Week 2: Rice County Museum
For our first lab of this class, we visited the Rice County Museum of History. It was an interesting opportunity to learn more about the history of Northfield and the rest of Rice County, as well as to view artifacts from the area. First, we viewed a topographical map of Rice County and a bit of history associated with it. Glaciers helped to shape Minnesota’s geography, and the most recent one covered only part of Rice County, leaving one area more hilly while the rest was leveled out more, and many lakes were left behind. Many prehistoric artifacts in the county have been found near these lakes.
We then got a chance to view various artifacts from Rice County. The museum had a good collection of prehistoric artifacts, and we got a chance to look at the ones on display and learn a bit about how the tools people used changed over time. We saw a few artifacts that were in boxes and not yet on display, as well. There were also some bison bones that were found in Rice County. Overall, I was surprised by how much prehistoric archaeology there is in Rice County given how little has been found in Northfield.
Lastly, we looked at some maps of Rice County, Northfield, and Faribault. I saw plat maps and maps showing where buildings were located, among others. I’d never really thought about just how much information can be gathered from maps before.
Week 3: Survey in the Arb
This week, we went to an old farm dump in the arb and did fieldwalking to see what artifacts we could find on the surface. We were originally going to go to one field, but there was a controlled burn happening there, so we headed toward a more wooded area. It was a bit of a muddy walk, but once we got there, we could start surveying.
One of the first things we did was measure how many strides it took for each of us to cross 10 meters (13 steps for me) so we could use that information to space ourselves out appropriately while walking. We were split into two groups that each surveyed one side of the path through the arb. The other group, which had the clearer side, went first. Once they got going, my group started. We were walking through a lot more trees, which made it difficult to walk in a straight line. We ended up having to use a measuring tape to space ourselves out 5 meters apart. Since I was closest to the path, I tied some flagging tape around a nearby bush to mark the corner of the survey unit. We used the compasses on our phones to make sure we were all walking in the same direction and then we set off, scanning the ground around of us for artifacts.
As I walked, I found 2 large pieces of wood, two bricks, a small sheet of plastic, a lighter, and a rusted can. Most other people in my group found even more artifacts: big piles cans, pieces of glass, and things like that. When we reached the end, I used another piece of flagging tape to mark the end, and then it was time to bag the artifacts. We put the artifacts by category into bags that we then labelled in permanent marker with information about where we found them. There was one person in each group who was responsible for recording everything, and we told that person what we had found. Once everything was recorded, we carried the bags back to the cars and went back to Carleton.
Week 4: Waterford Mill
This week, we went out to the site of Waterford Mill for the first time. The walls of the mill were already visible, parts of them sticking up out of the river (which was most likely fairly high that day, since it had rained a lot the day before). Once we arrived at the site, we split up into three groups: one used compasses and measuring tapes to split the site into a grid of squares to later be surveyed, one group started clearing off the area by getting rid of plant remains, and the last group, which I was in, started looking for and documenting features.
I headed east of the site with one other student. We walked along the edge of the river and after a bit we came across a fire pit, which was a circle of rocks with some charcoal in the middle. There were other artifacts scattered around it, including an empty glass bottle almost entirely buried in the sand, some sunglasses, pieces of metal that looked like they were once parts of folding chairs, and a brick surrounded by a few scattered pieces of other bricks. As I continued along the beach, further from the mill, I came across more scattered artifacts: more pieces of brick, a concrete block, and a few pieces of ceramic.
After recording these findings on a feature form, we went back to get the differential GPS in order to record the exact locations of a few points around this feature. It was a challenge bringing it to the beach, since getting there requires climbing over trees along a fairly steep slope, and we had to be careful not to damage the equipment. Once we got there, we took readings for the locations of the center of the fire pit, the glass bottle in the sand, and one of the pieces of ceramic that was found further out, in order to document the furthest extent of artifacts that we found.
Week 5: Waterford Mill Excavation Day 1
For this lab, we continued our work at Waterford Mill. Like in week 4, we split up into groups with different tasks. One group was assigned to continue gridded survey, one group went around taking differential GPS readings, and two groups opened excavation trenches at the site. I was in one of the excavation groups, which started excavating in a garbage pit that had been found previously.
We opened a one meter by one meter excavation unit which was placed so that it overlapped the pit somewhat but also was at the edge to try to establish a boundary. Once we chose a location, we measured a one by one meter square and marked the corners with stakes. We connected the stakes with string to mark the edges of the trench and then began collecting artifacts from the surface. We found a lot of metal and ceramic as well as a bit of glass. We collected what we could, but one large piece of metal we photographed instead because it was too big to take with us.
After that, we did some shovel skimming to remove the top inch or so of dirt and get rid of the remaining plants in our excavation unit. We had to use clippers to get rid of some of the tougher plants, but by the end of the lab, all the surface finds and plants had been removed. We found a few more artifacts as we were shoveling—more metal and ceramic—and added them to the bags. Then we labelled the bags, finished the form about our excavation unit, and finished the lab.
Week 6: Waterford Mill Excavation Day 2
This week, we returned to Waterford Mill to continue excavation. Once again, we were split into different groups to dig in different excavation units and do a few other things. I worked with the DGPS to record the locations of more things around the site.
First we had to wait for the DGPS to connect to different satellites so it could get accurate readings. While that was happening, we looked through the notebook where people had written down the previous DGPS coordinates they had recorded. This really made me realize how important it is to have good documentation, because without it we might not have been able to figure out what all the points that had been previously recorded with the DGPS corresponded to. It would have been even better if our documentation was more consistent: since different people recorded things in the notebook in different ways, it was a bit difficult at first to figure out what everyone meant.
Once that was figured out, we told the groups doing excavations what coordinates to write on their forms, and then went around the site and started using the DGPS to record new information. We continued the work an earlier group had started of recording the locations of the corners of all the five by five meter survey units.
Since I was getting DGPS coordinates for various locations around the site, I got a chance to see what a lot of different groups were working on, which was interesting. We went to an area where people were preparing to open a shovel test pit near a wall that had been found a little away from the main mill. We also got to see the progress being made on the excavation of the trash pit as well as an excavation unit in the mill itself. Right before we left for the day, we recorded the coordinates of all four corners of each of the the excavation trenches.
Week 7: Waterford Mill Excavation Day 3
As during previous labs, the we were split into groups that did different tasks during lab. I did excavation again today, returning to the trench in the trash pit that I helped open on the first day of excavation. Other groups had continued the excavation there in the meantime, so we started out several inches below the surface.
As we dug, we found a lot of artifacts that were similar to what I remembered finding on the surface, though generally in smaller pieces. We found a lot of flakes of old rusted metal along with some small pieces of glass and ceramic. Occasionally we came across larger items, often sheets of metal. We also found what appeared to be a glass cup at one point.
This time, we also sifted the dirt we dig up to check for additional artifacts. We brought a bucket of dirt over to where the screen was in order to do this. We found a lot of additional artifacts this way, mainly small pieces of metal.
Once we found the artifacts, we bagged them by category, separating the metal, ceramic, glass, and a couple of things we found that weren’t made out of any of those materials. Making sure everything got bagged correctly was actually harder than I expected it to be because there were so many small pieces that we had to keep track of.
In addition to excavating in the trench, we also did some surface collection from other parts of the trash pit, which allowed us to bring back some additional artifacts. Again, the artifacts found were mainly glass, ceramic, and metal. These artifacts included larger pieces of ceramic than we had been finding in the pit, and the ceramic often had interesting designs on it as well.
Week 8: Artifact Cleaning & Sorting
The Tuesday lab group is now done with excavation for the term, so we’re getting started with artifact analysis. Bags of artifacts were sorted according to where they were found, and we worked on cleaning the dirt off of the artifacts in the bags.
In order to clean the artifacts, got into pairs and each grabbed a tray and a bag of artifacts and then used brushes, mostly toothbrushes, to get the dirt off. For some artifacts, like ceramic, we also used water to help clean more dirt off. For objects like rusted metal, though, we couldn’t use water and had to clean them with only a brush.
We were processing artifacts from both the survey of the farm dump that we did during week 3 and from Waterford Mill, so there was a variety of different things. It was interesting to get to see some artifacts that I hadn’t gotten a chance to look at before because I hadn’t been around when they were found.
I helped clean a lot of metal, most of which was very rusty. The most recognizable pieces I remember seeing were a metal can and some nails. I also cleaned some pieces of ceramic that had been found. There were some items that I suspect were more recent than many of the others, like the packaging for Heinz marinara sauce and a to go cup from a store.
One thing I found interesting was that sometimes cleaning off the artifacts could reveal more information about them, because you could see them better. For example, one artifact I saw during cleaning was a tube that looked like it might be a paint tube, but once it was washed, we could see that there was actually text on it and were able to read some of it. The part of the front we could read said “BON DENTAL CREA”, and on the back the word “Colgate” was legible, indicating that it was actually a tube of toothpaste, not paint. (I was curious about this artifact, so after lab I checked Colgate’s Wikipedia page, and I suspect that it is a tube of Colgate’s ribbon dental cream.)
Week 9: Artifact Analysis
Now that the artifacts have been cleaned, we began analyzing them. Our lab group started with the finds from the excavation trenches and got most of the way done with analyzing them, though there were still a few bags left at the end that the Wednesday lab group can finish.
Recording what we found is a very important aspect of this part of the lab. We all used a shared spreadsheet in Google Drive to record information about the artifacts we were looking at including a description of the items and where they were found. We also sorted the artifacts into lots that each contained similar items.
For artifacts that seemed particularly notable or potentially datable, we created separate lots. We also did research on some artifacts if we thought we could find out more about them. One artifact that Seth, who I was working with, and I researched was a round, white piece of ceramic with a hole in the middle and the word “BRUNT” written on it. Some searching showed that this was a nail knob from knob and tube wiring. The Brunt Porcelain Company only existed between 1895 and 1925, so the date of manufacture must be somewhere in that range.