Amie Bigirimana

Week 1

Week 1 was a very interesting one for me because I was not expecting to go out into the field at all. I loved walking into the Arb and learning about the different parts of the Arb and their histories. I had never been to the Arb before and neither had I ever walked for that long, so it was all new to me. Learning how to do field work with the guest speaker was also very helpful. Overall, this Archeology class has opened a whole new world for me, one that is full of experiences and things I would never do otherwise and has caused me to look at and learn history from a different perspective. I am excited to see where it goes and what I learn these next nine weeks.

Week 2

For our week 2 lab, we went to three places in total. The first was the Carleton College Library archives where we were informed about the database of information that is available for us to utilize throughout the course as we learn about the history of the college and also when we do projects. The Archives has a wealth of information I didn’t know I could tap into so it was very helpful visiting.

We also visited Faribault for a visit to the Rice County Historical Society, where we met with the director and an archaeologist studying the Native American stone tools in the collection.  The archaeologist not only showed us the collection of stone tools, but he also showed us the ways in which the Native Americans created their stone tools and the processes it took to get a stone from one stage to the next. He talked about the different traditions in order of time periods from the Paleoindian to the Mississippian times and what shapes and forms the stone tools took during each different time period. On the way home, we stopped in Dundas at the Archbald Mill Site and saw the remains of the former Mill.

Week 3

For our week three lab, we did our first archeological survey in the Cornfields behind the Rec Center. We learned how to do a pedestrian survey and conducted one in three groups of about seven to eight people. Each group had a recorder, the person that recorded everything that was found or collected and kept up with the counts of the items that were found in the field but were not collected. Each group also had a mapper. The rest of the groups did a lot field walking with members of each group walking side by side, ten meters apart covering about two meters of the field during the field walking. Each group had their own part of the cornfield to survey with each covering about 20% of the entire cornfield. I was in Group B and we found a few things ranging from a very old shoe to shattered and broken glass to a bone. It was a fun and interesting lab, I am eager to see what the other groups came up with. 

Week 4

This week we had a renowned archeologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Jerry Sablof, come speak to us about why Archeology Matters and why it still matters today. He gave a lecture on Monday as a visiting scholar and visited our class on Tuesday where he talked about his research in Sayil, located in Northern Yucatan. He explained the methods and excavation processes he and his team used during the project. One of the main things he talked about was this 100 room rain structure that was found which was initially inferred to be a palace but in fact may have been a city hall of sorts.

After Sablof’s lecture, we went out to the area behind Goodhue Hall that used to be the Pine Hill Village site to do some “site-level survey archaeology of our own.” We divided the site into grids based on the grid-scale that Alex had mapped out before. I was in the group that outlined the grids for the others to survey. I also learned how to use a compass correctly. Later on in the class, I joined a team of two in surveying survey unit 14B and found an old tennis ball in the process. I am excited to see what we learn about Pine Hill Village and its past inhabitants.

Week 5

Tuesday was our first day of excavation. We spent the first hour and half of the class discussing the site and making a more specific plan on what to do when we got to the site and what to prioritize. We divided into groups for each task that was to be completed. There were two groups of excavators with four people in each, three people assigned to mapping, twelve people working on the survey grid with four of those expanding the grid while the other eight, divided into groups of two, did some grid surveying.

It was a cold and rainy day so being outside for about two and a half hours was not the most fun thing but we were able to make progress on this project. I was part of the grid expansion team and together we were able to finish the top half of the grid. The excavation teams seem to have made a lot of progress as well with a few artifacts collected and so did the grid survey teams. At the end of the period, those of us that weren’t part of the excavation teams got to see and learn how to fill out excavation forms and how the recording of artifacts found works. All in all, it was a successful lab day and a successful first day of excavation despite the challenges that accompanied the bad weather conditions.

Week 6

This week’s lab was by far one of the more fun ones for me partly because it worked me harder than I have this entire term in the class. Also, the weather was really favorable for the lab this week and that made everything a lot smoother. As usual, we spent about three and a half hours on site with the class divided into different groups with different tasks. Like last week, there was a mapping team, two excavation teams, a grid expansion team and a few grid survey teams.

This time, I was part of the second excavation team. As a team of four, we continued the digging of the excavation site by the rubble pile. We spent most of the period digging through the first context and I must say, the longer it took, the less we felt it was worth it until we sieved the soil that we had dug up and began finding artifacts. We were also able to dig to the second context which felt very rewarding, especially for those who had begun excavating that area last week. Our artifact collection was made up of bricks, pieces of glass and a bit of plastic for the most part, most of which we found right next to and even sometimes, underneath the rubble pile. It was a successful lab period in all, after all, I learned how to work with a shovel and other tools, learned how to use the large sieve for the soil and got a little dirty. I also got to know some of my peers better as this was more than a learning experience, it was a bonding experience too. It forced us to appreciate the small things and we learned some patience, perseverance, and endurance along the way. I now respect archeologists, even more, having experienced just a glimpse of what they do for a living.

Week 7

This week was a continuation and possibly a completion of the fieldwork that was started a few weeks ago. For continuity, I remained on excavation trench two as my assigned trench for the day and it was a pretty successful day. We did something different this week, based on Alex (Knodell)’s advice, we focused on the half of the trench that was closest to the rubble pile since that is where almost all of our artifacts were discovered the previous week.

We were able to dig deeper and at the end of the day, we had two contexts dug. It took us hours and at times it was tiring digging without any sign of artifacts or anything interesting but as we kept on going, we found more and more artifacts. Artifacts ranging from multiple small pieces of glass to bricks and cement to pottery and little pieces of ceramic were found and that made the excavation digging feel a little more rewarding. It is important to mention that, I am now a lot better at identifying asphalt and the difference between asphalt and other asphalt looking pieces of rock. In the past, I was not good at differentiating the two.

I was a little bit sick throughout the four-hour lab this week but nevertheless, I learned a few things, found a few artifacts and had fun doing it all because the weather was so beautiful! It wasn’t raining and the temperature was perfect, it was neither too hot or too cold and we could smell Spring the entire time we were outside and that made the work a lot more bearable. I must say, it was also a bonding experience, as we were digging, my groupmates and I talked about so many different things and got to know each other better in the process. It all worked out. I am looking forward to seeing what the rest of the term holds for us as we get into artifact and feature interpretation and begin to work on our final projects.

Week 8

This week, things took a turn in a different direction as we moved from the outdoors back to the class. We have come to the recording and analysis of artifacts. All of the artifacts that were uncovered over a period of seven weeks in the class are now the subject of our lab periods. In order to do this effectively, the class was divided into different groups from each of the major areas of focus: field survey, grid survey, shovel test pits, and excavation trenches. I was on bed rest for the first part of this exercise but when I came back to class,  I joined the excavation trenches group. I found out from my classmates that it was important to ensure that there was at least one person from the project group focusing on artifacts and material history in each group.

From there, each group cataloged the artifacts from the site they were assigned. As part of the excavation trenches group, my group and I cataloged the findings from each of the three trenches that were excavated. The catalog was done on an excel spreadsheet (shared google sheet). For each artifact, we recorded the collection unit (which included trench and context), lot, material, quantity, typology, use and function as well as a description of each piece of artifact. Some of these included some sort of glass tray, different types of brick, asphalt, paper and plastic and bottle caps. By the end of class on Thursday, each of the three trenches and the artifacts found in each had been recorded accordingly in the excel sheet. In fact, we even had a little bit of time to begin researching some of the materials we found. Some of my group members began researching the glass tray that was found to try and determine what type of glass it was, what the tray was used for and when it was used. It was an interesting week, I am looking forward to doing more research on the other materials and through that, understand the lifestyle and interactions of the inhabitants of Pine Hill Village.

Week 9

This week’s lab had two main things happening: Community Archeology field day and artifact analysis and interpretation. Our class hosted a field day, essentially, a day for the class to inform both the Carleton and Northfield community about the recent fieldwork that we have been doing. This day was organized by the group of about five students who final project for the class involves Outreach initiatives. The weather was wet and cold for this kind of event so we did not expect a lot of visitors. However, according to Alex, our Professor, we had about 10-15 visitors who were all interested in our findings. They include the dean of the college, Bev Nagel, Cowling Arboretum Director Nancy Braker, other staff, and faculty as well as a few students. The visitors got to learn about the artifacts we found in the different trenches, excavation test pits, and the survey grids. They also went out to see the sites despite the bad weather. There were some delicious snacks for the field day as well. All in all, Community Archeology Field Day was a success.

Meanwhile, while the field day was going on, most of us were working on artifact analysis and interpretation. Thus, most of the four hours of lab were spent on researching the different types of artifacts. We were looking to find manufacturers, dates of manufacture, types of material and functions of each artifact. A lot of the artifacts didn’t have much information that we could build on as make and manufacture information was missing from each. I was on nail duty and I spent my time during lab looking up the different types of nails, their names and style of manufacture in an effort to date them and decide whether or not they were building materials for the village. I, unfortunately, didn’t find out much about the nails except that they were manufactured from the 1890s to the present. Some of my groupmates were able to date different artifacts though. In fact, we found out that the glass platter is most likely from the late 1930s and early 1940s based on its design and style. Towards the end of the four hours, we began to work on our final projects, the deadline for which is quickly coming up.

Week 10

Last week of ARCN 246, wow, this term flew by! This week’s lab period was a conclusion to the class with our last discussion constituting of curation and the issues surrounding curation in archeology. We talked about the issue of space and how it is getting more and more difficult to make space for the artifacts that are collected during different archeology projects all over the globe. Methods such as catch and release archeology as well as loaning artifacts to the other people working on similar projects came up as some of the solutions to the space problem facing the archeology field today. We also talked about the fact that, too often, more emphasis and priority is put on fieldwork and excavation and issues of curation and storage are put on the backburner. This is why some artifacts don’t last as long as they should. Knowing and talking about these issues is the first step to finding solutions so I am positive things are headed in the right direction for archeologists everywhere.

I have truly learned a lot this year, particularly in this class. I got to study history from a totally different perspective than I am used to and I was forced out of my comfort zone. Part of the beauty of this class is that it taught us to think outside the box more in order to understand the significance and importance of different artifacts and features in the story we are trying to tell. I appreciate Professor Alex Knodell for his kind smile and patience with us, it made the class all the more worthwhile and fun.