5/20/15 (Week 8)
Community archeology day took place this week. The idea was to invite Carleton students, professors, and the greater Northfield community to come out and observe what was going on at the WLC site. There were a good number of guests, including students, local families, and even the Minnesota State Archaeologist. Because we have only a certain number of days to complete all the excavation, the day was spent digging, with breaks taken whenever someone was curious about our particular trench (Trench 2). Among the more interesting questions we fielded was whether or not we enjoyed what we were doing, and it made me reflect on archaeology not only as an assignment but as an activity. I think the general response from our trench is that it wasn’t the worst way to spend a Tuesday afternoon, and that we enjoyed getting to know each other better in a way that wasn’t likely in a traditional classroom setting. With Professor Knodell and Liza as the only resources, for the entire class and all our different projects and interests, it has made our work more independent and we have had to rely on each other some of the time.
5/13/15 (Week 7)
This week was a blur of excavation. We were broken up into final project groups and I was assigned to do a summary of trench 2 with Carrie. We hadn’t really worked on the trench before but our group was fairly efficient and made a lot of progress, finding a lot of glass, nails, and even two bullet casings (!). As a complement to the trench summary, Sara and I are making photogrammetric models of the trenches and of some of the cooler smaller finds, such as a broken bottle and maybe the bullet casings if we can get high enough quality pictures.
5/6/15 (Week 6)
Week 6 was our first time excavating and the going was slow. We were all very cautious, using our trowels to slowly shave off layers of dirt in our trenches. I bounced around between the 3 trenches and noticed that there was a difference in what was being found in each trench, but we will know more once we examine our findings in the lab.
4/29/15 (Week 5)
Excavation was the main area of study for this week. Learning the theory of excavation through readings and the practical and physical beginnings to excavation during our time in the Arboretum. On Tuesday my job was to use a rake and my hands to clear the patio area and path to the cabin site of leaf litter in order to see the surface. Excavation requires some testing which can be done in multiple ways. In some cases test trenches should be dug in order to locate the place where excavation will be the most effective. In our case, we know where the area that the cabin occupied is from the original blueprints and some old pictures. Because of this, a surface survey is a useful tool for pre-excavation because it might indicate where the higher density areas of artifacts are buried.
Thursday was spent actually doing the ground survey, so Patton and I did a thorough survey of four different 10×8 meter rectangles. This kind of survey was different that what we did in the cornfield in that we were surveying the whole area, not a transect in order to get a sample. Our area wasn’t particularly interesting because we were covering the area previously occupied by the cabin and part of the patio. The most interesting thing we found was some old electrical wires coming out of the ground. We could tell they were electrical wires because they were still partially covered in rubber. It also said in an old Carletonian article that during the renovation of the cabin in the 1970s that electricity was brought to the cabin.
Next week we should start excavating in earnest with some full fledged trench digging and trowel probing.
4/22/15 (Week 4)
Our week of archaeology was highlighted by a visit from Professor Sarah Murray from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Sarah gave us some insights into the technological sides of archaeology that aren’t necessarily part of the reputation of archaeology. The particular technology she demonstrated was photogrammetry, which uses photos to make a 3D model. I don’t think I was the only one that was blown away by the capabilities of such an idea. The possibility of making a model that does a better job of representing an artifact than a photograph is what I found to be the most interesting part. From an education standpoint, students being able to manipulate models of famous artifacts would have a large impact of the outreach of archaeology as a discipline. Along with the excitement of being shown a glimpse of the magical world of expensive electronics came a serious warning about not losing the integrity of a study in order to cater to the methods you wish to use. Making a 3D model of a building or a famous artifact just to make a cool model without a serious research question, along with the analysis needed to answer said question, doesn’t add much to the field of archaeology.
Along with the visit from Professor Murray, we took a trip out to the site of the since torn down Women’s League Cabin that is a ways into the arboretum. Though the snow and the high winds we toiled, clearing the ground and setting up survey units in preparation for our excavation. Just removing the topsoil and the leaves had a huge impact on how the site looked – without the cover you could see where the better areas were to excavate. Hopefully when we actually excavate, we (I) can use photogrammetry, otherwise it would be a cool thing to do for a final project.
4/15/15 (Week 3)
The goal of our fieldwork this week was to obtain a firmer grasp on the concepts of archaeological survey. To do this we created our own survey of agricultural fields just south of the women’s league cabin, our selected site for excavation. We divided into 3 teams, each assigned to a different area of the field. Team A and B split the larger of the fields, and Team C surveyed the adjacent field that was recently burned.
I was part of Team B and my role was as one of the ground surveyors that was assigned a straight line transect that was parallel with the other surveyors. We were spaced 15 meters apart and each looked at the ground within 1 meter on each side. The point of walking like this is that we are creating a sample that can then be projected to the rest of the survey unit that we didn’t actually look like. Thoroughly examining the ground is a time consuming task, so efficiency is important. To that point, we had a person in charge of mapping with GPS, so we could know exactly where to start and stop and we will be able to tell the exact distances once we get back to the “lab” portion of the survey. We also had a group leader who was in charge of recording all the things we found which included: bones, tiles, bricks, plastic trash, glass, and paper trash.
4/8/15 (Week 2)
So far this week we have not done any fieldwork ourselves, but we did learn about it on our trip to the Goodhue County Historical Society. We learned about the pioneer archaeologists of the area that were the first people to document the material past of the Red Wing locality. There were a number of sites in the area that had been excavated in the past or are currently being excavated. This was a good example of the destructive potential of archaeology. Many of the sites were only a quarter excavated – if that – because the Native American mounds are spiritual sites and disturbing them, even in the name of science can be frowned upon. Also, many of the sites have already been destroyed by settlers and development of the land, so the sites that are left are of magnified importance. Also of note from a material perspective was the fantastic collection of early settlement tools. These ranged from axes for cutting down trees to extremely scary looking dental and medical tools. I found myself learning more about the medical history of the area and the time just from the tools than I could have by reading a piece of writing from a doctor or a patient from the time. The power of materials to tell a story is an underrated aspect of archaeology.
4/3/15 (Week 1)
This week we have done two activities pertinent to fieldwork. First we learned how to apply our knowledge of ground surveys in an impromptu survey of the area directly behind the Gould Library. We categorized the non-natural materials we found and made some observations about the density at which they were found in different area. For example, there was more stuff next to the sidewalk and the road – probably because it was discarded by people walking past. The second activity we did was a tour of sites in Cowling Arboretum, including the old Waterford Mill site, and the Women’s league cabin. These sites were interesting and we learned more about historical archaeology.