Archeological work on the Buck Rock Tunnel

SOULA archaeological project receives national BLM recognition

The Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology (SOULA) has been honored for partnering with the federal Bureau of Land Management’s Ashland Field Office on an archaeological exploration of the Buck Rock Tunnel southeast of Ashland. The collaborative project received one of three nationwide Heritage Heroes awards this year from the BLM.

“SOU held an archaeological field school at the site in 2019, and the partnership has been working with students and the community to research the history of the Oregon and California Railroad and the abandonment of the Buck Rock Tunnel since 2016, with a particular emphasis on the Chinese railroad workers that constructed it,” said SOU archaeologist Chelsea Rose, who has worked on the project with BLM archaeologist Lisa Rice.

“This project has been so successful that … we have expanded the partnership and created the Southern Oregon Chinese Archaeological Project, which focuses on Chinese heritage sites across the Medford District of the BLM, and will include both railroad and mining sites.”

The Buck Rock Tunnel – south of Greensprings Highway and off of Buckhorn Springs Road – was started by the Oregon & California Railroad on both sides of a ridge in the early 1880s, but was never finished. The O&C was purchased by Southern Pacific Railroad, which opted for a different route to California.

The ongoing archeological project includes surveying and excavating the site, and recording findings, to offer a broader view of the Chinese laborers who worked at several railroad and mining sites in southern Oregon. SOULA and the BLM are also presenting their work on the Buck Rock Tunnel project on Thursday (April 29) as part of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department’s “Collaboration is Key” Oregon Heritage Virtual Summit. The project was recently featured as part of Unearthing Oregon, a collaboration between the Oregon Historical Society and SOULA.

“The Buck Rock Tunnel Project partnership organizes programs for students and the public each year,” the BLM said in announcing the award. “SOULA field schools provide anthropology students from Southern Oregon University with important training in archaeological recording and historical research. Local residents also participate in survey and excavation at the site.

“This multi-year project accomplishes valuable research and historic resource identification and evaluation. It also provides public education and interpretation opportunities, allowing the BLM to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.”

The Heritage Heroes awards are presented each year by the BLM’s Division of Education, Cultural and Paleontological Resources. This year’s other winners are the Cooper’s Ferry Site Partnership on Nez Perce tribal land in Idaho and the work of a volunteer site steward at a rock art location in Utah.

Rose’s work on behalf of SOULA was also recognized a year ago, when the Oregon Chinese Diaspora Project won an Oregon Heritage Excellence Award. That project, led by Rose, is a grassroots archaeology partnership of federal, state and local agencies that examine the Chinese diaspora – or dispersed population – in Oregon, and challenge stereotypes that have been historically assigned to the immigrants.