Avinash Moorthy

Week 1 – Wednesday April 1, 2015

Yesterday, our Archaeological Methods class met for the first time. After initial introductions, and a class discussion of the purpose, methods and interdisciplinary nature of archaeology, we went outside to conduct a simplified field survey. The objective of the survey was to identify surface artifacts and classify them into categories: metal, glass, plastic, cigarettes and other. The setting was the green space behind the Gould Library and the CMC (see Figure 1).


Figure 1. Showing the survey location

We were divided into groups to survey a specific survey unit. My group (survey unit 9): composed of myself, JordiKai, Adam and Emma, examined a shrubbery slope in between two roads. We divided the unit into four transects equidistant from and parallel to each other so as to examine a 20% sample of the area, I took the lower-middle region of the slope. We walked in a line, following the contours of the roads, noting quantities and qualitative observations on all artifacts found in one’s vicinity.

As a group, we found 4 metal artifacts, 46 plastic artifacts (mostly food wrappers), and 31 other – which included Styrofoam, paper and bricks. The majority of what we found appeared to be litter, either thrown there or having escaped the enclosed garbage container on the edge of our survey unit. Of particular curiosity were the bricks found, of the same colour as the back of the library, but of an unknown purpose. The survey was a nice overview of general archaeological techniques, and was excellent preparation for the more comprehensive tasks ahead.


Week 2 – Wednesday April 8, 2015

Yesterday, our Archaeological Methods class went on a field trip to visit the Goodhue County Historical Society in Red Wing, MN. While it was a 45min drive each way, I definitely think it was well worth the wait.

Upon arrival at the museum, the outreach coordinator gave us a tour around the museum, specifically in the archaeology exhibit. He explained in great depth the prehistory of the land, touching on the different Woodland and Mississippian traditions as well as briefly explaining the Native American Dakota tribal history. Additionally, he explained the archaeological process that netted the museum these artifacts, briefing us on the work of Dr. Ron Schirmer, an archaeologist from Minnesota State University, who we hope to bring in to speak to our class later this term. Following the tour, the curator of the museum showed us several artifacts, including a reconstruction of a Native American cup. After this we were given time to explore the museum and archives on our own. On the way back home, we briefly stopped at what we think was a Native American mound site. We plan to revisit this mound later in the term when Dr. Shirmer’s survey of the area resumes.

What makes the Goodhue County Historical Society so unique is its great variety of artifacts, as opposed to other Historical Societies who typically focus simply on a few big events. Similarly, it places a unique emphasis on prehistory and archaeology. Overall, the trip was very enjoyable – I hope to apply what I learned yesterday to our eventual survey and excavation in the Arboretum.

To view more information on the Goodhue County Historical Society, visit their website: http://goodhuecountyhistory.org/


Week 3 – Wednesday April 15, 2015

Yesterday, our class conducted a sample archaeological surface survey in the Arboretum. The setting was a series of fields and plains located near the Women’s League Cabin (where we’ll be surveying/excavating in the near future). While we had previously surveyed an area behind the library, this was our first authentic extensive survey.

We were divided into three teams, each surveying 5-6 survey units. Each team consisted of a recorder, a mapper, and several surveyors. Myself, I was a surveyor for Team B. We split up into transects spaced 15 metres apart and walked in straight lines across the plain, collecting and recording items. Items found included animal bones, plastic wrappers, glass bottles, aluminum cans, and ceramic tiles. Upon completing a survey unit, each team would reconvene: compiling and sorting all artifacts into specific categorized bags.

Surveying is hard work; in the heat a water bottle is a must; that said our first authentic survey was an extremely valuable experience. I learnt a great deal about the strategies and methods behind a survey, both the organization and the actual conducting of one, and discovered several interesting artifacts I never expected to see lying around on the surface of the Arb. I am super excited to apply what I learned yesterday to future surveys and the eventual final project.


Week 4 – Wednesday April 22, 2015

Yesterday, our class received a special visit from Professor Sarah Murray, a classical archaeologist from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Sarah is an expert on Photogrammetry, which is the science of making measurements from photos, and is particularly useful in 3-dimensional image reconstruction. Also sitting in on the class was Carleton College’s Professor Austin Mason, who is an expert in digital imaging.

After a short lecture on the use of photogrammetry, we went outside to do a sample reconstruction of the statue outside Laird Hall. This consisted of Sarah photographing the statue from many different angles. The computer photogrammetry software had little difficulty in identifying the shape of the statue; aided by coded targets placed around it, however, due to time constraints we were unable to see the final reconstruction. As a result, Sarah showed us a sample reconstruction of her driveway to display the power of photogrammetric technology.

Finally, after this demonstration we head out to the Women’s League site in the Arboretum. One team left to finish last Tuesday’s survey, and the rest worked on the present site. Those with rakes were charged with clearing the area of tree branches and other debris, while those without (myself included) were responsible for setting the target parameter – and further dividing it up into 10 metre transects with marking tape. In spite of the brutal cold conditions, we made significant strides and are almost ready to intensively survey the Women’s League Cabin.

A link to a popular Photogrammetry software available for download: http://www.agisoft.com/


Week 5 – Wednesday April 29, 2015

Last class we continued our work on the Women’s League Cabin Site in the Lower Arboretum. Upon arrival in the arboretum we divided into three teams: those who finished up last week’s survey of the nearby cornfields, those who intensely surveyed the present site and finally those who worked on clearing an area for small excavations.

I was part of the surveying group, so we divided the site up into 20 squares and split up into 4 survey pairs to examine them. Myself, Adam and Emma composed Survey Team A, and later Adam and I would assist Survey Team B as well. Before the physical act of surveying, each team sketched the survey unit and filled in a survey form. The site itself is not too large, and we had ample manpower, so rather than follow a transect-based sample survey, we attempted a complete survey of each square. While survey was difficult given the dense shrubbery and leaf cover on the ground, we were still able to find a lot.

Surveying revealed plenty of glass, likely from old beer bottles, along with several plastic combs. One unique artefact discovered was a metal object, resembling perhaps the drain piece of a sink. Additionally, several features of the old Women’s League Cabin were found, such as an old garbage can in survey unit B5 holding numerous rusted old bottles and cans. After survey, the artefacts were collected, bagged and labelled into material categories such as plastics, glass, ceramics, etc.

In sum, intensive survey of the Women’s League Cabin site yielded a surprisingly large quantity of artefacts, which can hopefully be used to piece together the history of the site and more generally the Cowling Arboretum.


Week 6 – Wednesday May 6, 2015

Last class we had a special visitor, professor Thomas Garrison from the University of Southern California. This past Friday, Thomas gave a very interesting talk on his work at the El Zotz site in Guatemala, in particular his use of regional survey, excavation, and spatial analysis. On Tuesday, he accompanied our class into the arboretum and instructed us on the usage of a total station in mapping and surveying a site.

Tuesday was also the day we commenced excavation in three trench pits – one near the front entrance, one by the back and finally one at the bottom of a slope in survey unit A3. I was involved in the excavation of the latter, and it was of particular interest to me, as I suggested the excavation there in our Moodle forum and would like to use this trench for my final project.

We began the process by creating a 1×1 metre area to excavate. We chose the specific location based on previous surface finds and its proximity to a broken windowpane. Using trowels, we scraped the surface away (termed shovel shaving) entering topsoil. We continued this for two contexts, after which we switched to a shovelling and sifting method of collection. We are still in the midst of our third context and will pick up where we left of next week. Artefacts recovered mostly consisted of glass and charcoal; that said probably the highlight of the entire day was discovering what appears to be a metal hinge and screws that likely fit into it.

We were blessed with fortunate weather – rain only became a factor at the end – which sped the process up significantly. We look to continue our foray into the past next Tuesday.


Week 7 – Wednesday May 13, 2015

Tuesday saw us continue our excavation in the Women’s League Cabin Site. The day saw a lot of digging, with everyone picking up right where they left off in their trench site excavations.

For myself, Emma, Adam, JordiKai and Theo that involved continuing on Context 3 of Trench 3. Digging and sifting is challenging work, not to mention the difficulty in ensuring an evenly surfaced trench, however, eventually we progressed to Context 4. While new contexts are typically reserved for different soil types, we had dug deep enough (approximately 15cm) to warrant a new context. At the end of the day we were still in the midst of Context 4, to be continued next week.

Compared to last week, where our finds were predominately glass, this week saw new types emerge. We discovered what appeared to be numerous shards of slate, a material not previously seen. Additionally, we unearthed quite a few long rusted nails, likely of the original building structure. Finally, we found a large metal can in its whole form; further examination in the lab can hopefully suggest its contents.

All in all we made substantial progress on our trench, and are very pleased with the large quantity of artefacts found. We look to apply our findings to our final project on Thursday, and then resume digging next Tuesday.


Week 8 – Wednesday May 20, 2015

This past Tuesday we celebrated Community Archaeology Day, inviting guests from the Carleton and Northfield community to attend our archaeological dig and learn more about our investigation and the Women’s League Cabin. Turnout consisted largely of Carleton professors and students, along with esteemed guest Scott Anfinson, the current Minnesota State Archaeologist. The visitors mostly observed and asked questions, however a few decided to help out in the excavation process as well – shout out to one Tyler J. O’Keefe for his contributions.

This was our last day in the trenches and we were determined to make the most of it. We finished Context 4 and arbitrarily decided to move onto Context 5, as we had dug another 10cm of soil. By the end of the day we reached what appeared to be a new soil type. Rather than start a new context, as we were more or less out of time, we decided to close Context 5, and covered up the trench for eventual refilling this weekend. Pickings were far slimmer this time around: charcoal, a few nails and pieces of glass highlight the artefacts found. The likely explanation relates to the great depth dug. The Women’s League Cabin is not an old site, it was only demolished 20 years ago, therefore most artefact should be expected in early contexts – the area has little known history deeper in the ground.

All in all it was an emotional farewell to Trench 3, we look forward to closely examining its contents in upcoming lab classes and make meaningful interpretations about the past of the Women’s League Cabin.



Week 9 – Wednesday May 27, 2015

This week of archaeology was mainly lab work. Yesterday Alex bade us farewell and left to continue his archaeological survey of the Mazi Plain in Greece.

After what was an emotional goodbye, we went back to working in our trench groups. The Trench 3 group of which I am a part of mainly focused on preparing artefacts and analyzing them. After washing and cleaning them, we took photos of our finds per context to upload on the website as part of our final project artefact catalogue. We then began work on our object biographies. Adam’s glass bottle was of especial importance, and we were successfully able to reconstruct it to the best of our ability. For my object, a metal latch we discovered in Context 3, I did research on door hardware archaeology to confirm that the artefact was what we think it is. Additionally, I began creating numerous figures for the artefact analysis portion of the final project. Our group made very solid progress toward completing our final project, and we hope to have it all online by next Tuesday.


Week 10 – Wednesday June 3, 2015

Yesterday was our final class of Archaeological Methods, and with Alex absent in Greece us students simply continued to work on and finish up our final projects. Alex was accessible by Skype, and was able to provide transatlantic insights into ways we could improve our work. Personally, I spent the bulk of the class working on my stratigraphic model for our trench.

Finally we had to clean up the lab space, this meant re-bagging all our artefacts and tidying up our areas. All artefacts are to go into storage and the by the end the room looked good as new.

Over the course of the term I have learnt a great deal about the archaeology process. This past winter I had the chance to learn about some of these archaeological discoveries in Archaeology of the Mediterranean Prehistory, and it was very nice to learn in this class the methods by which these discoveries were made. This class has given me a great foundation in archaeology, one that I hope to apply someday on an actual archaeological survey or excavation.