The weather prevented us from traveling to Fairbault for lab on Wednesday.
But as a part of class on Tuesday, we visited the college archives. I had never been to the archives nor did I know where exactly they were located. Nat presented a brief overview of what the archiving process is like, how various archives are (or aren’t organized), and let us look through some of the archived information pertaining to the Woman’s League Cabin. It was interesting to think about various degrees of value that organizations place on keeping and storing archived information. And further, the steps that some organizations place on encouraging people to engage with the materials (i.e. providing reading rooms etc.).
The photos were most interesting for me to look at, as it’s always fun to see (as opposed to just read) what these places looked like and how they were used/enjoyed. Beyond this it was surprisingly interesting to look at the seemingly mundane archived pieces, such as key requests or the settling of logistical issues through paperwork. These are things that I truthfully wouldn’t think to keep. Why keep a key request? But Nat provided interesting insight, saying that these documents, though trivial, actually help construct a clearer, more detailed picture of how the spaces were used and what the communication was like among those that interacted with the space; perhaps as much as the photographs do. Our visit to the archives made me interested to revisit for future projects and to understand if there are some things that archives decide to discard. Or is everything, no matter how mundane, understood to have value?
Wednesday’s lab was wet, but interesting. Our class split into two teams and practiced fieldwalking in a section of the upper arb. After arriving, we first became familiar with what our own version of ten meters felt like in steps. My number was 14. We then each used this variable to spread out from one another (by ten meters). Sam and I were responsible for flagging the boundaries of our own grid site and demarcate ourselves from team two.
Despite the unfavorable weather, I was happy to start practicing the methods we’d been reading about in Deetz and Renfrew & Bahn. I found myself rushing a bit, while field walking, to keep up with my team and also move the activity along (because of the weather). But if it had been nice out and/or had more time, I would have enjoyed slowing down and conducting a more meticulous search. For everyone on my team (and I assume generally for those on team two), we found fewer items as we moved further away from the road. This makes sense and is evident from the items in bag one versus the number of items in bag two.
I found my findings to be both intriguing and concerning. I found beautiful shards of a shattered ceramic pot as well as a broken lightbulb, a can, and a lot of plastic. Pieces such as the shattered ceramic pot were beautiful and made me feel like I was I was conducting an alternative version of antiquing. But it was also concerning to note how many plastic pieces and shards of glass I found in the field; pieces that I did not collect. This made me wonder about the ethical and environmental responsibilities that come along with archaeology (or that should come along with archaeology, going forward). For the sake of our own study, the pieces of plastic weren’t very important or interesting. But for the sake of the environment, I don’t feel that it responsible to just leave the bits of plastic there. I am curious to learn more about what this looks like in actual fieldsites and fieldwork, and if there has been more of this discussion in recent literature. Can archaeology and environmental efforts, in this sense, work in tandem?
During Wednesday’s lab, we visited and started to survey the Waterford Mill site. Our work followed in the footsteps (quite literally) of Tuesday’s lab section. We split into a few groups—site clearers, feature documenters/grid surveyors, mappers, and others grid layers. Much of the site had already been separated into 5 m² sections, marked by pink tape. But this work was continued and expanded upon by our groups.
I worked with Annie during our time on site. We split our time between feature documentation and surveying sections. While documenting features, we surveyed the larger compound on the SW side of the site. We originally noted a brick as a feature, but later learned that features are things that aren’t portable. Our nice drawing of the brick will hopefully be used later, though, when we start to document artifacts. After about an hour of feature documentation, Annie and I then conducted surveys in the grids F10 and F11.
We spent about ten minutes walking around each grid. We did this in order to devote a fair amount of time to each section, as spending more time in one section compared to another would likely add bias to our data. Our findings ranged from rusted cans and CO2 canisters to frogs, bricks, and clam shells. We found quite a few duplicates of objects during our search. As more duplicates were spotted, it raised questions as to what and how much we should be collecting. For example, there were 3-4 rusted cans; we collected two as representations, but should we have collected all three? Would that help our research or would it be redundant? We also found some bits of metal and plastic that we did not collect, but recorded a count for. Going forward, I’m curious to understand further what is really important to collect on site. I’d like to figure out how to differentiate what will provide data and context and what is perhaps less relevant to our study. I’m looking forward to honing this skill as well as getting started with onsite excavation in the coming week.
I was apart of the grid survey team #2 during lab this week, along with Annie and Lena. We had time to survey grid units G13 and H11 (for about 10 minutes each). We would have had time to survey a few more, but we accidentally re-surveyed two other units.
Visibility within the mill (H11) was around 30% as opposed to above the mill (G13) which had a visibility closer to 7%. This was due to dense brush cover north of the mill that wasn’t present within the mill itself.
In grid square H11 we found a few items—a tube, crushed can, a ceramic shard, and a few bits of plastic. In the grid square G13, on the hill north of the mill (closer to the train tracks and road), we found fewer artifacts. This could have been for a few reasons; the grid square was further from the river, the surface visibility was poor, and it was located at a higher elevation. It’s likely that we could uncover more in these areas through excavation or by clearing the brush more thoroughly. At a higher elevation, it’s likely that a lot of the artifacts might have migrated down into the actual mill site over time. I.e. A lot of the findings from G13 could actually be found in G12. In our coming labs, I’ll be interested to see if we can tell the difference between what we think originated in the mill site and what was washed/pushed down into the mill site (by weather conditions, human force, train movement, etc.).
The few items that we did find in the grid survey site G13 were plastic (i.e. a potato chip bag). We also noticed other plastic items outside of our grid square. A lot of these items, such as the blue plastic solo cups and deflated beachball, were most likely washed down from the road.
I’m curious to see how we discuss the social dimensions of these layers in future labs. Our focus will be predominantly on the older layers (I presume), but it will be interesting to incorporate and analyze the newer layers of social use that are settled more visibly on top of the dead brush. How will we differentiate between and discuss the significance of the layered social dimensions of the history we are seeing (The layers beneath the soil that some of our classmates were excavating, the artifacts visible underneath/among brush, and the food remnants/plastic that lying atop the brush)?. This gets at what Rodney Harrison and Esther Briethoff discuss in Archeologies of the Contemporary World—exploring the ways that archaeology can engage not only with the past and the destroyed, but with the current and contemporary social dimensions and material uses as well?
I’m left with a few questions: How do we select what is archaeologically valuable and what is not? What are the things that are not archaeologically significant right now, but may be in the future? Will future archaeological teams approach the site with a completely different system of values?
Another sub-par weather day for Wednesday Lab. Due to the rain and general gloom, we chose to forgo our excavation/survey activities for an indoor alternative: starting to sort through the artifacts that we’ve accumulated over the past few weeks onsite.
It was really interesting to start uncovering some of our finds. This process involved washing dirt off of what artifacts were safe to rinse (ceramic, plastic, etc.) in the LDC sink (yuck/sorry custodians) and follow up with a toothbrush to clean out the smaller crevices. With the other artifacts that weren’t fit to rinse, we used the toothbrush more aggressively to clear away the dirt as best we could. After cleaning the artifacts we separated them by material, intending to make future identification and further analysis easier. I was most intrigued by the details (in design, color, and pattern) on the ceramic pieces (Pictured below). Many of the pieces had beautiful, intricate designs.
I’m curious to see what we do with these pieces in future lab sections. How will we identify the pieces and determine their significance? I am interested to find out how we begin to connect these materials to the narrative of the Waterford Mill. I assume that we will reference archival information to help contextualize and identify some of the items that we have found. I also think oral narratives (if some groups do interview people from Waterford) will come into play. I’m also curious to see how we will discuss the layers of history that we’ve found (through material) and how we will present this information (a half-baked, unfinished examination of the site) in our final projects… Perhaps leaving a foundation for future archaeology classes?
The sun was glorious!
This week I took the opportunity to excavate for the first time with four others: Clara, Aaron, Annie, Sam, and Hank. Sam and I are on duty for writing the weekly summary, so we also played “gopher” and spent some of the time observing what other groups were doing. Our group was in charge of excavating Trench 2. I didn’t physically work with the trowel or duster in the trench pit, but took note of findings and drew general sketches as artifacts were located within our group. On the Excavation Form I tried my best to mark general shapes of prominent rocks and locations of findings (such as a bottle cap) that were uncovered–to the best of my ability, offer a general illustration of what our trench looked like before, during, and after our lab work. In an effort to make sure we were only working in Context 3 (not diving into other contexts unevenly) each excavation member had to pay attention to where their teammates were at with their own progress. This worked for the most part, but noticed in the end that some of the trench was unevenly excavated. I felt that they did good work though, especially noting that it was our first time excavating (not including Aaron). As our team excavated, we were excited to find a really red bug and less enthused to find a speedy tick crawling up Hank’s shirt. Both are pictured below.
I really enjoyed the process of sifting–dumping the bucket of dirt over metallic strainer and uncovering some of the hidden items that were buried in the dirt. In particular, Trench 2 contained a bunch of charcoal pieces, rusted nails, seashells, a piece of bone, and one ~0.22 bullet. None of this was noticed when team members were sweeping dirt into the duster pan. But these (I expect) will be some of the important pieces that help us understand the materiality and function of the Waterford Mill Site at a deeper level. Cool to see the process and success of an excavation lab.
I was looking forward to watching the team take drone footage, but collecting this footage wasn’t possible because of restrictions around telephone lines, railroad tracks, and a general lack of visibility.
I’m curious how excavation work is delegated on bigger archaeological projects. It felt like our team was squished into the small square, but at the same time it was helpful to have many hands clearing the layer of soil. Having more people did make the process more efficient (and more fun) but also caused some areas to be excavated deeper than other areas. On larger excavation sites, where more is at stake, what processes are put into place to make communication amongst archaeologists more effective?
This was our last day out in the field and we lucked out with weather again. I worked with the excavation team again this week, but this time in Trench 1.
I worked alongside Loren to map the trench as it was being excavated, noting the location of finds as well as rocks as they were removed. Sam, Annie, and Clara were on trowel duty. Similar to last week, we found lots of rusted nails, metal pieces, and charcoal. But in addition, we also found an assortment of ceramic pieces (one with a legible company name) as well as a large metallic pot-shaped item that Annie found. I’m excited to see what it is when we start analyzing!
Though I was not digging, it seemed like (and was expressed by excavators) trench 1 was harder to excavate evenly because of the angle at which it was sitting. Annie also chose to wear a skirt which made excavating angles, squatting, and practicing the effective trowel techniques more challenging.
I also helped with sifting once the buckets were full. The hardest part of this task was definitely lugging the bucket up the *slightly slippery* hill. I definitely fell, but the bucket made it to the sifter eventually!
The sifting finds were dominated by bits of metal and charcoal. Annie and I chose to collect the larger pieces as a representation for the larger collection, and left the rest. I’m curious to know if this is done at larger excavation sites, too, or if they would have collected all of the metal and charcoal pieces. Here, are you looking to collect a representative sample or the entire collection?
Towards the end we all worked to clean up the site—removing traces and materials of our research as well as documenting progress. We did not fill the trenches before leaving, but neither of the trenches were very deep and filling will happen naturally (and soon) with rainfall and vegetation growth. Despite bad weather to begin with, weather has picked up for Wednesday lab and I’ve enjoyed gaining a glimpse at what the inner workings and processes at an archaeological site are like.
This week I worked with Lena and Miyuki to document and begin to categorize artifacts found during the excavation and surface surveying at the Waterford Mill Site. We followed in the footsteps of Tuesday’s lab by continuing to piece through each collection (in plastic bags) and categorize our findings. We did this by categorizing objects and listing details of typology, material, and lot.
Our team spent the lab looking through artifacts collected during a gridded survey of F12 and a survey collection around Building 2.
Trying to keep consistent and accurate documentation techniques consistent was more difficult than I thought–specifically in terms of lot. For example, one of the collections from F12 contained a few different kinds of glass. Originally, we weren’t sure if the different types warranted one lot or three. To be cautious, we thought it would be better to separate the glass pieces into more lots to begin with and combine the lots in the future if we felt it was necessary. I’d be curious to see if other teams conducting artifact analysis felt this way as well. Lena, Miyuki, and I found the previous artifact separation very helpful – this step conducted at the site made our job easier. Instead of separating all the finds from Building 2 into broader categories, we were able to go through “ceramics” or “glass” specifically and do more in-depth analysis from there.
In terms of more in-depth analysis and dating the pieces, we didn’t make a lot of progress. The easier pieces to date and contextualize were those that still had clear printing on them such as the Schmidt’s beer can. It was a good learning process and was interesting to practice dating and contextualizing our findings.
Wednesday’s lab double-checked and finished the categorization of artifacts that Tuesday’s group had documented the day before. This process involved confirming the labeling and contents of artifact bags and editing as needed on the Metadata spreadsheet. I was expecting this process to be quick (I clearly had too much confidence in our identification and documentation abilities). I was not able to stay for the entirety of lab, but the bags that I checked were either inaccurately labeled, categorized incorrectly, or missing altogether from the spreadsheet. That being said, our lab was able to fix the mistakes through careful examination and cataloguing. It also reiterated the importance of correct labeling early on in the process.
As it was the last lab section for our class, we were responsible for sealing up the bags and placing them in long-term storage. I’m excited to see if some of these finds/other artifacts will be displayed in the new archaeology wing. I hope that the new set-up and larger space will be able to showcase the work that we have been doing.
I think it would have been really interesting to spend some class time or lab time earlier in the term identifying the pieces and then figuring out what the significance of these findings were—the project and time we spent excavating feels unfinished. I guess this is just a part of trying to fit an archaeological research project into less than ten weeks of time. I am curious if future archaeology classes will visit the Waterford Mill and conduct more research/build upon our findings. I think it would be great to see our findings being analyzed in-depth and further used to understand the history and contemporary use of the site!