How a Capilano professor’s archaeological discovery has become a 15-year project
Jayde Atchison // Staff Writer
Bob Muckle // Photographer
Ashley Loo // Illustrator
When you think of Capilano University and the surrounding areas, you may think of its forests, the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve and the North Vancouver Cemetery. What you may not know is that hidden in the university’s backyard, in the North Vancouver forest, lies the remains of an abandoned Japanese Nikkei village.
Bob Muckle, archaeologist and anthropology professor at Capilano University, has been studying the abandoned site for the better part of 15 years. Despite the ongoing exhumation process and fieldwork over the last decade or so, there has been an increase of media attention over the last few months. Muckle attests this spotlight to Brent Richtor from the North Shore News. “I credit Richtor, he did a really nice piece. That’s what started it,” Muckle reflected. “He had written about me in the past and so as a courtesy this year I invited him up. I had never met him. I [told him] ‘there’s a good chance this is my last year at this particular site so if you wanna come up, you’re welcome to,’” Muckle added. Richtor wrote about the visit in a feature article in August which sparked interest in a CBC reporter.
“I also credit Gloria Macarenko. Just a couple of days after the North Shore News article came out, she phoned me,” Muckle explained with a big smile. “She asked me to come down for a radio interview in studio and so I did!” Macarenko knew there was something to this story and brought it to CBC News where they wrote an online article, which quickly made its way around the world. Soon after that, mentions of Muckle and the Nikkei village were found in Archeology Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, The National Post, The Vancouver Province, Atlas Obscura and BBC Radio.
To some academics, the idea of being constantly contacted by the media may seem like a nuisance, but Robert Muckle is not one of those people. When asked how he feels about the sudden spur of attention he said, “I love it! It’s no work on my part, I get to just answer questions!” The only issues Muckle has had with the press is credibility. While experiences with larger publications have been largely positive, he finds the plagiarism in some smaller forums distressing as he has found himself lost in a sea of fake news articles using his name out of context and incorrectly.
Muckle has been teaching at CapU since it was known as Cap College. He has always been keen on public education and enjoys involving students in this fieldwork. Each time he runs the program—a seven-week course worth six credits—it provides hands-on experience for students that allows them to undertake a grad school level course without the pressure of having grad school expectations. “The field school provides them unlimited opportunities to see how far [students] can go with their own initiative. I’m [just] there to guide them,” said Muckle. “I have always been a big fan of the community college system and giving opportunities to people who wouldn’t otherwise get it.”
Students that have worked with Muckle in the past have had their work credited in archaeology textbooks and academic articles written by Muckle himself. While on the site, the teams have exhumed artefacts such as Japanese beer bottles, plates and bowls.
The piece that means the most to Robert Muckle is not any of the brightly coloured items, but instead an ordinary-looking item that looks like a large safety pin. Muckle hypothesized that Japanese men and women had been living at that camp between the years 1923-1942, but he needed evidence to back this up. After consulting with elderly Japanese Canadians, he learned that what he originally thought could be a diaper pin turned out to be a woman’s shawl pin—an item that was typically used in winter seasons. “I was looking for was evidence of women at the camp and also for evidence of a winter occupation,” explained Muckle. “If it was just a logging camp, they would have abandoned it in the winter. That one artefact gives me evidence of both.”
Originally Muckle was unsure if he would be going back to the site for another field school, but due to the amount of interest and media he is now on the fence. Anything could happen between now and next summer, and students interested in getting involved are encouraged to email professor Muckle with inquiries.