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Where have all the women and children gone? An examination of domestic life at the Newell Farmstead (35MA41) in the early Oregon country

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  • The Newell Farmstead (35MA41) archaeological site lies in the heart of the French Prairie in the Willamette Valley in the Champoeg State Heritage Area, Oregon. The integrity and depth of deposition have made the Newell site a unique opportunity to look at activity areas and domestic life of early Euro-American settlers in the early Oregon Country before statehood. Large block excavations have revealed a domestic structure with unique architectural features and one of the largest domestic assemblages of this era in Oregon. By using large block style excavations, exposing the interior and exterior of the household living surface, the author hopes to be able to show how the occupants of this household, the majority of whom were women and children, lived their day-to-day lives as active members of their household, in charge of domestic tasks, including childcare, farming, animal raising and indigenous traditional skills. Due to the patriarchal societies that most historical archaeologists research, many of the historical documents are written for, by or about men. Historical archaeologists often interpret archaeological sites as if these male head households were the only ones in the household contributing to the archaeological record or making any meaningful decisions in the past. However, the majority of historic domestic households were composed of women and children. I propose that in historical archaeology, we should look at the historical demography of the communities we study before we interpret who is present at the archaeological site, which can lead us to more of a holistic interpretation of these past populations.
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