Week One Summary

We began our course by discussing the survey methods used by archaeologists, and followed our discussion by applying some of these methods on Carleton’s campus. An important part of an archaeologist’s job is to evaluate potential sites of interest for future work, and one way they can do this is by conducting a ground survey. Ground surveys allow archaeologists to learn about the types and abundance of artifacts that may be found in a location. As opposed to an excavation, surveys are non intrusive, and give a random sample of a large area to be studied. Generally on these surveys, items from every time period represented by a site can be found.

Our class conducted a ground survey of the area on and surrounding the back lawn of Gould Library. We divided the region into twelve units based on natural land divisions (e.g. wooded areas and spaces divided by paths). Rather than choosing to divide the region in a grid pattern of equally apportioned rectangular units, we decided that it would be more interesting to divide based on the landscape features, hoping to find a correlation between different artifact types and the various areas in which they are found. Each section of space, or “survey unit,” was surveyed by a team of 1-4 students. We decided that the most efficient way to record a random sample of the space was to walk along set paths, or “tracts,” spaced roughly five meters apart. Each student walked along their tract looking for artifacts of five types of materials (plastic, metal, glass, cigarettes, other) within an area of one meter on either side of the tract. Below is a map of the area, divided by survey unit; tracts are marked in blue.


Data collection revealed that there was notable variation in the quantities and types of materials found. For example, survey units 2 and 9 yielded high quantities of plastic materials (58 and 46, respectively). Both of these units happened to be wooded areas. We know that unit 9 was located near a dumpster, so it is likely that much of the plastic found here was carried by wind from the dump area. Likewise, unlike lawns, woods are more difficult to maintain, so it is unsurprising that more litter would collect in these areas than in open spaces. Additionally, litter is more likely to collect in leaves and brush. Below is a table of items found in each survey unit.

Survey Unit Plastic Glass Metal Cigarettes Other Total
1 7 1 3 3 4 18
2 58 3 13 74
3 7 1 7 15
4 9 2 11
5 1 1 2
6 1 1
7 10 1 3 5 19
8 4 1 4 2 11
9 46 4 31 76
10 5 2 4 11
11 4 12 16
12 2 6 8
Total 153 6 17 8 83 262

 Further, here are the notes from each group tallying the materials in their survey units:

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Our survey of the Gould Library lawn gave us a hands on grasp of the methods used by real archaeologists that we discussed in class. Further posts will involve more about the local history of Northfield and Carleton College, as well as areas of archaeological interest on our own campus. The methods we used this week will be important to our future studies of these areas.

One thought on “Week One Summary

  1. Pingback: A Brief Introduction | Archaeology in the Cowling Arboretum

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