This week our class visited the Carleton College Archives. After a talk by Nat Wilson on the diversity of archival spaces, various types of record forms (photos, drawings, typed/handwritten notes, accounts/lists, film, etc.), and considerations for research (hours, staffing, digitization, organization, secondary research, technical complications, authenticity of documents, etc.), we got the chance to look through some of Carleton College’s archival collection, specifically that pertaining to the Women’s Cabin.
I was particularly struck by some of the photographs taken in the 1940’s, during a period of student-led construction at the cabin. While many of these pictures were painfully staged, I found odd details within them fascinating. A few examples of these include a horse helping with construction, a student balanced precariously on a ladder, a large, beautiful indoor fireplace, and a cabin dog eating off a student’s plate. One of the photos of students helping out with construction/renovations even featured a now hilariously dated caption, something along the lines of, “Carleton women proving they’re not just jitterbugs!”
This taste of what the Carleton College Archives has to offer sparked my interest in larger collections, not just those relating to Carleton, but to the greater city of Northfield. I find myself particularly intrigued in photographs dating back to the prohibition era. Were any students photographed drinking alcohol? Did pictures like this contribute to the historical animosity between college students and “townies,” as described in the History of Carleton reading?
I look forward to exploring/researching a few more Northfield/Rice County archives later in the term!
For this week’s lab, my group braved heavy rain, mud, and cold to conduct a rather heroic field-walking survey. As one of group two’s fieldwalkers, I scoured the mud for lithics, ceramics, metals, bricks, plastics, glass, concrete, etc. In the first iteration, I found three sherds of a white china dish with a green pattern on the edge (collected two), fourteen small to medium sized chunks of brick (collected one), one shard of rounded, clear glass, one spherical metal wheel, which may have been part of a farming hose, and one mixed media concrete and ceramic object that I could not identify on first sight. In the second iteration, I found far fewer artifacts overall: four chunks of brick and two slabs of concrete, none of which proved remarkable enough for collection.
One potential flaw in my individual surveying was that due to the increasing downpour, I had to move far more quickly in the second iteration than the first. This may be the reason why I wasn’t able to find anything for collection, as opposed to there being simply fewer artifacts on that part of the site. Ground visibility was also compromised on the second round, and as the rain picked up the mud became exponentially more treacherous.
The process of fieldwalking was in general much more difficult than I had imagined it. It was hard to stay parallel and move in a straight line on the uneven ground, while at the same time scanning the surface. An added challenge was trying to stay at an even pace with my fellow fieldwalkers, as I often found myself getting behind. However, our finds at the site were far more interesting than I thought they would be, especially based on my first look at the field. Rain and cold aside, I really enjoyed fieldwalking: the controlled specificity of the process, the rush of discovering something breathtaking, and the particularly good company.
This week, we began the exciting process of surveying and collection at the Waterford Mill ruins. Once at the Mill, we immediately split into task forces. As part of the site clearance group, I helped move branches, thorny vines, and assorted sticks out of the grid, so that our collection exercise would be relatively unobstructed. While the Tuesday lab group had made significant headway at the site the day before, there was still plenty of work to be done. It was hard physical labor, but satisfying.
At the very end of the lab section, I was able to begin collection in the F11 grid. We found three pieces of glass, a metal can, and something ceramic that appeared to have a name and date on it. One finds included over twenty-five BB gun bullets, as well as a lump of charcoal.
Unfortunately, I was not able to attend lab this week due to illness. However, on Saturday I went on the Mill Site field trip, which I will discuss below.
Archibald Mill in Dundas: Our first stop was the ruins of the water-powered Archibald Mill complex, situated on the Cannon river. Once part of the “Milling capital of the world,” it was the first US mill to patent its own brand of flour called the “Dundas Straight. “Although also present at the site were the ruins of the foundation of the original mill compound, situated across the riverbank, we were really only able to get a good view of the ruins of the second structure, as much more of it remained intact. After noting the condition and aspect of this first mill, as well as how it was arranged/guarded as a state archaeological site, we discussed the itinerary for the day and the general social and historical context for mill construction in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Oxford Mill Ruins in Cannon Falls: The Oxford Mill ruins were located just along the side of a highway in Cannon Falls. The site was privately owned, and so we were careful to respect the wishes of the landowners and not enter the structure. However, we were allowed to get a view around the back of the ruins. The Oxford Mill ruins were the tallest/most complete ruins that we had seen so far. Indents where multiple floors would have been were visible, as well as a tunnel at the far end whose brick matched that of the mills and square window holes. While viewing this site, we discussed the ownership of archaeological sites: how they often fall under private property policies, and their owners face steep property taxes.
Silvernale Archaeological Site in Red Wing: If not for a small sign, Silvernale would seem to be just another hilly, southern Minnesotan field. Yet, Silvernale was once home to one of the biggest Native American settlements in the area. Many artifacts have been discovered at the site through trench excavation and survey, many of which now reside in a museum. In fact, in the short time we spent picnicking near the site, we found two lithics and a pottery sherd.
Goodhue Historical Society: Our time at the museum began unusually: with a chorus of Scandinavian folk songs and a small dessert spread of traditional Scandinavian treats. Following this warm welcome, we went on a quick tour of the museum with one of the principal directors/curators. The museum had a whole room dedicated to archaeological sites in the area, as well as a replica of one of the most interesting finds, and a few cases of lithics and pottery from sites such as Silvernale. There were also a few displays honoring influential archaeologists in Minnesota, a few of which were women. We also learned more documentary history regarding Southern Minnesotan milling, which helped us put Waterford in context and bring some of the ruins to life.
Due to weather, we were unable to continue our excavation. Instead, we stayed indoors for lab and began the process of cleaning and bagging artifacts both from Waterford and our original field walking survey. It was not until this lab that I truly realized just how important precision and specificity are when labeling for archaeology. The sheer volume of our finds was overwhelming, as was remembering which items belonged to which bags when trying to clean them all so quickly and efficiently. The trays proved the most useful tools for keeping it all straight.
I had expected us to be cleaning the artifacts with fancy archaeological gadgets, and so was more than a little surprised to find out just how useful paper clips and tooth brushes are at getting the job done. After quite a bit of scrubbing and scraping, more identifiable features were revealed on several items (such as two cans and a belt)- revelations which proved extremely satisfying.
We ended the lab section by beginning to sort the artifacts by material (metal, ceramic, lithic, and other). Judging by the bags I sorted, the distribution of artifacts tended to lean slightly in favor of metal, with ceramic coming close behind. The scarcity of lithics (excluding the occasional stray rock) was understandable: they might be from earlier time periods, they’re maybe more rare, and definitely more difficult for the amateur archaeologists eye to spot, etc.
This week was my first week excavating, but the rest of the Wednesday group’s second. It was a perfect day to dive right in, which is more or less exactly what we did. While some continued mapping and surveying, and others operated a drone to take aerial photographs (not sure how this turned out, see weekly summary), I was in the second group of excavators, in an ankle deep trench somewhere in the F10/F11 grid sections (Trench 2) (again, see weekly summary).
We excavated using trowels, brushes, and clippers. Roots, rocks, and uneven soil all proved challenging, while the size of the trench (1’1′) relative to the number of excavators (3-4 at any given time) was another difficulty. Annie, Sam, Hank, and Emily all took turns either sifting the soil in the bucket or recording finds/ documenting the different stages of the dig. I spent the entire lab session with both knees in the soil, reminding myself again and again to aim for right angles (holding the trowel at 90 degrees), and not to simply pull up roots (in case this action also disturbed stratigraphic layers), but to gently cut them. Patience was key: in the words of Jake Morton, “slow is smooth and smooth is fast.”
The concept of “cleaning up” a trench already 90% dirt was new, and it took me an embarrassing second to realize what it actually meant. Overall, we didn’t find too much in the way of artifacts, the only notable finds as far as I’m aware being a bottle cap, a shard of glass, and sheet metal. We stayed in context 3, and the soil was consistent for the duration, aside from a few deposits of sandstone. Bug bites and sore fingers aside, the experience was rewarding, especially when comparing how the trench looked in the beginning of our segment with the end.
This was our group’s last lab period spent outside for excavation. I got the chance to hone my trowel skills, digging at ninety degree angles along the sides, and in such a way that the surface of the trench remained level and smooth. However, this time I worked in trench one, which I had never even seen before. I also participated in the sifting process.
There were three of us in the trench altogether- me, Sam, and Annie. Emily and Loren both took turns drawing a mapping the trench, while Clarissa visited twice in order to plot GPS points in all four corners of the trench. Trench two proved a lot wealthier with regard to its artifacts. We found around a hundred scraps of metal and tons of charcoal in addition to pieces of ceramic (including a fully intact vase shaped object and a sherd with a company name!), glass, brick, and plastic. The farther down we got in the context however, the less we found. However, the stratigraphy may have been compromised due to the previous day’s heavy rainfall.
It was not until I picked up the dirt bucket that I realized just how difficult the job of sifting was going to be. Thankfully, Sam was able to lift the dirt bucket higher than my measly inch from the ground, while I shook the sifter. We found so many pieces of metal and charcoal that towards the end of the sifting process, that we stopped collecting them. However, I am confident that what we did end up collecting was a sample representative of the metal found at the site with regard to shape, size, frequency, and ratio to other material types.
Eventually, it came time to pack up and clean up the site. We tried to make it look as close to how it did when we arrived, with the exception of refilling the trenches (which weren’t terribly deep anyway). Sam took some final pictures of trench one for photogrammetry, while Alex took photos of trench two. All in all, I’ll miss our time in the field: it was far easier to understand archaeological concepts in practice, than while reading about them in our textbook/readings. What I’ll take away from the experience as a whole is the importance of precise labeling in archaeology, as in life.
With Alex in Greece, this week’s lab session met in the ldc classroom. Guided by our lovely and patient TA Clarissa, we took over where the Tuesday group had left off cataloguing and documenting all of our finds from the past eight weeks (from the initial field survey to artifacts excavated from the Waterford site trenches).
I understand our reading, “Storage Wars,” a lot better now having experienced this phase of the archaeological process. It was surprisingly challenging- juggling all the details in the excel spreadsheet. A couple of times I accidentally made duplicate entries for artifacts already catalogued. I also had trouble getting a handle on all the different categories (Lot #, typology, etc.). During the lab we discovered that our bag labeling in previous lab sessions hadn’t been as streamlined as we’d hoped. For example, a lot of the information on the bags was vaguely worded or incomplete, which made the process of documenting them more challenging. All these things considered, the cataloguing process was slow and arduous, and I can definitely understand why so many archaeologists neglect it, despite the fact that it is so integral to later interpretation and research.
Of all the objects I catalogued, the two most interesting were the shard of a Pond’s cold cream bottle, and a tube of 1950’s-60’s dental cream. It was exciting knowing that we had collected relatively old artifacts, rather than just twenty-first century litter. Annie and I were able to date these items by doing pretty simple google searches of “vintage toothpaste” and “vintage Pond’s jars”. Through these searches, we found that a 1950’s tube of colgate dental cream nearly identical to our own sells for about $7.98 on eBay. A truly lucrative find. The Pond’s cold cream sherd was also (luckily) distinctive enough in size and shape for us to date it to a certain brand style in the 1950’s. Dating artifacts requires a little internet sleuthing and a whole lot of luck- making this my favorite part of artifact cataloguing.
On our last day of lab, we worked on double-checking our artifact notes and compiling them into a MetaData Excel form. There were a lot more mistakes than we had anticipated, both in cataloguing and in bagging. I found that keeping a million simple things in your head can be just as hard as one large, difficult thing. It took me a while to get a hang of the MetaData format, and once I did, it was still slow-going. But again, in the words of that one guy Jake Morton met on an archaeological dig one time, “slow is smooth and smooth is fast.”
Our final lab session was a little anticlimactic. But I think that’s how most archaeology must be- the processing stage is far less dramatic and exciting than excavation. However, it can be just as challenging and important, if not even more so. It should also be said that deciphering some handwriting (cough cough Alex and Zobie) made me feel like a British military codecracker in WWII.
It’s been a rollercoaster of a term, what with all the rain, snow, and heat- but I have to say I wouldn’t have had it any other way. If I had any advice to give to the next class, it would be to LABEL THE BAGS PRECISELY AND CAREFULLY!
This is Clara Finkelstein, signing off.