Tanya Bush


Today was our final day of lab. It was also our final day of artifact analysis. We spent the period making sure that all of the artifacts had been categorized and catalogued properly and that the labels in the spreadsheet matched. It was exciting to finally be done with the process at the end, and have all of the artifacts that we have worked on this term organized into one single place. 


Today we had our first lab period of artifact analysis, looking at the materials that we have recovered from our time at Waterford Mill. It was interesting to see all the materials finally cleaned off and ready for analysis. Our lab section split into two groups, and we sorted through the artifacts to ensure that cataloguing later would be quick and efficient. Once all the artifacts were sorted we began by entering them into the spread sheets. I look forward to analyzing them more next week.


In Lab today we worked on cleaning all of the artifacts that our class had collected from the field excavation sessions at Waterford Mill. From the many bags we had collected, I chose to work on a bag of metal and one of glass. For the bag with glass artifacts I used a cup and a tray to dip each piece in water, setting it out to dry and then buffing it completely clean with a paper towel. For the bag of metal artifacts I used a toothbrush to scrub away at the dirt. It was interesting that mixed in each bag were a few out of place artifacts so we made sure to sort those into the correct bag. Though it was a dirty process I enjoyed the methodical nature of the work and the transformation by the end.


Mill City

Today Ilan, Emily and I drove to the Mill City Museum in Downtown East Minneapolis. It was an incredibly expansive and detailed museum that offered a lot of really interesting ways of engaging with material culture. First, we took the “flour tower,” where we were taken through a history of the old mill by elevator. We all thought it was incredibly innovative to use recordings, lighting, and sounds effects to reconstruct what life might have been like at the Washburn A Mill during a historical moment in which Minneapolis was known as “the flour milling capital of the world.” We then went to the baking lab where we caught a baking demonstration and got to see how the different grains of wheat from the mill might have made different kinds of flour. On our way out we walked through the “ruin courtyard.” This outdoor part of the museum was particularly fascinating given that at the Waterford Mill we have regularly engaged with and observed the ruined walls of this historical/archaeological site and here we got to witness the effects of destruction from such a different formation process–fire

Oxford Mill

On our way back from the museum, we stopped along the side of Oxford Mill Road to take a peek at the ruins. Even though we were only able to look at the site from the dirt curb we pulled our car into, our observations from afar proved to be quite applicable to our course material. The mill is located in what we would describe as pretty standard Minnesota woods, not terribly thick or dense at all, but well grown and grassy. Trees had started to grow inside the stone enclosure, suggesting that the mill hasn’t been used in quite sometime— probably around a century or so for the trees to have reached the height they have. Through some online research, this assertion proved correct, and we discovered the mill had burnt down in 1905, and it has remained abandoned since.

The Oxford Mill puts our term-long project at Waterford in context, as it suggests a widespread, and yet ultimately impermanent, presence of milling industry in our area of Minnesota. We wondered how the different mills may have interacted with one another— from documentary evidence, the two mills (Oxford and Waterford) seem similar in size and therefore their relationship to one another is not easy to assume. Were they competitors? Part of the same production company? Was industry developed to the point of multi-location production models in Minnesota in the 1800s? If we had been able to go inside we might have been able to pay closer attention to the inner walls of the site, and gathered more about what its exact purposes in the larger milling scene might have been. But unfortunately, we could only ponder from afar, and thus headed to our final site— Waterford Bridge.

Waterford Bridge

Before returning to campus, we took a ten minute detour to visit The Waterford Bridge; a local community landmark. Emily had written about this for her Places of Historical Interest Assignment and thought it was a good opportunity to see it in person.

This site was much smaller in scale to the sites we had seen earlier in the day. Emily told us a brief history of the bridge in the car, noting that the bridge is over 110 years old and stands as a rare example of a bridge built with “Camelback through truss” style construction. She mentioned that the bridge was originally used as an extended roadway for landowners on both sides of the river–allowing a more convenient route to transport materials.

Following the 1980s, the bridge fell into disrepair and was named the first bridge on the MN state deficient bridge list. This was when the new traffic bridge was proposed, later built upstream from the historic bridge in 2009.

From looking at the Waterford Bridge, it was clear why the new bridge was built. As we had done at The Mill City Museum, we paid close attention to the material culture of the bridge and artifacts around it (bottles, cans, etc.). In terms of construction, we noticed the rusted bolts on the floor beams. Additionally, the general difference in construction style from the bridges that we are used to traveling on today. This bridge was quite progressive and was noted as surpassing safety standards during its time. Though the historic landmark was no longer fit for commercial vehicles, it was great to see that the revamping of the bridge made it useful for pedestrian and bike travel.


This Tuesday was our final day of excavation. I was a part of the third group that excavated Trench number 2 by the wall of the mill site and along with my team members Zobeida, Seth, and Aubrey we continued excavation of the trench. Using trowels, we carefully collected dirt and placed the debris in the bucket. We found many old metal nails, a piece of red glass, and fragments of pottery. Once our buckets were full we brought the dirt to the sifter to ensure that we were not missing any fragments of material culture that might be lost in the debris and rocks. This was incredibly helpful because we recovered a coil and a piece of metal that might otherwise have remained lost. Just as lab time was ending, we saw that we had broken into a new soil layer. I am excited for next week, when we finally get to analyze and discuss the pieces of material culture we have found in our fieldwork thus far.


Last week, between the two lab groups, we finished gridding and clearing the Waterford Mill, our site of excavation for the term. This week our lab went back to the site for the second time, splitting into four different teams, excavating, mapping, and conducting surface grid surveys.

My group began by visiting the trash pit (one group was starting a new excavation in this area), and here we learned how to begin the excavation process. From there our team chose to excavate the area by the lower wall that runs along the river. We set up corners, using methods of triangulation we had just learned, and then, once the 1 x 1 area for the trench was set up, we began to shave the surface. Because we were primarily cleaning away leaves and twigs we didn’t find much. (There were a few little plastic pellets but nothing else). Hopefully, once we actually begin to dig the trench we will find some interesting remnants of material culture!


This week our lab section ventured to the site of the Waterford Mill and conducted a preliminary survey. Initially, we were split into three different groups. My group was in charge of clearing the site. Primarily, we cleared out the front half of the site, focusing on some of the bigger more obvious branches that we could actually physically lift and then moving on to some of the smaller sticks. It was interesting to consider which trees were alive and when some of these trees might have fallen. We also made sure to create warning ties for barbed wire that was hidden at various parts of the site.

Generally, it was satisfying to engage physically with our new site. Though it was difficult to measure our progress (the site looked quite similar from the start to the end of the clearing) I imagine that the Wed group made great headway and look forward to working with the Waterford Mill site anew next week.


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.