Sam Anderson

Week 8: Excavation (The final part of the trilogy)

Since the weather had cost us a day of field-work during sixth week, we took an additional day during this week. Once again, I worked in Trench 1, since my final project involves working with collected artifacts. The group that I worked in the trench with was a student smaller than it was seventh week, but we were still able to use the bucket alternation strategy that had worked so well during that lab. We were able to put three buckets of earth through the sifter during the two-hour work period.

The range of artifacts that we collected was narrower, as we were perhaps finally reaching the transition between archaeological contexts. It was hard to tell because the ground was so saturated with water, but the dirt may have been becoming more sandy as we dug down further. We continued to find small metal scraps and charcoal, but less of the metal bits were thin and narrow, where previously they had been equal amounts thing & narrow and wide & flat. We did still find many ceramic shards, with one specifically including the name of the company that had made it. Of particular interest was a large, conical metal artifact, as well as a mid-sized hollow bulbous artifact, which may have been either ceramic or metal.

After my classmates had wrapped up the day’s excavation, I stayed behind to take photos of the trench from multiple angles and perspectives, in the hopes of being able to create a 3D model of it through photogrammetry. This digital model would serve as a supplement to the exhibit that my group is making for our final project. I took these photos using a digital-point and shoot camera that I got for my fifteenth birthday. It’s been on four continents, and has served me well for both recreational photography and data collection in the past, but I won’t know if the pictures it took at the mill site are good enough for the photogrammetry software until I start messing around with it this weekend. After I was done taking photos, I took the stakes and string away from the edges of the trench, as this had been our class’s last excavation day, and no more work was to be done on them.

Week 7: Excavation (the sequel)

With the weather on our side again, we went back to the Waterford Mill site to continue work. During this lab, a drone was brought along, with the hope that it would be able to survey the area from the air, but unfortunately the density of trees, as well as the proximity of the site to both power lines and a railroad track prevented the drone from being launched.

I worked on excavation again, this time on the first trench. Trench 1 was a little harder to work in than Trench 2, due to higher density of shrubbery and metal debris around the trench, as well as the trench itself being on a bit of an incline. Excavation was further slowed by a large amount of rocks in the trench, as well as by the thick, stubborn plant roots woven through the soil. These were cut with clippers, or manually pulled out of the trench.

Working in Trench 1 proved to be more interesting than working in Trench 2, due to the much higher density of artifacts present. This also made sifting through the buckets much more time consuming, as we often had to concede that we would not be able to pick out every single small scrap of metal that we had gathered. The groups assigned to excavations were larger than they had been during our previous excavation period, allowing us to work in shifts. Once we had filled our first bucket, we sieved all the dirt out and tossed away large organic debris, leaving that bucket as a bucket full of artifacts. During this time, the other subgroup filled a second bucket. Once the contents of that bucket were dumped into the sifter, that bucket went back down to the trench to be refilled. This cycle continued until we had sifted four buckets by the end of the lab period, with all artifacts being placed in appropriately labeled bags.

As mentioned above, the most numerous yield from Trench 1 was small bits of metal. Some of these appeared to have once belonged to a larger item, while some just looked like mere scraps. Some pieces resembled nails, others small pieces of barbed wire. Of particular interest were a few large metal springs, which we postulated as the springs of a mattress. We also found parts of mason jars and other small bits of glass, in addition to ceramic pieces. Many of these pieces were merely white, while other had blues, greens and other other colored glazes. Other curious finds included a fragment of a leather belt, as well as what looked like part of the sole of a shoe.

Pierce and I stayed a few minutes after the trench group had wrapped up to gather some interesting and/or diagnostic artifacts from the proximity of the Trench, as our final project will be a display case exhibiting several interesting and engaging finds from the mill site. These items included ceramic and glass pieces, as well as a few bigger metal objects that would not fit in the bags that we had brought with us. One of these metal objects appeared to be the muffler of a car.


Week 6: Cleaning

Once again thwarted by the weather, this lab section was spent in the classroom in LDC cleaning and re-bagging artifacts that had been collected during the first days of excavation, pedestrian surveys of the Waterford Mill site, as well as our earlier field-walking exercise. We divided ourselves into groups of 2-3 students, and were given bags of dirty, and occasionally bug-infested artifacts. The primary mode of cleaning was intended to be toothbrushes, but a dearth of these lead some of us to seek other methods.

Objects that were not rusting, or otherwise prone to water damage were washed with water (and soap? I chose not to employ soap, but I think other students did) in the bathrooms adjacent to the dining hall. In hindsight, this was probably not very considerate to the campus custodians. However, this method proved to be a very effective way to get dirt and the grime of the ages off of plastics, glass, ceramics, and non-rusting metals. Artifacts were allowed to dry fully before being placed within bags. For other objects, I removed as much dirt as I could by using a toothbrush that I miraculously got my hands on, as well as the various implements on my Swiss Army Knife.

Once artifacts had been cleaned, they were put in clean bags, which were carefully labeled. Where possible, items of the same type from the same collection period/site were put in individual bags, with these smaller bags being put into larger bags, which encompassed all the findings from that collection period/site. By spending our lab block in this way, we were able to process most, if not all, of the items that had been collected by that date.


Week 5: Excavation

In this lab period, students split up into working groups to continue mapping the site, locating archaeological features, collect DGPS data, and begin excavating the trenches that the Tuesday lab group had plotted. The surfaces of these trenches were already cleared, so we were free to begin our excavation.

There were two trenches, each a square meter. Trench one was located in ‘trash pit’, a sloped area a little ways out of the main structure of the site (as a result, the area around it was much more overgrown, and had not been cleared during the previous week’s work. The area around Trench 1 is surrounded by large debris, including sizable pieces of metal and glass, which proved to complicate excavation slightly. The second trench was located in the larger mill structure, against one of the stone walls. Excavation on this trench was easier than on Trench 1, due to flatter ground, less debris and bush in the area, and a lower density of artifacts.

During the first excavation day, I worked with Maanya and Arya. Most of the work was done with trowels, with loose dirt and artifacts being dumped into buckets with dustpans and larger shovels. After we filled a bucket, we took it away from archaeological features to sift its contents. One of us shook then simply held up the sifter, while the rest of us picked anthropogenic objects out of the items remaining in the top of the sieve.

Chief among the artifacts that we found were metal scraps and nails, including some slag. We also found a few ceramic shards and pieces of plastic, in addition to chunks of charcoal. Perhaps the most numerous items that we found were small white pellets, the kind that would be shot out of an aerosoft gun.

Throughout these first few hours of work, we were definitely able to clear a significant amount of dirt, and the experience that we gained definitely helped us during the other excavation days.


Week 4: Site preparation

During today’s lab, we finally had good weather! It was around 60 with a decently cool breeze and bright sun, which in my mind are perfect working conditions. Once we arrived at the Waterford Mill site,  the fifteen of us divided into x working groups: site clearance, differential GPS measurements, grid mapping and archaeological feature identification, with each group made up of three or four students. In this way, we were successfully prepare the site for intensive survey in less than two hours (building upon work previously accomplished by the Tuesday lab group).

I elected to join the site clearance crew. Although I did observe many artifacts on the ground as I worked, I left them in situ so that they could be properly documented by the students that began doing preliminary surveys after they finished their respective preparation-related tasks. I suspect that students from the Tuesday lab had already cleared the front of the site, since it was far neater than the back half of the site, which was still littered with branches and sticks- many dead and littering the ground or suspended by tree branches, but some still attached to slender and curving trees. While they did not impede mobility, they still required some ducking around. we moved most of what we could off of the ground, except for a few large and rotting logs which would prove too difficult to move, due to both their size and tendency to crumble when handled.

In the span of around two hours, we were able to significantly clear the back half of the site. Their were two pairs of clippers between four people, but that didn’t end up being a problem, since most of the debris was old enough to be dislodged or broken into more manageable size by hand or by bodyweight. The clippers did prove useful in a few cases, when a particularly stubborn branch refused to snap, even when twisted around itself five times, at which point it was helpful to cut individual fibers. The wood of the living trees was very tough and flexible, often ruddy in color.

One of the reasons why we were so successful in clearing the back of the site was due to the way in which we worked together to move the debris. Three of us worked on gathering debris and breaking it into more portable bodies that would be less likely to get snagged on tree branches, while a fourth person would take wood from this growing pile in the middle of the site and move it up the hill to the sizable debris pile that the previous lab group had made. This position rotated voluntarily, and contributed to the overall success of the lab by minimizing the amount of people that were crossing the busier front part of the mill carrying large branches, therefore making it easier for the other students to complete their duties.


Week 3 : Field-walking

This week, weather almost aborted our lab for the second week in a row. While a snow storm prevented the Wednesday lab from venturing to the Northfield Historical Society during week 2, third Wednesday provided the adjacent challenge of a rainstorm. During one of my classes earlier that morning, during the most severe part of the storm, the particularly percussive thunder and lightning, paired with flash flood alerts impeded many students from focusing on an in-class discussion that was fittingly centered on Hurricane Katrina.

By the mid-afternoon, when lab began, the storm had waned to intermittent showers, allowing us to conduct outdoor activities in more discomfort than fear. We were divided into fifteen groups, each with five field walkers and two other students in charge of mapping transects and cataloging found and collected items. Field walkers were spaced ten meters apart (which was 14 steps for me), and walked transects around 100 meters in length, before pausing to check in with classmates prior to moving on to the second survey unit. We successfully completed two survey units per group (total of four) before time constraints and increasing precipitation forced us to return to campus.

Most of what I observed on my transects were amorphous chunks of brick (or red stone of such color and nature that I believed it to be brick), none of which I collected, as I deemed them to be non diagnostic. I also noticed a few ceramic shards, many of which were the same color, leading me to think that they may have once been part of the same object, which is why I collected them. One item that I collected, with I had initially thought to be a ceramic shard of a more yellow color, turned out to be a piece of flint, albeit one that was not obviously worked by humans. In addition to a chunk of concrete and a few non-diagnostic pieces of glass, I also found the scapula bone of an animal, perhaps of a ubiquitous deer, which although interesting did not count as an object of archaeological significance as it had not been worked.