I unfortunately missed the trip to the physical Carleton Archives with Nat Wilson, but I ended up using the online archives to help with an assignment also due that week. The value of Carleton’s archives comes from how well-documented and organized they are, allowing people interested in Carleton’s history to search through them without having to struggle to figure out what they contain. Additionally, all old issues of the Carletonian are digitized, providing a thorough record of Carleton students’ interests and Carleton’s events that goes all the way back to the 1800s. This relates to the concepts of public archaeology we discussed in class: with this information available to people interested in Carleton’s history, more people can have the opportunity to learn and share about Carleton’s past.
During lab this week, we did some actual fieldwork, dividing into 2 groups and fieldwalked through a literal field. We used survey techniques to divide the field into 4 sections, and each of the groups walked through 2 of those sections, picking up pieces of material culture that would be interesting to study further. I didn’t expect to find many things because the field in question had been used for crops fairly recently, so I assumed many of the larger objects would have already been found and removed to make planting easier.
I don’t know what the second group found, as they were pretty far away from the first group, but in our section of the field we found a lot of objects. Along my transect, I found several old-looking cans, a couple pieces of colored glass, a circular metal sheet, and a piece of a belt. The most interesting aspect of my section of the field, though, were the hundreds if not thousands of pieces of brick and concrete in the first section we walked through, indicating a structure was probably built there before. Further down the field people found small pieces of bones, so it probably wasn’t just humans using this field (at least, I hope not.)
The experience itself could have been better because it started raining soon after we got there and everyone was soaked by the time we finished walking, but it was really interesting to get to collect and catalog objects (and later on, I assume, try to figure out more about the location we were walking through.)
During this lab, we split up into groups and did various tasks to get the Waterford Mill site ready to excavate and do more detailed archaeological work. My small group was tasked with cleaning up the site to make it easier to navigate and be better able to see any material culture left in and around the mill. Other groups expanded the survey grid, used mapping technology, and began collecting artifacts in the area, among other things. My actual experience was very much grunt work, as I had to clip branches off of trees and carry large piles of sticks and logs out of the site, but by the end the site was significantly easier to walk around in.
This week’s lab wasn’t as directly connected to what we’ve discussed in class, just because so much of it was cleaning up, but it did make me wonder about the ecological impact of archaeology. Especially when hearing from some of the visitors how archaeology often incorporates a desire to preserve (as well as learn about) historic sites, I was surprised by how much we were able to do that fundamentally changed the environment of the mill site without considering that impact particularly strongly.
This was the first day my lab group got to excavate at the Waterford Mill site itself. The previous lab group had set up two trenches, one between the two different rooms of the mill and one further over in a trash pit, and we ended up excavating in the trash pit. The actual process involved carefully scraping dirt away from pre-existing features in the ground (in our case, mostly rocks) and holding onto any artifacts we encountered. Because of being right next to the trash pit, we found a lot of different objects, including lots of units of what appeared to be metal wire that ran through the middle of the pit. We also found pottery with several different designs on it, lots of scraps of metal, and what appeared to be an airsoft bullet. By the end of the lab period, we had found 2 (or 1 contiguous) significantly larger pieces of metal that were far enough down that we could not remove them.
This tied very directly into concern about the context in which these items were found, and although we remained in the same context the entire time, the actual experience of digging in the ground made it more clear to me the necessity of keeping track of how far down things were found. In a trash pit, which presumably would be full of objects for as deep down as the pit goes, keeping track of where they were found chronologically seems extremely important in order to fully understand how the different types of objects relate to each other. It also made me think of Deetz’s In Small Things Forgotten, where he emphasizes how much can be learned from household objects, provided they’re found in a useful context.
Due to the rain, we could not continue to excavate outside this week, but instead we started cleaning and cataloging the artifacts found over the past few lab periods. I worked with the artifacts from the trash pit excavation trench (which was the same one I had been excavating in Week 5’s lab). We had bags of pottery and glass, but the vast majority of our findings were metal, which meant most of lab was spent scrubbing at that metal with toothbrushes and paper clips. This was in order to get rid of any dirt on the metal pieces without damaging them by putting them under running water. Mixed in with the metal were pieces of charcoal, glass, and slag, but (aside from one very large piece of slag) were very small.