Wednesday, 4/10, we intended to drive to the Rice County Historical Society in Faribault, but due to inclement weather and poor driving conditions the trip was unable to happen.
Tuesday, 4/9, we visited the Carleton College archives. After learning about archives in Northfield and Rice County from Nat Wilson, we were shown images and documents pulled from Carleton’s archives from the Carleton Women’s League Cabin. Nat’s presentation included information on other archives in the area, as well as more general information on how to best utilize archives, keeping in mind that there is a large difference in funding for different archives. I realized both the benefit of having well documented and digitized archives, such as the Carleton archives, as well as the difficulty of getting documents from other archives that are perhaps less well organized. Nat told us that some poorly funded archives have little to no documentation of their materials, so research consists mainly of searching through boxes, not sure if there is even any information pertinent to the topic which one is trying to research. As far as preparing before an archaeological dig is concerned, this seems like it would hinder the preparations for excavation.
The records regarding the Women’s League Cabin were intriguing, containing tangible proof of the cabin’s occupation and use, as well as its operations with the school. There was a folder full of the administrative documents from the cabin that especially interested me; many of them were simple sheets outlining expectations and rules, records of visits, and work-order forms, but I found these everyday documents to be the most thought provoking of the information available. Nat explained some of the documents to us, including a very ordinary checklist that had numerous copies printed for easy repeated use. One of these such checklists requested extra salt and pepper, but also had, in the section allotted for extra comments, a request that individuals using the house stop breaking off tree branches and using them to cook food over the fire. This very ordinary piece of paper, asking for very ordinary things like salt and pepper, contained a more real glimpse into the lives of the cabin occupants than many of the photos or first hand accounts of the house. This illustrated for me the relevance of the historic record when going into an archaeological project. Sometimes the more revealing insights come in mundane forms, rather than the glorious discoveries often imagined with archaeological digs.
During lab Wednesday, April 17, we began with a classroom oriented introduction to the methodology and materials we would be using to survey properly. Included in this conversation was an overview of how to properly document the things counted, how to orient the group to successfully cover the survey unit as planned, and a discussion of what is worth collecting versus what should be counted but then left behind. After this brief introduction, we ventured to a nearby plot of land to get our hands dirty and give survey a real try. In my survey group – Wednesday lab, team 1 – I volunteered to mark the corners of the survey unit. This task raised a questions for me of what to do if there is nothing to which I could tie the marking tape at the corner of the survey unit, to which Alex instructed me to just tie it to a rock or anything solid, and just place that in the appropriate location. This approach seemed a little bit unnatural to me because it meant potentially disrupting the survey unit before I had a chance to survey. I found, however, as I began to survey that the movement of a rock into the corner would not actually make an impact on the important part of the survey.
Bogged down by a drizzle turned downpour, with mud sucking at my shoes, it was at first tough to see anything on the ground. I was not really sure what to look for, nor what to consider. The first material remains that started to stand out to me was an excess of concrete and brick pieces. As my eyes became adjusted to searching the ground for anything beyond the natural terrain, the prevalence of these material remains shifted my perspective. Rather than nothing to find, I was noticing more than I could count; some clumps of concrete were shattered, speckling the ground with dozens of tiny pieces all from the same original clump. This made it tough for me to know what to and what not to count. There were a significant number of small pieces, but almost all of them appeared to have come from the same initial larger piece of concrete. In this case, I did not now if I was supposed to count every tiny broken shard, or consider the clump as a whole to be worth one piece of concrete. As I continued through the first survey unit, material remains were easy to find, needing to stop every step to count and collect. Weighed down by aluminum cans, broken glass, bricks, and even the whole top half of a jar, I finished the first survey unit excited to see what the next might hold.
After an exciting first unit of my first survey, the second was certainly disappointing – I came away having counted six remains, only three of which were worth collecting, wondering how a first survey unit so full could be followed by a second so empty. My current hypothesis is the first survey unit’s proximity to the road, allowing litter and garbage to accumulate here. Survey unit one was the perfect location for the accumulation of cans and bottles left behind by drinking high-schoolers or tossed out of passing cars, hastily discarded trash, or debris from road construction and repair could easily accumulate here along this road. 20 meters further away, where survey unit two started, would have been a more difficult place for people to discard these items.
During our second trip to the Waterford Mill, the Wednesday lab group did a variety of activities to prepare the site for survey and excavation. Indeed, some individuals even began to survey the survey units. For my part, I worked with the GPS to plot different points around the site. We began on the section of the mill jutting out into the river, labeling our points one at a time with WM(waterford mill) and the number point(01), creating just a long string of WM01, WM02, WM03, … . After a few minutes, however, we learned and realized that this would not be the most clear or effective manner of mapping. Rather, we should add some sort of descriptive factor to the name so it is clear to what the point correlates. As such, we began labeling our data points differently; for example, we used WMSB01, WMSB02, etc for the south building. In total, we mapped out points on the south building, its adjacent west building, and the corners of some of the survey units which we could get to without endangering the GPS. Due to space constrictions, the pattern of our mapped points appears somewhat erratic. The numbers do not always appear as expected; when mapping the survey units, we could only access some of the points and therefore some of the points will have to be taken later when the site is more clear. Therefore, some grids could end up with their corners being numbered something like 01, 02, 03, 22. While this was not optimal, we determined it was a better solution than trying to guess what numbers to omit.
Where I encountered difficulties was in coordination between groups. We had little idea of what had been done unless there was a physical record left at the site. As such, people in the Wednesday section had no trouble finding survey units left behind, but those of us mapping had no indication of what had been mapped, as well as how the points were being labeled. Going forward, I think it will be important that we work with the Tuesday section to coordinate our efforts, allowing both for more clear results and more efficient time. Two strategies that could help coordinate our efforts are the use of our established Google folder and establishing/communicating names for different sections of the site. Right now we have clear names for different survey units, following standard survey unit techniques, but the structures and features seem to have different names for everybody.
Wednesday marked our third trip to the Waterford Mill site, where we continued survey and mapping, as well as beginning excavations. I myself was doing survey, alongside team members Miyuki and Loren. The three of us covered survey units WM H10, WM H12, and WM H13. We spent 10 minutes surveying the sites, with Loren and Miyuki counting and collecting artifacts, and me mapping and recording the finds and the site. H12 contained particularly interesting finds. Closest to the north wall of the site, H12 provided us with cut concrete, too large and heavy to be bagged and returned for analysis. These big chunks of concrete appear to provide a solid base for something, or be a holding apparatus, into which some sort of pole could be inserted. In addition to these, H12 also yielded two solid wooden pieces, the function of which is very difficult to determine without further research and analysis. One is just a plain piece of cut wood, while the other is the same shape of wood, but with a metal contraption attached. While right now their use and design is confusing, I am optimistic that these pieces will provide affirmation that a certain milling or construction process was present at the Waterford Mill, with further research.
Interestingly, each of the three survey units we were in had a specific artifact type that occurred in much greater volume than any others. In H10, 26/31 counted artifacts were glass. In H12, 12/21 counted artifacts were concrete. In H13, 10/13 counter artifacts were plastic. These relationships provide interesting insight into the different uses of different areas of the mill site. The concrete of H12 is the most likely artifact to come from the time of the mills operation. The aforementioned pieces occurred intact in a couple places, but the survey unit was also littered with smaller chunks of broken concrete that at first glance seem that they will be much more difficult to effectively analyze. H13 is a great example of the multi-fold nature of the archaeology we are doing at the mill. Scattered with plastic remains, this unit illustrates the formation process of contemporary use. Litter and miscellaneous waste from people who meander by the top of the mill adds just as much to the site as the things left behind by those using the mill a century or two ago. As they are a part of the site now, they must be treated with as much legitimacy of anything else at the site, and given the same consideration. This is why our work is contemporary archaeology. We are analyzing the past of the mill, and how it was used long ago, but we are also tasked with understanding the role it plays now, and the interactions between the mill and the people who come across it.
Inclement weather once again struck the Wednesday lab group, forcing us inside to begin the cleaning and analyzing process. While most of my lab mates were washing and sorting artifacts, I wound up working with Clarissa to confirm the documentation and collections for everything we have found so far. Due to a clerical error, there was one set of bags labeled as being from Monday, May 6, Trench 2, and one set being labeled from Tuesday, May 7, Trench 2. There were two problems that needed to be sorted out here – one, there was no excavation done on May 6. Two, one of the sets of results should have been from trench 2, and one should have been from trench 1. The bags and the excavation forms needed to be changed so as to accurately reflect their contents. Next we set about confirming how many bags and of what find they were. Clarissa now has an up to date document with all the excavation results, including how many bags, of what artifact type, date, location, and context.
Another task Clarissa and I had was to try to confirm a labeling system for all the bags. What we ended up with was the following:
ACA 2019 Initials
WM ## – Trench #(if applicable)
Artifact Type – Bag #/#
After a week in the lab, we returned to the Waterford Mill for another session of excavation, mapping, and feature mapping. I was working on excavating trench 2. To begin, we looked at the excavation forms from prior labs, trying to make sure we maintained the conventions started in prior weeks so as to have a consistent record across labs. The context on which we were working was confusing because the prior forms had been consistently increasing in context, but the soil had not changed. Ultimately, we continued with context 3 as that is the context that the prior two forms had used and we are on the same soil they were excavating. The first goal of our excavation was to flatten out the excavation pit. As such, finds seemed to be slow, with nothing standing out as being scraped up. As we began to actually dig lower, however, more artifacts began to stand out. Most clearly, a bottle cap and a small shard of glass stood out. However, once we sifted through all the dirt that had been excavated, it became clear that there was far more to the pit than only new garbage discarded. Most abundantly, there was a lot of charcoal. This comprised mostly of just small shards, but there were a couple much larger pieces. Additionally, there were a lot of nails that were very heavily oxidized. Hopefully these will reveal to be very old and perhaps even from the time of the mill’s operation. Additionally, we found even more shells. These were small, and all in the same style – circular, with a swirling pattern. We are not sure where these shells are from, whether it was through intentional practice that they wound up here, or whether they just happened to wash ashore out of the river, but we collected them nevertheless. Finally, we found a single fired bullet casing (Alex estimates from a .22).
One thing I found difficult was attempting to excavate the pit evenly. If it seemed like there might be something a little further down, or one area seemed particularly fruitful, I would have to resist the urge to excavate that area more heavily. Rather, I had to be systematic in how I excavated, making sure to go at the same rate all around the pit. The way we sifted seemed very efficient and able to handle a large amount of dirt, but it was tough to tell when we had gone through everything. There was a large pile of rocks and roots and leftover dirt to puzzle through, which so it was tough to make sure we had gotten everything before dumping. It also seems to me like this method makes it exceptionally tough to find certain types of artifacts. For example, it was pretty easy to see nails, but tough to discern charcoal from the other rocks in the mix. As such, it is tough to tell if this is the best method for checking for artifacts.
In our very last session at the mill, I was back doing the same as I did on my first day at the mill – mapping. After beginning our work on our final project of conveying the mapping and survey results from this project, Aaron and I realized that our ArcGIS data was incomplete, missing a few of the corners of the survey units and features. Therefore, Clarissa and I began by getting those points which had previously been missed, starting with the corners of survey units F13 and G13. We also needed to take the corners of both of the excavation trenches. Additionally, the feature mapping team (MJ, Holland, and Aaron) were working on figuring out the extent of feature 5, so joined them and took a couple of points at and around feature 5.
One thing I realized through doing this to which I had not really payed as much attention was just how important the documentation and details of mapping are. As I have reflected upon in a couple of my prior posts, certain difficulties have arisen as a result of an inability to communicate between labs/between different teams. Whether not understanding in which trench people were digging, or different naming conventions causing confusion about what a structure is. Once again, while looking through the mapping notebook, I was struck by just how confusing all the data points are without one central naming convention. Different lab groups, and different mapping teams, used very different conventions, some of which resulted in just a “?” appearing as the name of the point in the Google Maps interpreter. Without some sort of organization and universalization of practice, it is very difficult to interpret the results and build upon the work of teammates. This relates to a topic we discussed in class with how to properly label finds/displays, and whether there should be a universal naming convention. From this project, it feels to me like a lot of problems emerge because everybody has a different idea of how naming should be done, but if these names are not communicated properly, the work becomes backtracking and rather than making progress, time is lost trying to get everything on the same page. This is not to say that there should be one standard naming system; rather, it is just necessary that everybody work together to create a system that can easily be added upon or interpreted.
During lab we continued the work began by the Tuesday lab group to analyze the finds from our work at the Waterford Mill. Tuesday’s group sorted and noted nearly all of the finds from the excavation trenches, so we began working with the survey units and then moved on to the fieldwalking data. I worked with MJ, starting with a couple of the survey units, and then also analyzing one batch of fieldwalking data. One thing that stood out to me during this process was just how many artifacts we really know nothing about. Without much more complicated analytical tools, we were only able to figure out what a small number of items are. Even of those that could be determined, many had very little to no information about them online, making it also difficult to determine how old they might be even if what they are is clear. Furthermore, for those items that could be researched, many had either very general age ranges, or only a start or end date.
One particularly interesting part of our finds was a collection of various ceramics from survey unit G11. Included were multiple different pieces of painted pottery, on with a flat bottom that indicates it was probably supposed to stand up on its own. We decided this was most likely a vase, or some other decorative container, because in addition to the flat bottom, there were green painted decorations around the base. One item that was particularly puzzling to us was a small circular ceramic piece with a metal mechanism in the middle, and holes around the outsides. It looked like the holes were for nails or some other fastening to go through them and connect it. We could not figure out how the metal in the middle worked – either it needs another piece attached to see any changes, or it is not meant to move at all. One thought I had about this is that it might be a part of a door handle. The metal mechanism in the center looks like it could have something like a doorknob or handle attached, and the holes around the outside could allow it to be fastened to a door. This is just one of many possibilities, however. This part of the lab certainly is more difficult than I was anticipating, because almost everything we have found is such an incomplete part of a larger whole, which in itself is probably also just a smaller piece in a different set or collection. As such, it is difficult to determine even the function of many of our finds, and harder still to determine what they can tell us about the people who used them and places in which they were used.
In our final lab period, we were tasked with double checking our inventory and getting everything packed up to go into storage. Most bags were accounted for in the spread sheets, and those which were not already there were added. One snag we came across with this process was that, for the field walking, many people had labelled their bags the same way if they were in the same survey unit, and so the bags were confusingly labelled with regard to their contents. For example, in the same survey unit there would be “Metal 1/1” five different times because five people collected one bag of metal. We fixed this problem as best as we could in the time we had, but the documentation here is still imperfect. We sorted the finds by their collection type (field walking, WM excavation, WM survey, and WM feature collection) for long term storage, accompanied by all the paper documents that correspond to each collection type.