April 9, 2019: WEEK 2
When we first entered the Rice County Historical Society, I was thrilled to see that one wall of the space had been made up to resemble a scaled-down 18th-19th century high street, complete with a jail, shops, and a little dining room. I never got around to exploring the street in the depth that I wanted, but luckily what distracted me from this charming scene was a display that was also very interesting to me: the area presenting Rice County’s prehistoric and indigenous past.
Having recently taken a class on prehistory I was excited to be able to examine the lithic artifacts with a critical eye. I was also interested to learn that though many of the lithics resembled arrowheads, they were more likely to be used for food processing, functioning as a cutting or scraping tool. Additionally, Ms. Garwood’s account of one mistaken professor’s insistence that the muskrat mounds along the banks of the Cannon were indigenous burial mounds was not only amusing, but an effective cautionary tale against leaping to the most interesting conclusion when no supporting evidence has been found.
As informative as my time at the Rice County Historical Society was, it was far too short. I would like to return to there some day and explore the rest of the collection– especially the little high street.
April 16, 2019: WEEK 3
After last week’s excursion to the Rice County Historical Society, our lab section ventured into the great outdoors to finally get some firsthand experience with one of the archaeological methods we have been studying in class: fieldwalking. Our lab group had initially elected to survey a grassy, open area of the Upper Arb, only to discover to our dismay that it was being selectively burned. We decided to steer clear of that, and instead surveyed an area of the Lower Arb. Our lab section split into two groups, and each conducted a fieldwalking survey.
As I am one of the students writing the Fieldwork Journal for this week, I was responsible for the Survey Unit Form (SUF), describing the area surveyed and recording the artifacts discovered. I marked the topography of the unit, the bearing of the fieldwalkers, their spacing and the length paced, and the number of artifacts seen and collected. The terrain was forested and extremely uneven, making it slow going. We went so slowly, in fact, that we were only able to complete a single survey unit by the end of lab. Luckily for us, the unit was absolutely littered with artifacts, particularly tin cans, ceramic shards, and broken glass. Individual students selected certain artifacts to bag and label, and I noted them on the SUF.
Overall, lab today was interesting, informative, and fun. Being placed in charge of filling out the SUF gave me a greater appreciation for the efforts of all my group mates, as well as a deeper understanding of how such surveys are constructed and recorded. I look forward to repeating this process at the site we choose to focus on this term, whatever that may be.
April 23, 2019: WEEK 4
This week we had our first lab at the Waterford Mill, the site that we will be focusing on for the remainder of the class. I was excited about this site before we even arrived, admittedly in part because my classmates and I will be able to joke about being on the “wrong side of the tracks” every time we cross the railroad tracks to reach it. Upon reaching the site, it seemed like it would be an interesting and rewarding place to study in-depth as we plan to. The stone foundations of the mill lend the area a sense of history and gravitas that is very appealing, especially in the context of an archaeological project.
During this lab period, however, I barely engaged with the remains of the mill at all. Instead, I volunteered with several other students to begin removing the many logs and fallen tree branches that cluttered up the rest of the site. It was a rewarding process, requiring physical effort as well as some problem-solving. Which branches could not be moved without disrupting the site? How could we cut through the thicker pieces of wood in order to remove them? Though we couldn’t completely clear the site in the short time we had, we made significant headway and could look back on our work with satisfaction and pride.
I enjoyed having the opportunity to physically engage with the site and make tangible progress towards my chosen goal. Next week, I hope to be more involved with the remains of the mill itself and take part in the planned excavation. I’m certain it will be fun!
April 30, 2019: WEEK 5
In this week’s lab, we returned to the Waterford Mill site to continue our investigation of the space. There was some slight trepidation at the prospect of spending several hours in the rain at the site, but armed and armored with umbrellas and raincoats we came out of the lab only slightly damp. The frequent rain and relatively mild temperatures of the past week seems to have encouraged some growth in the foliage around the site, making greener, if slightly more difficult to navigate at times.
Upon arriving, I was pleased to see how clear the main part of the site was after the combined efforts of the Wednesday lab group and ourselves. With the larger branches cleared away, the variety of manmade artifacts that littered the surface became more evident, and I was eager to begin investigating them. Therefore I and two of my classmates volunteered to continue the gridded collection begun by the Wednesday group. We covered two units, G11 and G12, and spent 10 minutes in each unit searching for artifacts and indicating their approximate locations on the Survey Unit Form. At the end we bagged many of our smaller finds to bring back for later analysis.
Metal scraps and glass shards constituted the majority of our finds, with several interesting exceptions. In G11 we discovered what appeared to be a fragment of a leather belt, leading us to wonder about what kind of things might have been thrown away on the site. A second intriguing, and potentially more informative, find was two small glass bottles. Both were completely intact, and one even had a brand name raised on it, perhaps allowing us to date both items, as they were found side by side under a cinderblock. I am excited to continue looking for interesting artifacts next week.
May 7, 2019: WEEK 6
This week I was excited to finally participate in a true excavation at the Waterford Mill site. Because this was the first week where the majority of us were not starting any new or unfamiliar activities, we were able to pretty quickly divide into teams and begin our work for the day. Wendy, Ali, Seth, and I volunteered to continue excavating the feature WM-01 on the southwestern side of the site, which is less officially (and somewhat affectionally) known as the trash pit or trash heap.
Though excited to dig in the dirt, I had recently slightly injured my hand, and so I chose to be in charge of filling out the excavation site and taking photos. At first I was worried that this wouldn’t keep me busy enough, but as my groupmates began unearthing artifacts, I realized that it would be helpful to bag those finds as we went. I also helped sieve the collected dirt from the excavation trench. I enjoyed this part of the work the most, because multiple groups from different excavation trenches would converge on the sieve at once, so we were able to help one another and get a glimpse into what the other excavation trenches were yielding.
All in all, our group collected 7 large bags of materials: one glass, one ceramic, four metal, and one other. Based on these finds, as well as the larger pieces of material littered on the surface around our excavation trench, it seems likely that WM-01 is indeed a trash deposition spot, though the lack of plastic artifacts suggests that it may not be in use today. Another possibility is that many of these artifacts were deposited uphill from the site, and were then washed downhill by rain to collect there, in the hollow at the bottom of the hill. Next week, I would like to continue excavating, and hope that I will be able to dig rather than bag.
May 14, 2019: WEEK 7
In lab this week, we continued the process of excavation. Instead of continuing to investigate WM-01 (the trash pit), I got the chance to work on a different excavation trench, WM-02, within the main body of one of the mill structures. This time, I even got to dig!
WM-02 has been dug for two weeks already, yielding pellets from an airsoft gun, metal fragments, and several pieces of leather. Zobeida, Tanya, Seth, and I continued to scrape the surface of the trench using trowels, where several large rocks (likely debris from the wall) made it a challenge to keep the bottom of the trench level. The presence of a network of thin but tough roots made it difficult to scrape the dirt clear, but the judicious use of a pair of clippers eased the way. In the end, we excavated enough to remove one of the large rocks, noticing that it had split perfectly down the center parallel to the surface, creating a “sandwich” of sorts.
We sifted around 4 buckets of earth, discovering and bagging an assortment of metal nails and several shards of glass. Most interestingly, Seth and I found two nibs from a fountain pen, which I suspect may date back to the time of the mill itself. Those were particularly striking to me because I can imagine them being used to keep track of the work of the mill in ledgers, or to write letters to family, friends, or business partners. They remind me of the stapler we discussed in Tuesday’s class: a mass-produced commodity which may have come to bear some other meaning through its relationship with people. Perhaps the nibs were used in a pen that was given as a gift to someone at the mill; perhaps not. Whatever the case, I’m very interested to see what they may reveal to us about the mill when we begin artifact analysis next week.
May 21, 2019: WEEK 8
This week, we transitioned into artifact cleaning and analysis, the third and final part of our lab classes— lucky for us, too, as it was cold and rainy that afternoon. I was excited for this lab for several reasons: firstly, so I could revisit the more interesting finds from our labs, and secondly, so I could see the combined finds of both lab sections.
Since our final group projects are finally coming to the forefront of our attention, I spent the first part of the lab scanning every feature, excavation, and survey unit form drafted in the our investigation of the Waterford Mill site so that my group, which is developing various maps of the site, could use them as a reference. After doing that, I joined one of my groupmates, Ali, working on photographing the contents of the many bags of artifacts we have collected over the course of three weeks (6 total days in lab). The photos will likely appear in the maps that we are currently working on, and should help make our work more tangible and accessible to viewers with limited experience in archaeology.
Towards the end of lab, we ran in to some problems with the organization of the bags within the myriad collection of bins that we carried down from Professor Knodell’s office to our classroom. The bags may have initially been roughly sorted by find context (survey unit vs. excavation), but were being mixed up after being catalogued and their contents cleaned. In order to fix this, Ali, Matthew and I labeled new bins to sort the artifacts by find context (again, survey unit and excavation), but also separating the artifacts found during our fieldwalking experience back in Week 3 from those found at the Waterford Mill. This experience has helped me appreciate the absolute importance of organization and the systematic storage of artifacts. Next week, we’ll put this new (and hopefully more comprehensive) system to good use as we begin artifact analysis.
May 28, 2019: WEEK 9 / June 4, 2019: WEEK 10
In lab these two weeks, our main focus was categorizing and cataloging the many artifacts uncovered during the last few weeks of lab. Under the supervision of Elise, our lab TA, we retrieved the labeled boxes with their many bags (and bags within bags) from Professor Knodell’s office and brought them down to our classroom. On Tuesday, we familiarized ourselves with the system we would be using to catalogue artifacts (learning what a “lot” is, and so on) and settled down to work.
Several class members sorted the bags into artifact find context—that is, survey unit, fieldwalking, or excavation trench— and further sorted those by unit or trench number. The rest of us went through each bag individually, dividing the artifacts within into lots based on which ones appeared to be from the same object. We noted their find context and material, and wrote brief descriptions of the artifacts, speculating on their potential function and date of use.
On Wednesday, we finished logging the artifacts found during our fieldwalking surveys, and double-checked several other bags of artifacts to ensure that they had been properly accounted for.
It was fun revisiting some of the artifacts that I remember uncovering myself in lab, as well as seeing what others found. One bag which I catalogued had two pearlescent oyster shells within it, a somewhat unexpected but nonetheless interesting find. Meanwhile, Seth worked with the remains of the fountain pen that he and I discovered during our Week 7 lab.
The labs for this class have been crucial to developing my understanding of what archaeology is in practice. Personally experiencing the pitfalls of fieldwork was, naturally, frustrating, but also gave me a greater sense of accomplishment at the end of each lab.