Tuesday 9 April 2019
We visited the Rice County Historical Society, a small museum but one endowed with a rich collection of prehistoric, archaic, and historic artefacts from around the southern Minnesota area. We were able to get a detailed and engaging tour of the museum by Susan Garwood, the Executive Director, whose knowledge of the collection and its history greatly augmented our experience of the museum itself. We first looked at a map of the Rice County area, one which showed the general topography of the area and its natural formations in order for us to understand the natural history of the land and how this could have affected where people settled and where artefacts were found. We then briefly toured cases of prehistoric stone tools, prehistoric bones, and historical artefacts from the early nineteenth century to the late nineteenth century. What I found really interesting was the volume of prehistoric artefacts that the museum held; I had no idea, prior to this, that so many stone tools and other vestiges of prehistoric material culture had been found in Minnesota. I had not, prior to this, really considered the history of Minnesota before the Anglo-Americans moved out here, because most of the historical records we have are from after this period, but it was interesting to see such immediate and intimate evidence of the presence of prehistoric people here. I also really liked looking at the reconstructed buildings and streets, because it placed the artefacts we saw in a more personal historical context. None of these artefacts existed in a vacuum, and it is important for us to see them as evidence of actual people’s lives and cultures.
Tuesday 16 April 2019
In lab today, we took a trip down to the Lower Arb in a forest by the Waterford Bridge. We split into two survey groups, each of which divided the land into transects on either side of the path: my group was on the south side of the path, and the other group was on the north side of the path. We divided the area into six transects, each 5 meters wide. The first survey moved down a path of 250 degrees W, the second 70 degrees E, and the last 272 degrees W. We were looking for any evidence of human material remains, but we found nothing on any of these transects except a good-sized garter snake, a lot of thorn bushes, and some deer feces. The group on the south side found a massive pile of farmers’ gear from a while ago, all of which was rusted over, as well as a good amount of pottery shards. These shards were mostly uniform in design — white with a blue floral design on the rim — and were mixed in with some old bottles. The group collected these artefacts into plastic bag.
Tuesday 23 April 2019
Today we visited the Waterford Mill site and did preliminary survey work in order to facilitate our later excavations. The site is by the river down the hill from the train tracks and highway; it consists of two main square stone foundations, one on the ground above the riverbank and another partially filled with water and sitting on the riverbed. We split into groups to do different tasks: measure our survey transects, record archaeological features, and clean up the excavation area. I was a part of the latter group. We spent the lab session removing large branches from the survey site, which was very overgrown with trees and undergrowth. As we walked I explored the site a bit too, and found that the crumbling walls were made of thin, flaking stones stacked atop one another. I found a few dark blue ceramic chards inside the foundations, some rusted metal pieces, and a glass bottle with French words written on it. I was not able to go down into the water-filled section of the mill ruins.
Tuesday 30 April 2019
Today was our first day of excavation and we split up into different groups to do mapping, shovel test pits, and gridded collections. I was a part of the 3-person gridded collection group which collected from grids F12 and F13 (F10, F11, and G10 had already been completed by the Wednesday lab). We spent 10 minutes in each square collected items that we found on the ground and recording them on our Survey Unit form as we went, then spent around 5 minutes going through all of the items we recorded and deciding which ones to bag for further analysis. We ended up using 3 bags for F12, filled with some cans, some glass shards, some plastic bits, and some metals bits, and used no bags for F13 since all we found were some very long metal strips and a chip bag, all of which were either irrelevant or too large to put in a bag. We recorded all of our findings and a map of our collection areas on the Survey Unit forms.
Tuesday 7 May 2019
Today we completed the second excavation today. I was a part of the group which looked for the remains of a building that, according to old photographs, should be just a bit southwest of the main mill building. We began by walking around the area where the building should have been, noting where we found metal scraps, shells, and pieces of glass or pottery. Once we’d determined where the building was likely to have been, we used trowels to dig some test trenches and then sheers to cut off the branches and clear the area for more targeted excavation. We eventually located the feature lines of what appear to be 3 different walls, two running parallel to each other and the river and the other running perpendicular to the river. We dig a bit of excavation to further clear out the walls and will hopefully complete this area of excavation, and collect some of our findings, next week.
Tuesday 14 May 2019
Today was our final day of excavation. I was a part of the group of 4 that excavated Trench 1 on the SW corner of the mill site. We began by using trowels to scrape small portions of dirt from the surface of our trench into our blue bucket. We had to be careful about scraping or destroying any artefacts in the trench since there was a lot of metal and pottery debris just lying around. We sifted the dirt in the bucket for artefacts twice after the bucket filled up. We brushed off the surface of the trench before taking some progress photographs in order to document our work. We found some very interesting pottery fragments with designs painted on them, as well as a bunch of metal nails, metal scraps, screws, springs, and all other sorts of rusted metal objects. We collected not only from within the trench but also a bit from the surrounding area.
Tuesday May 21 2019
Today we worked on cleaning all of the artefacts that we and the Wednesday lab group had collected from the field excavation sessions. We went one bag at a time, making sure to properly document which bag we had taken and to ensure that each bag was properly marked. For the metal artefacts, we used a dry brush to gently (making sure not to chip the artefacts) brush off any excess dirt or refuse. For the pottery or glass, we use a wet toothbrush to gently but thoroughly scrub the surface of the artefact to get off all of the dirt and grime. I found this to be a really satisfying process, and it was cool to see a piece of pottery in just as clean and spotless a state as it must have been in when it was actually being used. The cleaned artefacts looked miles different than their original state, just out of the ground.
Tuesday May 28 2019
Today was our first day of artefact analysis, which was really interesting for me – I’ve been excited to start actually examining and looking at the artefacts in an historical context for a while. We split up into two groups to do different jobs: one group sorted artefacts so that we could proceed to the cataloguing later. We familiarised ourselves with the spreadsheet, which was initially kind of confusing but was eventually pretty simple to use. After everything was sorted into different lots, we entered them into the spreadsheet as the first step in analysis. It was tedious but really interesting to see the combination of everything we’d dug up.
Tuesday June 4 2019
Today was our last lab class and we did artefact analysis again. A lot of the artefacts were already analysed and catalogued, but we finished up doing that and then we re-checked everything we’d already done to make sure it was all labelled and entered into the spreadsheet the right way. It was really cool to see everything listed out in one spot; before it had all seemed kind of disorganised and spread out, but it was interesting to see the spread of how much pottery v. metal v. plastic etc. we had and how much of each category we’d found.