Today, in our final week, we continued artifact analysis. Most of the work had been covered in the past two weeks of lab, so this period was devoted to double checking our work and ensuring no mistakes were made in entering data. I focused mainly on making edits to my final project (which is up under the oral history section of this website!) as we had just gotten feedback on the project, and there was not a ton of work to spread around.
Now that our artifacts had been cleaned off, we split into two groups to quickly analyze the individual artifacts and enter their pertinent information into a class-wide spreadsheet. Most things were just quickly categorized by material, and grouped together, but artifacts that seemed promising (or potentially dateable!) were bagged separately and subject to further inspection. No artifacts I worked with proved especially unique, or sported any specific information that could provide greater context, but I sat next to Judi and Seth who were able to narrow a porcelain screw’s creation date down to the turn of the 20th century!
Today in lab, we began to clean off the artifacts we have been collecting over the course of the term. I worked on some very dirty, crumbling pieces of aluminum. By the end of the class, we got them back to a nice rusty red! I enjoyed the methodical process of the work, and wonder what we will do with the artifacts now that they are workable.
For our final lab day on-site at Waterford, I joined an excavation crew for the first time! This was an exciting opportunity for me to both fulfill and challenge my childhood archaeological fantasies, for, as I have discussed in other posts, I used to have quite the complex about archaeological adventure (most of which revolved around digging in some capacity).
As I have come to expect in this course, excavating was not quite what I had imagined it to be when I was younger. But it was still exciting and fulfilling. Wendy, Judy, Claire and I formed a team and went to work on Trench 1, which had already been started by previous lab groups. Much to my surprise, excavating did not involve so much digging as much as scraping as we carefully took off levels of dirt with the flat edge of a trowel and deposited them in a bucket. Once full, we would go to a sifter a bit off-site to separate and remove dirt from any possibly valuable finds– although finds that we could obviously discern as separate from the dirt we immediately would catalogue and bag. We ended the day with multiple shards of varying material, and I was shocked at how much material evidence of history could be hidden in even the first context of a dig!
On May 18th, Tanya, Emily and I visited one museum (Mill City) and two sites (Oxford Mill and Waterford Bridge) as a makeup to the official class field trip. Here are our reflections:
First, we drove to the Mill City Museum in Downtown East Minneapolis. It was an incredibly expansive and detailed museum that offered a lot of really interesting ways of engaging with material culture. First, we took the “flour tower,” where we were taken through a history of the old mill by elevator. We all thought it was incredibly innovative to use recordings, lighting, and sounds effects to reconstruct what life might have been like at the Washburn A Mill during a historical moment in which Minneapolis was known as “the flour milling capital of the world.” We then went to the baking lab where we caught a baking demonstration and got to see how the different grains of wheat from the mill might have made different kinds of flour. On our way out we walked through the “ruin courtyard.” This outdoor part of the museum was particularly fascinating given that at the Waterford Mill we have regularly engaged with and observed the ruined walls of this historical/archaeological site and here we got to witness the effects of destruction from such a different formation process–fire.
On our way back from the museum, we stopped along the side of Oxford Mill Road to take a peek at the ruins. Even though we were only able to look at the site from the dirt curb we pulled our car into, our observations from afar proved to be quite applicable to our course material. The mill is located in what we would describe as pretty standard Minnesota woods, not terribly thick or dense at all, but well grown and grassy. Trees had started to grow inside the stone enclosure, suggesting that the mill hasn’t been used in quite sometime— probably around a century or so for the trees to have reached the height they have. Through some online research, this assertion proved correct, and we discovered the mill had burnt down in 1905, and it has remained abandoned since.
The Oxford Mill puts our term-long project at Waterford in context, as it suggests a widespread, and yet ultimately impermanent, presence of milling industry in our area of Minnesota. We wondered how the different mills may have interacted with one another— from documentary evidence, the two mills (Oxford and Waterford) seem similar in size and therefore their relationship to one another is not easy to assume. Were they competitors? Part of the same production company? Was industry developed to the point of multi-location production models in Minnesota in the 1800s? If we had been able to go inside we might have been able to pay closer attention to the inner walls of the site, and gathered more about what its exact purposes in the larger milling scene might have been. But unfortunately, we could only ponder from afar, and thus headed to our final site— Waterford Bridge.
Before returning to campus, we took a ten minute detour to visit The Waterford Bridge; a local community landmark. Emily had written about this for her Places of Historical Interest Assignment and thought it was a good opportunity to see it in person.
This site was much smaller in scale to the sites we had seen earlier in the day. Emily told us a brief history of the bridge in the car, noting that the bridge is over 110 years old and stands as a rare example of a bridge built with “Camelback through truss” style construction. She mentioned that the bridge was originally used as an extended roadway for landowners on both sides of the river–allowing a more convenient route to transport materials.
Following the 1980s, the bridge fell into disrepair and was named the first bridge on the MN state deficient bridge list. This was when the new traffic bridge was proposed, later built upstream from the historic bridge in 2009.
From looking at the Waterford Bridge, it was clear why the new bridge was built. As we had done at The Mill City Museum, we paid close attention to the material culture of the bridge and artifacts around it (bottles, cans, etc.). In terms of construction, we noticed the rusted bolts on the floor beams. Additionally, the general difference in construction style from the bridges that we are used to traveling on today. This bridge was quite progressive and was noted as surpassing safety standards during its time. Though the historic landmark was no longer fit for commercial vehicles, it was great to see that the revamping of the bridge made it useful for pedestrian and bike travel.
We returned to Waterford Mill this week in the rain. It was beautiful, but reminded me of the sometimes gritty and dirty nature of this work! After Wednesday’s lab session, the site was totally cleared and ready for survey, so Claire, Jaylin and I formed a survey group and began walking. The survey had been gridded and classified with checkerboard naming conventions (one axis labeled with numerals, the other with letters). The three of us surveyed F12 and F13, along the wall of the upper portion of the Mill skeleton.
Jaylin and I acted as ground-walkers, collecting and bagging material evidence that felt prescient, or photographing and establishing the location of artifacts that we were unable to carry back with us. Claire recorded the location and specifics of each found artifact. We made a great team and had a lot of fun. We noticed, though, that over the wall, which F13 stretched over, the pink flags of the grid system became pretty visibly inconsistent, and had to remap some of the grid before we could continue. I am looking forward to seeing what the excavation team found!
On Tuesday we finally arrived at our term long site at Waterford Mill. This was really exciting, because I felt like I was finally able to conceptualize what it is we are going to be working on. I mainly take discussion-based courses at Carleton, and I love that this class operates experientially– i.e. I actually feel like I’m part of an archaeological team as opposed to simply a student of the discipline!
When we got to the site, we all split into working groups. One team started laying out a survey grid with pink ribbon, another started mapping, and a third collected GPS points. Tanya, Matthew, Aubrey and I were responsible for clearing the site. It was really fun– we tore up lose trees and shrubs until the site was clear for survey. It was the most physical I’ve ever been in a course, and felt like I was working towards something bigger. I really appreciated the sense of teamwork and communal responsibility that this lab fostered.
This week, our class made our first foray into on-site archaeological method, when we surveyed a plot of the Carleton College Arboretum. I was responsible for lab writeup this week, and therefore was able to take a team leader role in order to better report my findings. This allowed me to take in a bird’s eye view of the survey process and I am so grateful! Our lab split into two teams of about each, with 5 or 6 field-walkers, and two documenters/information analysts available for on side assistance to the walkers. The walkers paced out 5 meters from one another and then proceeded to walk the length of an identified survey unit, walking in parallel lines by establishing a common compass bearing to follow. Me and my fellow “documenter” established the survey units, took stock of any finds and established geographic coordinates of each unit by flagging off the corners and taking photos of them.
Our team found no evidence of material culture, despite traversing three units in our lab time. While this was a bit disappointing it reminded us that archaeology is a lot of process, with limited but rewarding results. It was a wonderful lab period and a lovely day spent in nature.
In lab last Tuesday we visited the Rice County Historical Society to meet with their executive director, Susan Garwood. During the visit, I felt an overwhelming appreciation for how local community’s are able to document and record their own history of place. I felt that this was an important framework to situate myself within as I continue to pursue archaeological fieldwork, especially in our specifically local-historical context of Carleton. As I watched Susan gloss over a topographic map of the county I was astounded by how big it seemed, how full of possibility this rural piece of Minnesota was in regard to its capacity for human habitation. Everywhere becomes a marvel of human development, pre-history to present, when thought of in the longview. I appreciated how immediately situated the layers of Rice County civilization lay on top of one another, condensing the exhibit into a curatorial representation of the actual topsoil from which archaeologists work– dioramas representing temporal progression from hunting and gathering to World War II, layered one next to the other in a beautiful and immersive palimpsest of culture.
The visit made me wonder how archaeologists select sites when the entire globe has potential for information, and how some prehistoric narratives might be harder to reconstruct based off of how condensed a region’s modern civilization may have developed on top of its older ones. Why isn’t Rice County rich in Petra-like marvels? Did the peoples living here not have the capacity to build such sites, or did they simply engage in an alternative material culture that doesn’t conduce as easily to archaeological examination? I felt really, really passionate to continue exploring the adventure of prehistory that remains undiscovered in our own backyards– this trip scaled back my Indiana Jones ambition in a positive way.