Unearthing the Camosun bear: Students experience archaeological dig on Lansdowne Campus

Unearthing the Camosun bear: Students experience archaeological dig on Lansdowne Campus
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Camosun College students got hands-on experience with an archaeological dig due to the gift of a bear carcass to the school.

Nicole Kilburn has no skeletons in the closet. She keeps hers in the cupboard.

The anthropology instructor has worked at Camosun College’s Lansdowne campus for more than 20 years, and during COVID the opportunity arose for a hands-on exercise for her students.

“I was gifted a bear carcass by an Indigenous colleague that had hunted it,” she says.

While a bear carcass is an atypical gift, it’s a perfect fit for the long-tenured professor looking to give students the hands-on experience of a real archaeological dig.

“You can’t create these kinds of opportunities in the classroom.”

The bear carcass was buried on campus in a plot in the southeast part of the campus to give the students the hands-on experience. In 2022 students used GPS to detect the reposed bear beneath the surface.

This semester the time was right for excavation. The carcass arrived in a state of decomposition.

“It was not pretty,” says Kilburn. “By the time we excavated it, Mother Nature had done a beautiful job of cleaning everything up.”

Kilburn’s students began the job of unearthing the bear with the help of Katie Waterhouse’s forensic anthropology students.

“They got to work with the tools, the barbeque skewers and the tiny little trowels to get the remains out and make sure we’re getting all of the pieces,” she said.

Instructors and students from the college’s Indigenous Studies program honoured the life and death of the bear with song and drumming before the students began to exhume.

“The ceremony for taking the bones out of the ground was incredible,” says anthropology student Logan Hudson.

When it comes to previous learning exercises, there’s nothing quite like a real excavation.

“In the past I’ve shown students how to lay out a 1×1 metre excavation unit on the carpet with pieces of tape,” says Kilburn.

There are no currently no plans in place for a future excavation, but Kilburn wants to to revisit.

“It created a really good buzz as people celebrated the opportunity to learn together and do something a bit different,” Kilburn said.

Jordan CunninghamJordan Cunningham

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