McNair Scholar receives outpouring of support for Smithsonian visit

As one of the University of Oregon’s McNair Scholars, Gabriel Sanchez is part of a close-knit community of juniors and seniors who receive strong encouragement to complete research projects in their fields of study and apply to graduate schools. But Sanchez, a senior anthropology major from Ukiah, Calif., was blown away by the extra show of support he received when the opportunity came up for him to conduct research at the Smithsonian Institution archives and collections.

“It’s kind of overwhelming,” Sanchez said. “Being an undergrad doing this research project and having all of these people helping me to see this through, it’s just so amazing.”

In addition to receiving a portion of his travel expenses for his June 16-22 trip to the Smithsonian from the office for Research, Innovation and Graduate Education, Sanchez received financial support from the College of Arts and Sciences, the Office of Equity and Inclusion, the division of Undergraduate Studies and the McNair Scholars Program. The opportunity grew out of Sanchez’s interest in the Par-Tee archaeological site in Seaside, Oregon. Excavated in the late 1960’s-1970s, the site contains roughly 4,000-year-old artifacts from indigenous populations. The majority of the artifacts are housed at the Smithsonian. After interning with the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde, Sanchez developed a research project examining the marine hunting practices of native Northwest populations.

“I want to know, to what extent indigenous populations hunted cetaceans (sea mammals),” Sanchez explains. “It’s a question that may help shed light on an ancient population and help the tribes further understand prehistoric subsistence practices  in this region.”

At the Smithsonian, Sanchez recorded data for 70 harpoon points, looked at CT scans and examined whale bones with tool markings. He is awaiting a package of loaned Smithsonian artifacts that is being shipped to the UO so he can conduct blood residue tests and finalize his research.

“This was my first exposure to large collections research, and it was a great experience,” Sanchez said. “Ever since I started school, I’ve wanted to be an archaeologist.”

Sanchez receives advising from UO archaeology professor and Museum of Natural and Cultural History Director Jon Erlandson, as well as from Eirik Thorsgard, cultural protection program manager and tribal historic preservation officer at the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. In the coming months, Sanchez plans to complete an undergraduate thesis based on the research he conducted at the Smithsonian and apply to graduate degree programs in anthropology.