Arya Misra

Week 2: Carleton College Archives

This Tuesday, on the 10th of April, our lab class visited the Carleton College archives located on the first libe. The director of the archives, Nat Wilson, gave us a short presentation on the different types of archives and their upkeep. We also received a rundown on the archival resources available to us and their various forms such as films, negatives, photographs, original written documents etc. It was surprising to know how difficult it is to digitize these resources and the fact that less than 5% of these available resources at Carleton are digitized. We also learnt the process of how to access the Carleton college archives as well as the ones available in the town of Northfield.

We were then able to look at the archival resources related to the Women’s League Cabin that dated back to the 1940s. We got access to laminated pictures, negatives, film reels and so on. However, the things that stood out to me the most were the preserved handwritten letters and notes as well as types forms and floor plans of the cabin. We had talked about the preservation and digitization process briefly but to actually observe it was a wonderful experience. We had to wear gloves so as to protect these resources as much as possible. It also made me realize how crucial these assets are and the importance of their proper care. The photographs posed an interesting question of trust. Some students commented that some of the pictures looked staged while some candid and it made me think how we trust the resources that we can’t crosscheck.

Overall, the trip to the archives was brilliant and seeing what they have to offer was quite exhilarating. I look forward to using this resource for my future projects.

Week 3: Field-walking

This week for the lab, we received hands-on experience in the first steps of the archaeological process, i.e., field surveying and artefact collection. The class was divided into two groups and I was one of the field walkers in the second survey unit. Lena was the team leader and in-charge of taking down the necessary information such as bearings, visibility, items collected by individual walkers etc.

We drove to the site and started the process immediately since it was raining and people were starting to get drenched before we even started field walking. The field walkers stood ten metres apart from each other and our goal was to find and collect artefacts that could provide information about the people and place. The rain and mud made the process a bit more difficult but we were able to find some pretty amazing objects. We had a list of materials that we wanted to record such as ceramics, glass, plastic, tiles. bricks etc. I was able to collect five ceramic or pottery pieces from the first survey but only a couple of ceramic pieces and an old baseball from the second survey. By the end of the field walking, we were completely drenched and decided to return back to LDC before finalizing the bagging and recording process.

Back at the classroom, we dried and labelled the bags and finished the recording process. Despite the terrible weather, we all had a blast. Everyone was in good spirit, the whole process was not only interesting but engaging. We all helped each other out and had an absolutely amazing time. The rain, if anything, made the process more enjoyable and I am very excited for the lab next week.

Week 4: Laying survey grid

For this week’s lab, we really started off the processes to establish the foundation of the archaeological process. We got to the site and divided into 3 teams: clearing team, mapping team and grid laying team. I was part of the grid laying team alongside three other people. At first, we were brilliantly confused and stood in the middle of the site without a clue on how to proceed. After Alex guided us, we realized we have to pick up where the Tuesday lab left off.

The Tuesday lab set up the horizontal and vertical axis already and had created a few grids. We divided the jobs to be done among the four of us and I was in charge of the compass and had to find the bearings in which we have to proceed. I actually really enjoyed learning how to use the compass and practising that. Maanya and Owen were in charge of measuring the distance as precisely as possible while Price had to put down the stakes and add the flagging tape. Additionally, I also mapped the area and labelled the grids on the map. After an hour and a half and numerous cuts and bruises, we created about 8 more grids. We left off the griding after reaching the railway track. I finished labelling the map and put the files together before packing up and heading back.

The whole process was much more fun than I thought. At the moment, we often got a bit frustrated by the number of trees and thorns we had to tackle to reach the points but overall, we were extremely productive and had a good time. I do believe we need to expand the grids even more, maybe one more line to the outside of the feature on either side to completely encompass the site. I am looking forward to the next steps we take up to proceed with our project.

Week 5: Excavation

This week we started the excavation process at the Waterford Mill. We still hadn’t completed the gridding of the area so a few people were put in charge of finishing that process. I was part of the gridding team last week but I wanted to undertake excavation as it is a central part of our project and an important archaeological skill to understand and practice. The Tuesday team had already started the excavation process at two different trenches. They had created two 1×1 m areas and cleared the top foliage. So my team and Alex were faced with the question of whether to continue on the current trenches or start two more. Unanimously, we decided to carry on the Tuesday team’s work as it is better to allocate six excavation days on fewer sites and get in-depth (literally and figuratively) knowledge of these sites rather than spend less time in excavation and gain only superficial knowledge with a bigger sample size.

So Maanya, Sam and I undertook the excavation of trench two. We started with the second context of the trench and started by removing the topsoil, which was a slightly damp, black-grey soil. The area was littered with big rocks and thus, the process was a slow one. We barely, if at all, used the shovel in order to be mindful of whether the big rocks are part of the foundation of the mill. There were also a huge amount of roots present that hindered the whole process so we had to resort to root cutters. We excavated for a solid hour and gathered two buckets full of soil. We then proceeded to sieve the soil and gather any artefacts we come across. It took much longer than I thought to sieve because of the small rocks as some pottery pieces could be covered in soil and be misjudged as a rock. Some notable things we found were iron nails, air pellets, screws, charcoal, plastic pieces etc. It was very interesting to find these little bits and pieces of the mill but it was very frustrating because we couldn’t even finish one complete context. I think its gonna take at least one more excavation day to reach the next context.

I also took the before and after pictures of our trench and we could see a clear difference. After the lab, the area was much darker and cleaner and we are definitely moving forward. Though there’s no colour difference in soil, the texture was different from when we started. I thoroughly enjoyed the excavation process and it was interesting to practice the techniques we discussed in class. The safety and care that goes in “digging” is so crucial to uncovering important information about the mill and I am excited to continue that process.

Week 6: Cleaning and bagging

Due to the gorgeous weather this Wednesday (heavy sarcasm intended), we decided to stay in LDC to start data analysis and push excavation to an extra week later. The goal for this week was to clean as many collections as possible and categorize them based on materials in order to make the actual analysis easier.

Since the overarching purpose of the day was to organize and categorize what we had done in the past labs, sorting out the forms was a priority. Sam and Clarissa undertook that job while everyone else divided into teams of two. Each team got a few bags of collections from either the Waterford Mill (excavation collections and grided survey) and the field walking surveys. Maanya and I were one team and we worked together to fasten the cleaning process. We would empty the bags, brush off the dirt as much as possible and take them to wash off the extra dirt to the best of our capability. We would then dry the artefacts off and organize them on the corresponding bag and leave them on a tray.

After we had cleaned and dried most of the collections, we started separating them by the material. Separated glass, ceramics, metal etc., and bag them in smaller bags and combine them in a larger bag to keep a group of collections together. We ended everything by boxing bags of collections from different sources together. Though there are more bags left, we finished most of the cleaning work. I enjoyed it a lot because once the dirt is off, you can actually see what we found in our surveys. This step will make the analysis much easier and organized. I am, however, excited to go back to excavation and find more stuff to contribute to the history of the Waterford Mill.

Week 7: From drone to dirt

For this week was also an excavation week to makeup for the last week that we lost due to the rain. I wanted to help in excavation again but it was important for everyone to try their hand in excavation as well. Thus, I decided to choose helping Dan and Andrew with the drone photography (which was probably the coolest part of the lab that day). Aaron and I were supposed to help them with the drone but our luck wasn’t so good. Dan and Andrew, understandably so, realized that the power lines are too close to the site. Taking off the drone near the site would’ve been very risky for the drone. The site is also next to the road and since it is illegal to fly a drone over a road, we couldn’t bring the drone from a distance either. The only option left was to bring the drone from the river side. However, that would require more planning than they had done. Andrew also told me that often they can get exceptions from the local government for archaeological reasons. However, again, we weren’t ready for that. Eventually, the drone idea got postponed till further notice.

Following this, both Aaron and I decided to help out the excavation groups in accelerating the process to obtain as many collections as possible. Similar to week 5, I excavated and sieved the dirt. We took turns for both in order to make the process faster. Surprisingly, my group discovered a lot of ceramic pottery as well as a huge amount of scrap metal. An incident that stood out was Miyuki destroying an ant hill and Alex having to come to our rescue. However, overall, the entire day was quite productive and next week we will start artifact analysis, which I am very excited for.

Week 8: Last excavation day

This week was mildly sad because it was our last excavation day. To continue my love for excavation, I joined the excavation team comprising of Maanya, Price and ena. It was interesting to see how much experience I had gained this term because Lena had never excavated before so I took the duty to guide her. Maanya, Price and I were very comfortable in spotting small artifacts which made me realize how far we’ve come. I could see the importance of practical excavation and how it helps us understand what we learnt in class. All of us worked on the 2nd trench which is close to the south wall. We started excavating the fourth context. We discovered metal, some glass, mostly nails and some ceramic. We quickly filled up two buckets of soil and proceeded to sieve. Maanya, Lena and I sieved through the dirt to find familiar objects, not as many as previous times because we were going deeper. By the time we filled up the second bucket, the color of the soil had started to turn from black to light brown. Alex decided it was time to stop the process as starting a new context now will not be very efficient.

This week’s excavation was much easier to handle even though it was a bit damp from the other day’s rain. I got to use the shovel which was exciting since the amount of rocks and roots had decreased as we proceeded to excavate deeper. We commemorated our last excavation with a group photo which was super cute and realized how much we have evolved in our perception of archaeology. From a mere digging activity to a field of study that discovers the past.

I feel sad that its the last time we’ll be here but I am happy I got the chance to explore the practical side of archaeology because I loved it. Now we have started to thing about our final projects so I am excited to see how our understanding of archaeology manifests in these projects.

Commemorating the final excavation day!

Week 9: Catalog the treasure

This week was a surprisingly laid back one. Alex is in Greece so Clarissa supervised the lab and directed us in what to do. We have officially finished all the excavation and have moved on to cataloging the artifacts. Since we had already cleaned the artifacts, we all divided in teams of two and started the recording process. This seems simple but is probably one of the most important steps as it ties everything else together. In class too we discussed how many archaeological quests remain in obscurity because the people responsible don’t do catalog the artifacts properly or publish their finds systematically for easy access. Thus, this step was very important to truly explore and spread the importance of our work this whole term. 

Maanya and I cataloged for multiple different finds in a shared excel sheet. We cataloged a few collections from the trenches but mostly from the gridded surveys. We had to open up all the bags and divide them in lots based on the type of material. However, it doesn’t mean all glass is one lot. Different types of glass or metal also go in different lots. This is to make the catalog of material as detailed as possible for easy access.

We recorded some very cool stuff. There were a few pieces of pottery that we connected together which was very interesting. There were iron nails, bullet casings and so on. We cataloged at least 10 or so bags. I called out the material type and lot while Maanya typed them in to make the process efficient. Even though it was less Indiana Jones-y, it was a crucial step in the process, especially because now we have a record of all that we achieved in this class.

An attempt to assemble broken pieces of pottery during the cataloging process.

Week 10: The end of an era

This week was our final lab session so I do feel sad but also excited to tie up the past 10 weeks. All we had to do was sort of double check the excel sheet and the bags to make sure there were no mistakes. We found a few mistakes either in the number of bags or the name of a gridded survey block etc which was simple and easy to handle. We were done in no time. It was good to iron out any mistakes before officially publishing our results for everyone to see and refer to.

After these 10 weeks, I definitely feel I enjoyed excavation the most, even though I do understand that all the steps in the archaeological process are equally important. This whole term came together as a wonderful process and week 10 we have finally accomplished our goal of understand Waterford’s history a bit more intimately. I will definitely miss the class and of course Alex. I learn so much and it was the collective effort of the people that made this term successful. I will miss everyone but I have spent wonderful time in this class and could not be happier with how it has come to an end.

Till next time!