Clarissa Smith

Fieldwork Blog 

Week 1
Date: 03/28/2017

Weather: Warm and Sunny

This week we had a brief overview on archaeology. Archaeology is the study of old things; it’s a multidisciplinary field and collaborates closely with geology, environmental science, and history. It involves exploring a site, mapping it, and sometimes excavating a sample of land for artifacts. The excavated objects can be dated, either relatively or absolutely. Relative dating involves creating a sequence in relation to other artifacts or sites while absolute dating involves chemical/scientific tests or finding specific dates recorded in literature. Archaeological theory is very complex and to be honest, I have trouble wrapping my head around it. The most interesting thing we learned about is Processual vs. Post-processual archaeology. Early archaeology sought to provide scientific generalizations about a culture but often their conclusions were quite objective. Now we have moved on to perform archaeology with the understanding that we can’t predict culture–we can only subjectively interpret it.

We took a loop through the arb to see the site of the Woman’s League Cabin. On the way we saw the trees planted on the original earth day. They can be identified by their non-native species type since there is written record of the trees planted that day. We saw the waterford mill dam which has interesting origin history that involves the dam in downtown Northfield. Topography observations are important: the elevated trail to the dam is very straight which is characteristic of man-made trails. We also saw trash piles made by farmers. The most interesting artifacts came from fill. Fill is brought in from other places and so objects in the dirt can be upheaved and travel short or long distances. For example, bits of roof buried several decades ago are now visible at the surface of farm soil.

Date: 03/30/2017

Weather: Cold, windy, gray skies

Today Mary Savina talked about Geoarchaeology which is something I didn’t even know existed! It involves looking at artifact materials to identify it and wether it was altered. We also look to see if a site is in its original place or if something happened to it and we look at the topography to see why this place was selected–such as farming, defense, or settlement. Important elements of landscapes are: climate, weather, bodies of water, plants, topography/elevation changes, wildlife, rock structures, soil types, surrounding areas, human interaction with the landscape, and historical events in the landscape such as forest fires or flooding. The most important takeaway I have from Mary is to pay attention to what you are standing on versus what you are looking at.

Week 2
Date: 04/04/2017

Weather: Sunny with a light cool breeze

Today we visited the Carleton Archives. Nat Wilson shared photographs and documents of the women’s league cabin with us and then gave the run down on how the archive works. Instead of browsing the collection, we need to tell them the subject we want to investigate and they will bring out relevant items. It’s an organic path, so artifacts might not be where you expect them to be.

Next, we went to the Rice County Historical Society in Fairbault. An archaeologist with 40+ years of experience showed us various stone tools that are tens of thousands of years old! Certain attributes help to date stone tools. For example, the hilts on arrowheads developed different styles throughout the years and anything Mississippian is intricate and fancy. It’s interesting how region-specific archaeology can be. For example, the archaeologist’s past work did not involve much pottery but now he is consulting new books and guides to identify the clay pottery sherds found throughout Rice County. Interestingly, they are tempered with the powder produced from shaping stone tools. The idea of reuse is interesting–we also see this in Mesoamerica with temper made out of crushed pieces of fired pottery.

Susan Garwood, the director of the historical society, talked about how lots of history research and archival work involves knowing the right person to contact rather than accumulating the greatest amount of knowledge. I think this is important to keep in mind!

At the end of the day we visited the site of an old grain mill. It’s a great location because a small island splits the cannon. This provides a narrower area for the water to flow at a higher velocity. The mill was built out of limestone and in addition to several fires that left it in ruins, water exposure has weathered the stone blocks considerably. The rock cracks lengthwise.; this horizontal splitting is due to very thin shale layers in the rock. Interestingly, this same property is what makes it a good building material since it is so easy to cut into blocks. It’s important to make observations on the geology of a site since you may uncover something preciously overlooked.

Week 3
Date 04/11/2017

Weather: Sunny with cold winds

Today was our first surveying date. First we discussed the readings and talked about reconnaissance and field walking. There are different types of surveys and we might find different types of features, artifacts, and materials. Deciding what kind of survey to do depends on the scale, purpose, and environment of your site of interest. To conduct a survey you need to carefully plan boundaries, time, cost, funding, equipment, workers, weather and more. Most importantly, you need a research question to be the driving force behind all the work you do.

We practiced Field Walking during the lab section of the class. First we measured our pace so we could easily spread out 10 meters apart. We split into three groups to cover an area of farmland in the Arb. The area of land was divided into a grid and we surveyed one portion at a time by lining up and walking forward, picking up or noting any artifacts we saw on our linear path. Artifacts of the same material, say plastic, were placed in a ziplock back together and labeled. One member of each group marked corners with flagging tape and marked the GPS coordinates of each point to make a map while another person was in charge of taking notes of all the artifacts collected using special forms. Our group’s findings included a small animal skeleton, the sole of a small shoe, and lots of golf balls. The golf balls are not surprising since there is a golf course directly across the street from the survey location.

Week 4
Date: 04/18/2017

Weather: Cold and cloudy

We started today with a presentation from Dr. Jerry Sabloff. He talked about his work in northern Yucatan mapping the site of Sayil. We learned that total stations are a piece of equipment used to electronically measure topography and distance to make accurate maps efficiently. In the 1930’s only elite structures were mapped and the location of stones and wood/thatch structures were ignored. His project split up into teams: one team might start the mapping, another team will take that map and add features and details, and another team would double-check all the work. They looked for artifacts along transects; one thing they discovered were water cisterns called chultuns.

At first the layout of the structures seemed random on the map, but they were able to figure out that structures were built on top of small elevated hills. They did extensive horizontal exposure and found out that the open areas were not plazas, but gardens! He also talked about how LIDAR allows for the detection of hidden roads, terraces, and structures. You can even see the mouth of caves! Recently, instead of looking for only the spectacular sites, there is a shift to obtaining a more comprehensive/overall view. Landscape archaeology involves looking at broad areas. Dr. Sabloff also discussed how it is important to be mindful of the political context of a project and the importance of preserving a country’s’ cultural heritage.

Afterwards, we went to the site of the Pine Hill Village and began setting up a grid using string and measuring tape. One group made the grid, one group mapped the area, and another group did a complete search of each survey unit. We completed 10 units: X16-T16 and X15-T15. Findings included plastic candy wrappers and alcohol containers.

Week 5
Date: 04/25/2017

Weather: Cold and rainy with light winds

Today we started in the classroom and learned about georeferencing. Then we split up into groups to continue working on the Pine Hill Village site. This was the first day of excavation! We decided to dig two excavation trenches on the site: one along the fire hydrant and the other along the rubble pile. I worked on the rubble pile trench, or “Trench 2”. We outlined a 2X2m square that ran parallel to the rubble pile, including just a small sliver of it. Then we shoveled off all the sticks and the top layer of dirt. There were lots of roots and small plants we had to remove. We found five pieces of concrete while we were excavating. Perhaps they are old building materials.

Week 6
Date: 05/02/2017

Weather: Bright, warm, and sunny

Today we went into the field right away; the weather was gorgeous compared to last week! We split into new groups with a few people in new positions and a few people continuing their positions from the teams last week. I stayed on the crew excavating trench 2. We reached a new context under the topsoil. Most importantly, we had the chance to use the sifter this week to sift through the soil we had removed last week. It’s important because we would have missed some small objects including glass shards and small bits of plastic. The most exciting finds we found were under the rubble pile. We found bricks, parts of large cement water pipes, and an old electrical wire.

Week 7
Date: 05/09/2017

Weather: Hot and sunny, clear skies

During this lab we split into groups to continue trench excavations and make more soil test pits. The group I worked in focused on starting a new trench. Last week one of the soil test pits contained a feature. We believe it is a post hole made out of concrete. We laid out a 1X1 meter square over the feature and began digging. At first we sifted the soil but because we knew the feature was located so deep and this was our last full excavation day, we focused on expanding the trench downward as much as possible. We found some chunks of asphalt, bits of glass, a rusted nail, and a yellow marble. and we reached the post hole which is made out of concrete.

Week 8
Date: 05/16/2017

Weather: Rainy, lab indoors

Today we spent the entire lab indoors. We talked about different ways to  categorize objects and how we can identify objects. There are online resources to try to identify when an object was manufactures or where, or for what purpose. It’s important to remember that the date of manufacture is different from the date of use and different from the date of deposition. Afterwards we began cataloging the items we found during the field survey, excavation pits, STPs, and field walking.

Week 9
Date: 05/23/2017

Weather: Light rain

This week we invited members of the community to visit during our class and lab period. I am part of the community outreach group for final projects, so we sent out emails, hung up posters, and put up an article in the local paper inviting people from town and from campus to come see what we’ve been up to. Students showed the items we excavated and explained any interesting attributes of information they had found our through research on the items. Some students also pulled up maps on their computers to give spatial context. We also set up an area by trench 1 so that community members could take a look at the site and look at a large copy of the pine hill village blueprints.