Although the Wednesday lab group did not get to visit the Rice County Historical Society, we did get a taste of historical societies and their archival work in our Tuesday afternoon session with Nat Wilson, the College’s digital archivist. In this session, we visited the reading room of the Gould Library Special Collections, where we learned about archives and even got to view a span of documents recording students’ experiences at Carleton over the past century.
In particular, Wilson spoke about the difficulties in archival work that result from many institutions’ lack of resources dedicated purely to the time-consuming task of sorting and maintaining archives. As an example, Wilson talked about Faribault’s Minnesota State Academy of the Blind, which has a room full of documents, photographs, and artifacts that date back to the beginning of the institutions and show a broad range of activities engaged in by students at the school. However, because there are no staff members whose work focuses on working with these historical documents, the artifacts have historically been left relatively unorganized. Wilson also discussed the difficulty in working with archives from a researcher’s perspective, as some locations are more secure than others and require researchers to meet with archive staff at specific hours under varying conditions.
Additionally, our class was able to begin looking into the historical record of the Carleton experience housed by the Special Collections. Using caution (and latex gloves!), we examined a range of documents such as black and white photographic prints taken at the Women’s League Cabin during WWII, unprocessed film from athletic events in the early 2000s, a student’s freshman year scrapbook, and memos written between students and staff about misconduct at the Women’s League Cabin in the 1970s. Hopefully, this exposure to exploring archives and asking questions of historical artifacts will be helpful in our research later in the course.
This week, the Wednesday lab section did our first bit of archaeological field surveying. We split up into two teams in order to explore the ground surface of a field north of Carleton’s main campus. For my team, I served as the team leader, which meant I had the responsibilities of documenting the location using the survey unit form and keeping track of how many artifacts members of my team collected. We surveyed two units, for each of which the surveyors of our team spaced themselves out by ten feet and walked about fifty feet, scouring the ground for ceramic, tile/brick, concrete, metal, plastic, and glass objects. While the surveyors collected objects, I recorded the visibility and conditions of the location and handed out bags to the team members for them to collect and keep track of the artifacts they discovered.
On the note of visibility and conditions, this field survey was made more difficult by the weather on Wednesday. Though it wasn’t raining much when we left campus, the rain increased as our survey of the first survey unit continued. Not only did this make conditions less than ideal for being out of doors, but the mud may also have made some artifacts on the surface of the field harder to detect. These conditions also made it difficult to fully document the findings of my peers and the geography and topography of the location, as we were kind of rushed.
Overall, our lab section got a taste of field surveying and some methods of archaeological work but additionally saw firsthand some of the difficulties of the work.
This week, the Wednesday lab group did our first fieldwork at the Waterford Mill site. Although we had gotten a taste of field surveying when we collected artifacts at the field site we visited during third week, our work at the Waterford Mill site, where we will be spending most of the rest of our time this term, already reflects a much more thorough surveying of the site and a wider array of survey methods like those discussed by Austin Mason and Neil Slifka. Although the Tuesday lab had already begun work mapping the site and clearing debris, our lab section split into teams to finish clearing the site of branches and natural debris, use GPS mapping to locate and delineate the site, map out survey unit sections through physical mapping, document site features, and begin collecting artifacts. During this lab, my task was to document features of the site – objects that were immovable or larger than other manmade artifacts and essentially could not be bagged and taken with us. My partner Miyuki and I worked on documenting man-made features for the entrance to the mill site and the nearby areas. This area included the path to the side, a wire fence going along this path, the stone wall which likely used to make up the foundation of the mill, and some fragments of the structure including concrete footings, cinderblocks, rolls of wire, and fragments of metal sheets. For each of these features, Miyuki and I documented the width, length, orientation, and artifact type of the object. We also took photographs of each feature and drew an aerial sketch and a descriptive sketch on the feature sheets we used to document the sites. Overall, in my and Miyuki’s work and in our observations of other necessary steps of documentation surrounding the site, we were able to learn much more about our fieldwork site and a wider variety of survey methods than we had previously worked with. Especially after visiting other mill sites this past weekend in Dundas and Red Wing, this site seems promising to me as a location where we will be able to learn more about Northfield’s history through its material culture.
This week, we began the exciting work of excavation at the Waterford Mill site. This work entailed a number of different tasks, including GPS mapping, adjusting prior mapping work, collecting and documenting artifacts on the ground surfaces, starting to lay out locations for excavation trenches and sifting soil and newly found objects. Though some of this work had been started by the Tuesday lab and by the Wednesday lab during Week 4, this lab meeting mostly served as a starting point for our excavation work at the site. Upon arriving at the lab site, our lab split into multiple sections to begin work on tracing locations for excavations and completing the primary work of collecting artifacts found on the ground surface.
I worked to finish documenting and collecting small man-made artifacts found on the surface layer of the “G” column of our excavation grid. Our group conducted surveys of two survey units and spent about ten minutes perusing each for artifacts. Our first survey unit was within the walls of the old mill, and though there was a good deal of leaf and branch debris covering this part of the site, the unit was relatively visible and easy to maneuver. In this plot, close to the entrance of the mill site after descending the path from the road and train tracks, our group found several shards of glass, a piece of purple ceramic, an old Budweiser can, and a rusted metal tube, among other artifacts. Though there was a good deal of glass located at this part of the site, we documented all the pieces we found and only kept one for our collection bag. For each artifact, we also denoted its approximate location in a sketch drawn on a survey form. Our second survey unit was located further up, closer to the railroad tracks on the other side of the mill wall. Because of the bush, brambles, and padded-down grass, this unit was much harder to walk through and much less visible (we marked visibility as 7%). Due to the low visibility and the differing location of this survey unit, we were much less successful in searching for artifacts. Most of the man-made objects we could find were more recent trash, consisting of a disposable plastic cup, a flattened beach ball, and a chip bag wrapper. The contrast between these two survey units, technically located next to each other on our grid, demonstrated how different finds can be even when they are only a few meters apart. These finds were diachronic, too, meaning that they spanned decades in approximate date. Lastly, I also learned in this lab how difficult it can be to determine objects’ function or to what type of object a shard may belong to (this was especially evident in our finding of the metal tube, a sliver of metal plating, and the ceramic fragment).
This week, the Wednesday lab section experienced some of the work that is usually done towards the end of archeological survey projects. Because of the timing of a rainy day with a day we were supposed to dig up plots and sift soil, Professor Knodell decided that we would begin cleaning and categorizing our finds. The artifacts that we were dealing with consisted of the artifacts we collected while walking transects at the agricultural fields right off of campus, the collection of artifacts gathered in our surface gridded survey for all the survey units at our Waterford Mill site as well as a few finds that had been extracted from dug trenches at the mill. This cleaning and re-organizing of the bagged artifacts consisted of several steps, though multiple of these steps took places at the same time in different groups our lab section split into. Firstly, the reorganization of these artifacts required a careful review of the survey unit forms used when documenting the mill site and when recording what objects were found. Students used these forms to confirm what artifacts were found in which survey units and how many bags should have been accounted for regarding each area of the mill site. These collection bags were then unpacked and all of the items had to be cleaned. I took part in cleaning some of these objects, including glass, Styrofoam, ceramic, plastic, and wood. This turned out to be a grittier task than our class or textbooks could have prepared me for, as the artifacts were not only fairly soiled but many of them came along with insects and microorganisms of different kinds. The bugs we found, in part a lively intervention in the middle of our class, also showed me that different artifacts require different kinds of care and can be more or less difficult to clean. The wooden artifacts, in particular, were difficult to clean because of the termites and other insects that they had accumulated. Additionally, some types of materials, such as the wood and metal pieces, were simply harder to clean than say, glass and ceramic pieces. The variety in artifacts found also taught me that preservation looks different for different materials. Though we could wash the glass and ceramic objects in the sinks, we were advised not to wash metal or wood, as this would likely erode the artifact, damaging the existing object and possibly getting rid of anomalies or interesting elements of the pieces that might make them easier to identify and historicize. I also learned firsthand how incredibly difficult preservation is because of human error… I accidentally crushed one of the shells that had been collected and broke a plastic piece into two smaller fragments.
These instances also impressed upon me the importance of documentation and the difficulty in categorizing objects when documentation happens within different groups for one collaborative project. Though I did break one shell, I was surprised that the group that collected that artifact had even picked it up, as my group had not considered organic objects as artifacts that we should collect when we walked through our gridded survey units. I also witnessed the difficulty other students had in finding all the collection bags listed on survey unit forms and had my own trouble when trying to clean and organize artifacts that had been placed in an unlisted bag.
Finally, the discussions we have had about typology and categorization of objects were especially salient to me during this lab section as I tried to categorize the now-clean artifacts into different bags. My peers and I aimed to put objects into bags including, for example, only glass, only metal, or only plastic. This seemed like an easy task, but the seemingly-more-recent objects, especially, made this task difficult. For instance, for one survey unit, I was tasked with re-categorizing a lighter, some pieces of glass, and Styrofoam. Though Styrofoam and the lighter clearly did not belong with the glass shards, I was unsure whether to categorize the BIC lighter as plastic with the Styrofoam or to place it in its own bag. It struck me how interconnected material is with function and origin when categorizing objects, as my mind was already jumping to consider the lighter’s more modern function even when I was supposed to be only considering the artifact’s material for the sake of secure preservation.
This week at the Waterford Mill site, we finished our excavation and survey work for the term. We continued to excavate the two trench sites, GIS map the entire site, and clean up the site. Since I was sick last week and wasn’t able to be at the lab site, this was my first week doing excavation work as opposed to survey work or the documentation side of the archeological work our lab section has completed this term. My team finished the excavation of Trench #2, the excavation trench closest to the entrance of the mill site. This trench had already been partially dug out in the past two weeks, but we continued to excavate in Context #3, troweling dirt towards ourselves and emptying both soil and artifacts into buckets which would then be sifted.
As we used trowels and root cutters to clear the surface of the Trench #2, we had to be careful to sift the soil evenly and avoid digging too deeply in any one specific area of the trench. This was made difficult because of rocks and roots covering part of the trench and because of my group’s (Maanya, Arya, Price, and I) hunch that the most northwestern corner of the trench had the greatest number of artifacts (although this was also perhaps the corner with the most worms…). After finding that we had partially dug to the level of another context in part of the trench (evidenced by a new, lighter color of the soil), we made sure that we left the soil level of the trench level and stopped excavating. By this point, we had filled two buckets of soil and had sifted both of these. In this part of the trench, we discovered about a dozen nails (more like small stakes), BB gun pellets, a small piece of ceramic, a shard of glass, and many, many worms. Each of these finds was documented on paper forms detailing the findings of Trench #2. After finishing excavating the trench, our lab section worked to clean up the lab site and remove the stakes and pink fly tape we had used to grid the section subunits and trenches.
Since our class has finished our excavation of the Waterford Mill Site, the next step in the process of our archeological excavation is the categorization and documentation of artifacts collected through transect walking, surface collections, trench excavations, and gridded surveys. This week the Wednesday lab group continued the work of the Tuesday lab section by continuing to record the artifacts the class collected and to categorize these artifacts based on collection unit, material, lot, and typology.
During this lab section, Miyuki, Emily, and I worked on documenting the finds which had been removed during a gridded survey from subunit F12 of the Waterford Mill site as well as those which were found in a survey collection at the “Building 2” location. While organizing and researching items from both of these sites, our group came to appreciate the importance of documentation. Not only did we use the gridded survey and surface collection forms that the lab groups had used to document types of artifacts and their units when walking in the field, we also relied upon our peers who continued to work to maintain proper documentation of the artifacts in ARCGIS and otherwise. We also continued this documentation work by removing artifacts from the bags they had been collected in, sorting based on material into certain lots, describing the typology of these artifacts, and, when we could, researching the chronologies of these objects. First, our group learned how to group artifacts into specific lots: artifacts could be grouped together when they were fragments or multiples of the same object but could not always be grouped together based on the fact that they were both composed of, say, ceramic or leather. We also referred to our discussions conducted early in the class to consider what aspects of the object and which of its potential uses were relevant when considering its typology.
Most interestingly, Miyuki and I were able to conduct research on the chronology of certain objects, particularly those which came from the F12 subunit of the Waterford Mill Site. Though we were disappointed that we were not able to date some objects, such as the BIC lighter and the several fragments of a leather boot or shoe, we did find interesting information that gave more context to the origins and chronology of two old Schmidt’s and Bud Light beer cans and a glass 7up bottle.
Since the Tuesday lab section finished the categorization and documentation of artifacts, the Wednesday lab section spent our last day in lab confirming that all artifact bags were correctly labeled and included both in the ARCN 246 Artifacts Notes and Metadata spreadsheets on Google Drive. After confirming that all of these bags were documented online and after correcting some of the data printed on the bag and typed up in the spreadsheets, we sorted each bag into bins for artifacts found in from survey unit fieldwalking, excavation trenches, and grid surveying. These bins, once sealed will then go into long term storage and are soon to be moved into the new archaeological department wing in the new science building. Though this lab section was mainly spent re-categorizing and confirming the organization of artifacts, it was a good chance to reflect back on what we had learned this term (even if that meant seeing our mistakes in previously labeling the artifact bags).