You don’t have to have a lariat and a big hat and travel to the outer reaches of the Peruvian jungle to study archaeology.”

archaeological artifactIn fact, 16 Calvin archaeology students spent a portion of first semester last fall just across the East Beltline performing an archaeological assessment of the Ecosystem Preserve.

In de Vries’ “Introduction to Archaeology” class, students are required to participate in a field project. Previously, those projects took place at various locales around Grand Rapids. This year was the beginning of a study that will eventually provide a detailed history of the land’s use.

“We would hope to find everything from evidence of land use by the American Indian, through the colonial period to the present,” said de Vries. “The first thing that gives us is a contextual record of the land. In order for us to understand what the land is turning into, it’s important to know what it was.”

Archaeological artifactThis is relevant to the larger context of the Kent County area, too, de Vries explained. “It is a sampling of what was going on in the area at the time,” he said. “It contributes to an increasingly better picture of the material evidence of occupation of the region.”

Students performed an analysis of a collection of artifacts that had previously been found on the property as well as an archival history and a walking survey of archaeological surface remains on a portion of the land.

The objects found included nails, fence posts, horseshoes, shotgun shells, .22-caliber casings and glass fragments. These items were identified and cataloged.

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A timeline of known land use was recorded and a written report of surface remains registered.

All of the student-produced data contributes to the knowledge of the land. “While this benefits those interested in the preserve,” de Vries said, “it also gives the students a chance to apply in practice what they’ve been reading about: It instantly makes what archaeology is meaningful and significant to them.”