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.