CARLETON LIBRARY ARCHIVES
On the 9th of April, Tuesday my classmates and I visited the Carleton archives which are housed on the 1st floor of the Laurence McKinley Gould library. The Carleton archives are a repository for non-current official documents of historical, informational and archaeological significance pertaining to mainly Carleton but also some other Northfield sites. We met Nat Wilson, who is responsible for its upkeep. He showed us an enlightening presentation through which he debriefed us on the letters, photographs and films present in the archives and the structure of institutional archives in general. It was interesting to note that not all archives were well organized and maintained. Some of them can be very chaotic with important books tucked away in far corners, no chronological ordering of documents and letters and no staff to look after the documents. There are other archives which are looked after with great care and are regulated strictly allowing no food or drinks inside and asking people to use pencils over pens for any work in the archives. The most common documents one finds in these stores, we were told, are collected and preserved photographs, drawings, financial statements, letters, past oral interviews, maps, and old videos and films. Many institutions have an efficient database to make access to these resources quick and easy. Well maintained archives have proper office hours, digital equipment, printers and scanners and a set of primary and secondary research sources.
Following the presentation, we were shown pictures of the Women’s League Cabin, which had been excavated during a previous archaeological fieldwork lab of 2015. The collections included both staged and candid pictures and depicted the life of the occupants of the cabin back when it first started out. The remnants of the site can still be found today in the Arb and so can a tube-well which many of the students living there were photographed near as seen from the archive collection. Some other examples of pictures included a picture of the girls on some sort of picnic, one of them repainting the walls of the cabin, and a couple of them skiing and engaging in other snow sports. We were also shown letters that the students had penned addressed to the Carleton administration detailing a breakout that had taken place in the cabin and requesting for further investigation to take place. What particularly fascinated me was a map presenting an overview of the cabin back in the day which depicted an array of rooms including a lounge with a fireplace where students perhaps gathered together in the evenings for tea and conversation as seen in the photographs. It was fascinating to see how the campus had changed so much in a short span of time.
LAB WEEK 3
On the 17th of April, Wednesday we went to the lower arboretum on our first archaeological expedition outside. We were divided into two groups of seven each and I was part of the first group of enthusiastic and budding archaeologists . Five members from each group including me were assigned the field-working task. We were made to stand ten meters apart from each other and follow a path straight ahead of us, walking parallel to each other, inspecting the survey zone for any traces of material culture. Of the remaining two members, one was given the responsibility to map out the survey units that we were studying on a geographical map which was provided to us for reference. The other member was in charge of recording our finds on a sheet of paper, while at the same time looking at and recording visibility in percentage form, compass bearings and individual collections of team members.
Even though it was pouring and all of us were drenched, the rain failed to dampen our spirits. We walked slowly and carefully across the muddy field trying to look for anything that grabbed our attention. We categorized our finds into several groups: plastic, metal, concrete, glass, ceramics, lithics, bricks/tiles etc. I managed to grab hold of quite an array of things in the first survey unit including the sole of a shoe, several broken pieces of glass, some ceramic pieces, metallic tablets and the lid of a can. Other things I couldn’t identify but placed in the bag for further research. The second survey unit hardly yielded any interesting finds for us or for members of the other group, perhaps because it was more densely covered with vegetative matter preventing us from undertaking a successful surface survey. Once we got back to LDC, we bagged our collections and labelled the bag with our initials and other identifying information. In spite of the heavy showers, the archaeological survey was successful in providing us with a foundation for further such expeditions.
LAB WEEK 4
On the 24th of April, Wednesday we went to the Waterford Mill site again to expand upon the archaeological work undertaken by the Tuesday lab group. We were divided into four groups and Alex assigned all four groups specific tasks. These included clearing up the logs and tree barks that occupied the site, mapping the site by creating 5 by 5 meter square grids, surveying the site and recording the location of the finds. Arya, Owen, Price and I were responsible for mapping the site and flagging the corners of the grids. Before we started laying down the grid squares, Alex made sure we learnt how to use a compass to find precise directions. This was of key importance when carrying out any archaeological survey. We then divided the various tasks among the group members.
Arya was in charge of reading the compass, Owen and I were in charge of measuring the grid square lengths to ensure that they were 5 meters long and Price was responsible for staking and flagging the corner points of the squares. We got to work almost immediately after Alex clearly explained to us what we had to do. We laid out 9 grid squares, thus expanding upon the work that the Tuesday group had done and we also drew an accompanying diagram of the squares we were mapping. We labelled each of the grid squares on the paper diagram so that we could use it as reference for further mapping and survey operations. Our grid squares extended up to the railway which is when we decided to stop.
The experience was very informative and interesting. It was the first such project our class had undertaken and we were very excited at the possibility of finding new objects in the mill site. Perhaps next lab day we could further expand the grid layout and move towards the left to create one more vertical block of squares.
LAB WEEK 5
On the 1st of May, the Wednesday lab group went to the Waterford Mill again to further expand upon the work in the archaeological site. We, like the previous lab session, divided ourselves into multiple groups- mapping, surveying, and excavation. Sam, Arya, and I were part of the excavation group. I had never been part of the excavation group before which is why this was particularly new and exciting for me. We were dealing with trench #2, which the Tuesday lab group had successfully laid out the previous day. The trench was a 1×1 meter square, laid against the South wall of the enclosed mill site. Its surface had been cleared of any logs, twigs or cobbled stones that might have been present on it. I was in charge of troweling the square, keeping track of our progress on a record sheet, and helping my team-mates with the sifter.
After Alex informed us of what the excavation group was expected to do, we started off with our respective tasks. We examined the second layer of the soil (context 2) i.e the topsoil. What we found most challenging was troweling and shovel shaving in the presence of so many roots which were embedded in the soil. We made use of clippers to chop these roots off before continuing with the excavation process. Instead of immediately pulling out any rock structures that we found, we first troweled around them to make sure that it wasn’t part of a larger structure such as a wall buried in the soil. We discarded the upper soil layer into a bucket to clear out the way for lower strata. Each time we filled our bucket to the rim, we had to sift out the soil using a sieve/sifter, to collect any relevant artifacts that might have been discarded with the soil into the bucket. We did manage to sift out quite a large collection of nails and screws, some small white air pellets, scraps of metal, charcoal, some other unidentified objects/materials, and we even encountered a few earthworms!
I took down notes on the excavation form, recording the site features and drawing a rough sketch of the trench after the excavation for the day had ended. We took photographs of the trench both before and after the excavation to keep note of our progress and the change in the composition and color of the soil. The soil initially had been damp and heavy. Although, we didn’t notice any distinct change in the soil color, we did see that the composition had become somewhat lighter and the soil was now starting to develop a grey-black color. After I was done with these recordings, we packed up the boxes, and drove back to campus. Overall, it was an interesting experience and I look forward to more such lab days.
LAB WEEK 6:
The Wednesday group was all set for another day of excavation and GIS mapping, but unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with our plans. Due to the heavy rains, we were unable to go to the Waterside Mill, and took up the task of artifact cleaning and organization indoors in the classroom instead. This was an absolutely new and exciting domain for our lab group. Not only did we get to appreciate the wide range of artifacts that the various survey and excavation groups had collected, but we also got the opportunity to try and connect these artifacts with what we know about Waterford Mill’s past. Since there was an extraordinarily large number of artifacts that had been unearthed from the field-walking and survey grids, we had to divide ourselves into several groups, each dealing with a specific set of artifacts. One of the primary challenges we faced, was distinguishing the important artifacts from stratigraphic features like rocks, geological sediments, etc. The artifacts on my table had been collected from the field-walking site in the lower arboretum. We unpacked the objects carefully and dusted them off using a tool brush and a few toothbrushes. This was a crucial part of the archaeological process because it provided us with a better idea of what the artifact looked like before it had been buried under piles of soil and dirt. Then we proceeded to wash the articles up with water from the LDC bathroom taps and wipe them using paper towels. Removing the earthworms and bugs from the hollow cans was particularly challenging and took up the most time. The metal items could not be washed because we wanted to preserve them and prevent further erosion and degradation of these items. The objects that had been collected during the rain were more difficult to clean, because they were covered with mud which was damp and sticky. On the other hand, ceramic and glass objects collected during the clearer days were much easier to clean, and simple dusting was sufficient. Following this, we placed the washed and cleaned artifacts on a tray and waited for them to dry up before we bagged them, and labeled the bags with the initials of the field-walker and the specific group they belonged to. The artifacts were bagged according to material – we had a separate bags for each material in each context of each trench! ‘Like goes with like’ is a phrase Alex has reiterated in class several times and such cataloguing of items is very useful for the larger archaeological goal of familiarizing the Carleton community and people from other departments with the work of the department; it could also help the students of this course with their final projects as well. We were unfortunately unable to wash all the collected artifacts but we hope to continue this in further lab sessions so we get a good, clean set of articles at the culmination of our class as a representation of all the work our group has undertaken.
LAB WEEK 7:
Week 7 was another week of excavation and mapping for the Wednesday lab group. I found myself in the excavation group again, working alongside Sam, Price, Miyuki and Arya on the fourth context of Trench #1. This was a rather large group of students so we efficiently divided up the tasks among ourselves. Miyuki was in charge of handling the paperwork, she recorded our names and the context number on the excavation form. She also sketched out a rough diagrammatic representation of what the trench site looked like before we had begun our excavation for the day. The rest of us worked on both excavation and sifting. A few loose stone structures, but besides that the trench surface was completely clear of any roots or twigs that might have been present on it initially. It was much deeper than the Wednesday group had left it two weeks ago, which goes to show that the Tuesday lab section had made considerable progress on the site. We took a couple of photographs of this ‘before’ phase and quickly got to work. Archaeological stratification was a key principle that we could put to use here in our trench excavations. Identifying the context of the artifacts and eco-facts is essential in order to attain vital information about the nature of the site, the find itself and the history of occupation of the Waterford mill site. We worked with a single context (context 4) on the 16th of May, containing a specific type of black, moderately damp soil, as our primary unit of analysis and recording.
Trail trenching was the technique we were employing where we were digging the site, solely for its archaeological potential. We started the process by removing several dustpans full of loose dirt from the surface and emptying it into a bucket with a trowel. Troweling and shovel shaving enabled us to fill a bucket full of dirt and interesting artifacts in barely any time. Next, came the process of sifting through the dirt to reveal the artifacts which could be collected in a separate bucket. Trudging up the steep slope, with the heavy bucket toward the sifting area, under the scorching sun, was perhaps the most challenging part of the day. Finds collected after sifting were bagged and labeled with the trench number, the initials of the excavators and the date, with each bag containing a specific type of material only. Some of the interesting artifacts we discovered were metallic springs, what looked like a glass coaster, part of a glass jar, some pottery pieces and a few nails, each of which was capable of providing us with significant information about the trajectory of evolution of the mill site. This particular context of the trench was rich in artifacts especially scraps of metal which were numerous in number. We filled up three buckets during the hour and a half lab session and that meant we gathered a large number of artifacts or a wide data set for further post-excavation cross reference and analysis. We closed our excavation for the day by taking a final photograph of the site following the day’s work. Overall, the 7th lab week session was a fun and fruitful experience. I was really looking forward to operating the drones that we had planned to use that day so, hopefully we can figure out a way to make that possible in the upcoming lab sessions since modern drones are very beneficial tools in archaeological investigations.
LAB WEEK 8:
This was unfortunately the Wednesday lab group’s last day out to the Waterford mill site. We commemorated our progress on the excavation site with a group selfie at the end of the lab session. It was a bright, clear day, and a perfect one for our final archaeological expedition. It seemed like all bits and pieces of archaeological information that I had gathered in class discussions was finally coming together- and I was beginning to see a clear connection between class discussions on object biographies, landscapes, cognitive archaeology and our work in the mill site. I was once again part of the excavation team and had by now developed quite an eye for spotting microscopic scraps of metal and glass buried under piles of soil. I worked alongside Lena, Price and Arya on the fourth context of trench 2, which lay alongside the South West wall of the enclosed mill site. Now, that we had all had former experience with digging and trail trenching, we were quick to fill up the first bucket with the damp, black soil from that context and collect a few artifacts along with it. These included a large nail, several smaller ones, some metallic scraps, and a part of a larger ceramic container. These weren’t as diverse a set of objects as we had collected during previous excavations, perhaps because the deeper one goes below the surface, the fewer traces of human activity one finds. Sieving through the dirt that we carried up in buckets to the top of the sloped stairway, was particularly challenging because of the precision required while performing this task. One needs to make sure that they don’t discard with the loose soil, any valuable find which could be capable of shaping the history of the site.
Excavation seemed somewhat less difficult considering I had already performed this task twice in previous lab sessions and was well aware of how to use the trowel and the shovel efficiently. Since we were getting much deeper into the context, we made more use of the shovel so that we could dig up larger quantities of loose soil faster. We each took up one corner of the pit and worked our way to the middle. It seemed like an efficient method and we managed to get a lot done quite quickly. We even realized that we had started to move to the next context and observed a lighter brown shade of soil which is when we decide to level the surface instead of digging deeper. I also took up the responsibility of bagging the finds and filling out the excavation form in addition to excavating and sieving. I put down our initials on the form and sketched out a rough representation of the trench area on the grid mapped on the sheet. I also wrote a few notes describing the consistency and color of the soil and the location of the trench.
Overall, it was an enjoyable experience and I look forward to seeing the excavation group’s reports on our project and a list of the materials that ARCH 246 was collectively able to collect in the course of these four weeks.
LAB WEEK 9:
Today’s lab was particularly interesting because we got the opportunity to catalogue and categorize our archaeological finds that we had gathered over the course of the term. Alex was in Greece for a conference so the lab was facilitated and supervised by one of our TAs, Clarissa, instead. Alex had already given us instructions that would help us while filling up the Excel sheet. He told us to divide our finds up by ‘lots’ and went on to explain the meaning of that term. During lab, we either worked individually or divided ourselves into small groups and started the categorization process. We picked up the bins and cartons from inside Alex’s office and got straight to work. Clarissa went around helping us identify what certain objects were and explained to us how we should go about describing them. A lot of the cataloguing had already been done by the Tuesday lab group and we further expanded upon the task. The excel sheet contained several columns which we carefully filled out. Collection type, Grid number, Description, Material, Quantity and Lot number were a few of these. We opened each bag, took out its contents and counted them by lot. It was interesting to revisit old finds and I came across a soda can that I distinctly recall collecting on our first field-walking day. Seeing the large collection of bags just packed up in boxes was an indication of how far we’d come from amateurs in the Arb who were strolling around the site not sure about what we were doing to real archaeologists keeping an eye out for even the tiniest slab of glass to carry back with us.
This lab was very different from the rest because it was less walking around or excavating and more sitting on a chair in the classroom working on our laptops. But it made me realize that archaeology is more than just the work we go out and do in the mill site, it involved careful analysis of the artifacts that we picked up and extensive cataloguing. This was in fact an essential step of the archaeological process because without such categorization, it would be difficult to locate a particular object that we are looking for or bring these finds to the community. Categorization is an essential step toward the greater goal of public outreach. It was fascinating to see the intricate differences between two pieces of metal scrap thus leading us to put them under different lots although they were initially bagged together under the name ‘Metal’. The Excel sheet was proof that even a trench context that had only 5 bags could end up with 30 different lots.
I really enjoyed this relaxing lab day with my classmates and learnt a great variety of things as usual.
LAB WEEK 10:
This was our last lab session, again supervised by Clarissa, since Alex was attending a conference in Greece. We worked this time, on revising the data we had already entered into the Excel sheet and ensuring that the documentation had been done correctly and precisely. I wasn’t expecting to find many errors in recordings on the Excel sheet, but I was quite surprised by how many I did end up picking up. This definitely proved that double-checking your work and making sure you have everything in place can be very beneficial in the long run. I was quite satisfied with the results at the end; I had managed to get through quite a large chunk of data in less than 2 hours. Although, I was more attracted to the excavation and analysis side of archaeology, cataloguing was an essential and important part of the archaeological process and I had fun reviewing my work. This can be useful in the larger goal of sharing your project with the Carleton community and for public outreach to generate awareness about the future of archaeology.
At the end of the lab session, I realized how quickly these 10 weeks had passed. I learnt so much- from the theoretical aspect of archaeology (distinguishing between multi temporal objects and diachronic ones, understanding processual techniques, etc) to practical application of the theoretical concepts in our term project at the Waterford mill site. I cherish a lot of memories I made in this class and I look forward to taking another class with the archaeology department (and Alex) in the future.