In our section of lab this week, we ventured out into the lower arboretum in order to practice fieldwalking. My group surveyed the grassier, more open area. We paced ourselves five meters apart from each other, (for me this was about seven steps) and then walked in parallel lines—diligently surveying the area around us and searching for any evidence of material culture. As one of the group members actually surveying, I was intent on maintaining my straight walking line (harder than anticipated) while also avoiding contact with thorns and spiky brambles (unfortunately, this happened way too many times). Though we conducted three units, my group did not find any material culture. However, one of our team members did happen upon a snake!
I was glad to be in the group that did not have to contend with tree stumps, and insidious looking brambles, and uneven ground. However, the group that was surveying the area with more vegetation actually found archaeological artifacts. This was interesting to note. It made me wonder: are we more likely to find archaeological evidence in areas that are difficult to traverse? (Perhaps because others humans or animals are deterred by the topographical difficulties?) Generally speaking, it was wonderful to get outside and get started learning fieldwalking techniques.
Yesterday, for our lab period, we visited the Rice County Historical Society, a museum that houses historical displays, archaeological artifacts, and a research center. The Historical Society seeks to discover, preserve and disseminate knowledge of the history of Rice County and the State of Minnesota. Susan Garwood, the executive director, gave us tour of the museum, pointing out geographical and topographical differences within the Rice County region on a large map of the area while indicating various historical sites of archaeological research. She excitedly described the buffalo bones that were recently donated to the historical society, explaining that it is rare for a museum to discover something novel about a region. I don’t quite know why, but in the museum’s exhibition of artifacts, I was particularly interested in and drawn to the collection of thumb scrapers. Because of their versatility, thumb scrapers are often found at archaeological sites and many of them found in these sites were discarded because they became too small. According to the historical society, thumb scrapers have gotten the name not because they were used by holding them between the thumb and index finger, but rather, because they were the approximate size of a thumb nail. This made me wonder how the archaeologist classifying these tools came to this conclusion and how it might be verified? It was also interesting to examine the varied tone, shape, and consistency of each stone. After this I mainly wandered through the rest of the exhibition, enjoying the structure of the building, and the manner in which the exhibition enables an immersive experience—allowing the viewer to peek into various different historical times. After this visit, I am interested in visiting the Northfield Historical Society as well.