Julia Miller

Week 1.

The site survey of the area behind the library effectively highlighted to me how much debris exists unburied. I was in charge of surveying part of the slope leading up to the parking lot and in that area alone I found over 20 items. Many of these items were food wrappers or receipts for books that had been checked out; things that would have been a useful to find at an actual historic survey. To find what people were eating and reading seems like important concrete information about a society to discover on a survey. Especially to find titles referring to full texts and to find wrappers that may have ingredients listed.

The survey also brought up some of the issues I imagine archaeologists face at other sites such as ground coverings and how to properly cover all the land while sticking to my assigned area. The ground was densely covered with leaves and it was hard to know how much I should be looking through or under the leaves to find objects. If I start to move the ground-covering too much, especially disproportionately to other people surveying the area than the data is not accurate as I may be doing something closer to a dig while they are strictly surveying.

The project was a interesting sample of what surveying might be like and it was especially interesting to look more closely at the environment I live in everyday.

Week 2.

I enjoyed the walk in the Arb and seeing the way sites change over time. None of the sites we were looking at were particularly old, but they still had already begun to disappear back into the environment around them. This was also shown when we were looking at the sites of the mounds in Redwing. Although the mounds are older they also appear as partially integrated with the landscape. It was good practice in looking at the landscape critically to try and assess what has been created by nature and what has been created artificially. At the Arb sites this was often easier because the materials like metal pipes or concrete steps still exist above ground and are clearly artificial additions to the landscape.

Week 3.

This week our class did a survey of several of the fields surrounding the Women’s League Cabin area. We split into three groups to survey the field in sections. I was assigned to group B out of A,B and C and we surveyed a section of field that had been recently cut, but not recently burned. Our group surveyed with 15 meters between each field walker and our group walked directly North-South (North for the first half and then rotation over to the next section of field, and back South). The survey was oddly calming, but it was surprisingly hard to get into the mindset of staying in a specific lane and not simply trying to find as many things as possible. I found several pieces of glass and several plastic bags in my survey section, but I also would see things outside of my area that I did not record. It is odd that we are not just attempting to collect everything, but instead are sticking to a scientific controlled approach. Although I understand the theory behind it, I still kept feeling like I was missing important data when I passed by artifacts.

The identification of objects vs plant matter was also difficult especially on a sunny day in a corn field where the stalks reflect the light back as if they were made of metal. I was surprised by the amount of things I was able to find that were on the surface of the ground despite this however. It seems easy to get into a zone where you can scan and just pick out the things that do not belong. I also kept getting very hopeful about rocks being somehow significant. It is easy to tell that ceramics or plastic or metal are not native to the environment, but many rocks look like the could’ve been part of some larger, significant artifact when they are most likely not important.

Week 4.

This week we got to learn about geo-archaelolgy and 3D modeling software and techniques and we also started work on our survey of the Women’s League Cabin.

To learn about 3D modeling we had a guest, Professor Sarah Murray, explain some of the history of the software and its uses. Then we used some equipment she had brought to create a 3D model of the sculpture outside of the library. Unfortunately the processing on the computer took too long to see how the 3D model turned out, but we replicated the process with photos from Professor Murray’s computer and saw how the models get put together. The process is fascinating and impressive, especially considering how new much of the technology being used is. It is easy to see someone using it, often just to create things because they can, as we talked about in class. I thought the reminder from Professor Murray was true and easily overlooked, that technology should only be used if a site has been researched and the technology is the best way to answer one of your questions.

We also started clearing and marking out the site of the Women’s League Cabin where we are performing our survey. A group worked on clearing the area of the site with rakes and I worked with a crew on laying out the different survey sections. We choose to do a 50m square with a different survey unit every 10m resulting in 25 separate squares. Originally we were going to do a survey unit every 5m but that would result in 100 squares which was too intensive. We worked on measuring the site along North/South, East/West lines and I tied string to the stakes every 10m so as to provide a visual for the layout.

Week 5

This week we did a lot of work on the Women’s League Cabin and we finished up our surveying of the fields nearby the site area. There were very few finds in the fields this week, which was surprising considering that it had been freshly tilled which I expected would bring up more buried items, or at least make the ground clearer to see artifacts in. I was the official recorder for the field surveying group so I learned how to fill out a survey sheet and I got to see the whole process which was an interesting different perspective.

After we finished the survey I joined the rest of the group at the Women’s League Cabin site where the group was working on clearing the site of debris, marking where the foundation of the Cabin used to be using the old plans, and surveying the ground for artifacts. The process was interesting as the group quickly figured out that the plans for the cabin did not actually accurately show where the cabin was.

The groups that were surveying the ground found a lot of artifacts and I worked with a group that was able to find a lot of pieces of glass and other intact artifacts. One notable feature that we found on the site was a metal barrel full of pieces of metal, glass, plastic and ceramics. We did not collect finds from this feature, but instead chose to keep it as one cohesive item to be examined with context later.

I worked on organizing the survey plans with the bagged artifacts and making sure labeling was all correct. Although technically I was the sole member of the “bag police” I like to think I was still able to really blend in with the civilians and make positive change.

Week 6

This week was very exciting as we got to do a lot of work on the excavation of the Women’s League Cabin site. The site has been fully surveyed and cleared so now we are working on opening up three different trench sites in different areas and excavating. I worked on the trench in the back of the cabin, trench 2. We chose to open up a trench in the area of what we believe was the back patio of the cabin and the group I worked with spent much of class deciding where in this area to actually chose to excavate.

In order to get a better idea of the site, I worked on uncovering the exact edges of the back patio by digging, troweling and brushing. This quickly became a bigger project than expected as the patio extends further than we first conjectured. It appears to run all the way to the wood pile we previously discovered. We also made the exciting discovery that it is not a straight line of pavers, but in fact has appears to have a corner that may have mirrored that of the cabin itself. This discovery may be a very helpful step towards laying out where the cabin used to be. We began to excavate all of the pavers to see where they led, but we had to stop because Alex said it was not ethically sound.

The group chose an area where there was a line in the patio where the pavers were only one paver deep instead of two, in which to excavate as we suspect this may have been the site of stairs at one point and therefore a heavy traffic area. We have begun excavation on this pit and so far have discovered a lot of glass and bottle-caps which appear to be from the same source.

Week 7

This week I worked more on excavating Trench 2, the trench near the hypothesized back porch of the cabin. We are now working in a new context, previously we were working in context 1 and now the trench has been split into context 2 and context 3, divided by the feature of the line of pavers that bisects the square. Because we are working past context 1 now, all our dirt that is dug out of the trench is sifted before it is dumped out. While trowel scraping uncovered a lot of pieces of glass and an abundance of charcoal, the sifting brought more finds than I ever expected. There were many nails that were stuck in clumps of dirt until the sifting shook them out. The sifting also revealed more glass although the primary finds from both digging and sifting was a significant amount of charcoal and a surprising amount of nails.

Week 8

This week was the last week of excavation. On Thursday we worked on organizing, and beginning to look at and clean all our collected finds. The finds have been sectioned into field and cabin survey areas and excavation areas and the glass, plastic and lithics are cleaned. Some of the metal has been cleaned with permission from Alex and then dried very carefully to avoid further rust. Ericka was able to identify several of the bottle caps which gives us a good lead for a time period of use, as the company is relatively modern and did not exist for many of the years the cabin was in use.

This Tuesday we completed our final day of excavation, and also entertained several guests for community archaeology day. I continued to work in Trench 2 sifting and excavating context 3. We worked on context 3 for a while before realizing that the soil had changed about a centimeter above. At this point we changed to context 5, but I worry that the finds were not all accurately recorded in the context that they should have been in.

The finds were relatively sparse and I think by the end of the dig we had reached the level where the sample set is no longer significant. We found several more nails and another bullet casing along with several chunks of metal and concrete. Perhaps the most exciting find I made was a piece of pencil lead buried in context 3. It was exciting to find something so small and unlike the other finds we had been making. I really enjoyed excavating, but I can also see how it would be very draining to do all day everyday. It is a lot of the same work for a long time but it is also somewhat meditative and occasionally very exciting.

Week 9&10

We worked on our individual final projects in class and did class evaluations. Erika and I spent a lot of time working in the archives looking through old documents from the running of the Women’s League for our project.

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