Sage Mitch

June 2, 2015 (Week 10)

Today was the final meeting for the class and the soft deadline for all final projects. It was very satisfying to finally see our weeks of hard work turn into a final product. I was pretty impressed with most of the projects that I saw, and I hope that it stays up for other people to appreciate. I really learned a great deal from the final project, but am definitely starting to feel burned out by it. I can’t wait to make the last few edits and get it all up. We skyped with Alex from Greece and got his feedback on the pages we created and suggestions for some final tweaks. Working with WordPress has been a very frustrating process. Once we had the research and content complete, just uploading all of it, including photos, and organizing it took much longer than expected. I am still frustrated by the appearance of some of the pages, but after having fiddled around with it for a long time in both the visual layout and in the html text, am resigned to the fact that it just can’t do some of what I want it to. I do think that our final product though is visually appealing, complete, and accessible to the general public. Working on this has brought home some of the readings and discussion in the course about the importance of publishing and making available any discoveries. I have really enjoyed the class and the Women’s League Cabin project, but I am also very pleased to be wrapping it all up now.

May 26, 2015 (Week 9)

The field work portions of the class are now complete, but we still spent the lab period this week working on the Women’s League Cabin project. The class has divided into different groups for the final project and is working on completing projects ranging from GIS mapping to oral history reports. Eventually all of the information will be uploaded to the class website to create a comprehensive look at the cabin site and its history. I am in the group working on survey analysis. We have a large amount of data to process as we have the field and cabin site surveys. We are planning on presenting our final work through an interactive layered map with object biographies and information for each survey unit. The mapping is in process, data has all been input, and object photography and analysis is going well. Data was input was initially frustrating because some survey forms had been misplaced and kept, and different recorders had filled them out very differently, making it difficult to interpret them uniformly. Mostly I have been working on creating object biographies, which has become a very lengthy process. I spent several hours in the lab multiple times over the last week and in class researching and dating artifacts we found of particular interest, especially from the cabin site. Objects can be dated through any information on production techniques, materials, or surviving markings. Glass objects have been particularly fruitful, including some very interesting insulation caps for telephone lines. I was also able to find interesting information on dating tin cans, aluminum foil, and electrical wires. I was surprised by the age and distance some of the objects had traveled; it has raised more questions about site usage in the past. I also wonder how we can distinguish between artifacts that traveled to a site after their use – i.e. roadside garbage blown by the wind or washed by rain, as opposed to artifacts that were originally used and discarded there. It has been a surprisingly frustrating process, but we have about 35 objects done at this point, so we are close to being ready to integrate them into the map. Tentatively all material will be completed by next Tuesday. I have really enjoyed this step of the process though; it is nice to get some results and information from the artifacts we spent so long working to recover.

May 19, 2015 (Week 8)

This lab was our third day of excavation work and the final day at the Women’s League Cabin site. We also hosted a Community Archaeology Day visit this week that brought community members to the site for tours, to ask questions, and to watch us work. Approximately 20 people attended the event including professors, students, professional archaeologists, and children. It was interesting to watch how different visitors engaged differently with the history of the site and the archaeology process. We were able to explain our own work plans and why we were making certain choices in our work, in addition to the history of the cabin. It was also a good opportunity to describe the goals of different final projects and how they will fit together into a valuable final product for the Carleton and Northfield communities.

I was one of the weekly recorders this week, so I traded my excavation work in Trench One for photo log duty. I enjoyed the opportunity to get to observe some of the other trenches and see interesting finds from all three sites. I also learned more about the processes of opening and closing soil contexts. There were some interesting finds this week including a bullet casing, a decorated shard of ceramic dish, and a rib bone from food. Many of the trenches reported less finds this week and felt that perhaps they were below the context where artifacts from the cabin were likely to be. It was another cold day this week, and I think most people are eager to move back into the lab and process our finds for final projects next week.

May 12, 2015 (Week 7)

This lab was our second one devoted entirely to excavation. We resumed where we left off the week before with our excavation trenches.  The class was divided up into different groups to focus on each excavation trench and to continue the work with the total survey station. There were secured with tarps to protects them from the weather in the intervening week, but due to a great deal of rain, the soil in the trenches had still become very damp and the new home to many more worms, slugs, and bugs. We began by clearing off the tarp and the exposed soil surface.

Last week we had discovered that our excavation trench (trench 1) had three different soil contexts in different parts of the trench. We had some difficulty distinguishing these different areas and debated how best to approach and document the different areas. We decided to focus on contexts 2 and 4 to start with since they did not touch each other and we could keep them clearly distinct. Context two was the lower level of sandier soil discovered last week, while context two was a much deeper deposit of black topsoil and clay. I worked mostly in context two. We used trowels to continue to carefully scrape away layers of soil and search for artifacts. Because we were working with lower, finer layers of soil, we also used the soil sifter this week on all the buckets of soil removed from the trenches. The sifter worked by allowing you to dump buckets onto a mesh screen and shake and push the soil back and forth until only larger objects remain. A few nails and pieces of charcoal were recovered this way, but for the most part, our scraping was methodical enough that all artifacts were collected before the sifting.

As we worked through contexts two and four, we eventually had to move over to three in order to keep the trench relatively level. Deciding on the boundary line between contexts was very difficult and made separating soil and labeling artifacts tricky. After changing our mind many times and consulting with Alex, we decided that there was not in fact a context three. The area that we had dubbed context three was really just a sort of gradient between two and four. Eventually our group settled on a wavy sort of division line between the two and was working on leveling off this area at the end of the lab. We did have more luck finding artifacts this week, which was exciting. We found a large deposit of charcoal and many smaller pieces, several nails, more pieces of glass, a shard of pottery and some ceramic tile, and a delicate, rusty old bottle cap.  Context four also had an interesting eco discovery of several fairly large and deep tunnels; we suspect chipmunks.

Possibly because there were more discoveries, it felt like more progress was made this week. Once the formerly-context-three portion of context two is brought down to an even level with the rest of the area, we may be close to closing context two. In some parts of the area we reached a level full of red-orange clay deposits and we intend to start this as a new context next week.  I am looking forward to completing the excavation and getting the chance to interpret and analyze our finds from the past several weeks.

May 5, 2015 (Week 6)

We began our actual excavation of the cabin site this week, using three different trenches. I was a part of the team for trench 1, which was the largest trench at 2m by 2m. We located this trench in the area of the site that believed would include a portion of the front steps, door, foundation, and yard area immediately beside the steps.

First, we measured out the area used for our trench. We placed one metal stake in the approximate location and used it as an anchor point for one corner of our square excavation trench. Using a compass we calculated the appropriate angle and direction to run the string to the next corner, so as to be parallel to the path. We then measured out the second edge the same way, but now perpendicular to the path. To ensure that our corner was exactly 90 degrees, we measured the hypotenuse and adjusted until it was correct for a 2m triangle. We used the same technique to complete the other two sides of the square trench.

We began our excavation for carefully documenting all of the artifacts visible on the surface layer, chiefly fragments of cement pavers. We measured and diagrammed the trench in our record. We cleared the surface debris (loose leaves, pine cone pieces, etc.) carefully as part of the first context. We decided that the first context would be the layer of dark topsoil as we excavated. Using trowels, we slowly worked from the level of highest elevation leveling off layers of soil. The going was pretty slow and surprisingly difficult from a seated position. Since we were finding relatively few artifacts, we also used some shovel scarping technique to remove soil in a larger area. While this method seemed to work well when Alex demonstrated it for us, no one in our group could get the hang of doing it well, so we found it most efficient to use the trowels. Despite making only a relatively small visible dent I the pit, a large quantity of soil was removed, put into buckets, and transported to the refuse pile.

Within the first context we found several fragments of glass, one large nail, and many chunks of pavers. Eventually we encountered a change in soil type, where it turned a lighter color and appeared sandier and denser. However, in certain parts of the pit, despite extensive digging, we were never able to reach a second soil stratum. In the end, we decided that there were three distinct soil contexts within our excavation pit, crossing through the square diagonally. Lighter, sandier soil in the west part of the pit transitioned to a medium brown soil in the middle stripe, to a deep, dark top soil layer. We do not have theories for why this transition occurs or how it may affect our artifact discoveries. Next week we will begin work on the three contexts described. We laid tarp over the pit to protect it from disturbance in the intervening week. I am hopeful that we will find more artifacts then, since our discoveries were relatively few and disappointing this week, despite having the largest pit and a promising location near the probably entrance to the cabin. I was surprised by how time consuming the excavation process was and how little visible progress we made (although the refuse pile did grow considerably).

April 28, 2015 (Week 5)

This week was the beginning stage of our excavation at the women’s league cabin site. The goal for the lab session was to map out the probable layout of the cabin and begin selecting areas for excavation. I had the chance to work on a couple of different teams and projects related to this task as it was a multi-step process that involved extensive measuring, staking, digging, raking and clearing. Other groups also completed the survey of the area, but I did not participate in this work. They used the grid that we had flagged out the week before and divided into several different teams themselves.

While they worked on the survey, we began our work trying to recreate the layout of the cabin. We used blue prints of the cabin obtained from the Carleton archives as our jumping off point. Since most of the patio is intact, we began by clearing off the edges using shovels and trowels and then measuring in order to ascertain the scale conversion between blue print and reality. We found a scale for the patio that reflected a consistent 1:96 cm, I believe.  However, we already encountered some deviation from the blue prints, with extra pavers in places, a row that abruptly stopped, and two sets of steps where the plans reflected one. By and large, however, it fit, so we used the plan to attempt to measure out the rooms of the cabin and stake them out using flagging tape. Several other students and I worked on this measuring project and staked out many different areas, but eventually our lines got off and no longer lined up with each other in a usable way. By this point, we had also noted two or three very large trees in what appeared to be the cabin center according to floor plans. It seems unlikely that these trees could have had time to reach this size in the short amount of time since the cabin was torn down. It seemed more likely to us that there had been some deviations from the initial plans. We also tried to use photos retrieved from the Archives to compare with the surrounding landscape, but were stumped again. At this point, I moved to a different aspect of the project.

From the floor plans that we had mapped out, we were able to ascertain the approximate area where the back door would have been along with a back patio. Several other students and located remaining pavers from this patio by testing the ground with trowels. We partially uncovered several pavers, and ascertained that they went further back, but left that for future excavation.

I also worked with Elaine and Theo on uncovering a possible trail to the pump area. I began by clearing more of the edges of the visible main path from the cabin and determined that it goes much farther than the plans indicate and at one point widens and jogs over. The path left our site area and was not cleared further. By testing several different areas with my trowel and major discoveries by Elaine in the immediate pump area, we found a direct path from the pump to the first set of steps. Part of the path was cleared and enough trowel tests were done and flagged to determine the location.

Finally, I also worked with the team clearing brush from the site area. This process involved a lot of raking through the underbrush, and was quite frustrating. The collected debris and leaves had to be shoveled into buckets and moved beyond the site perimeters where it would not be in our way. The clearing work was surprisingly lengthy, but in the end we made a nice clear area for excavations next week.

April 21, 2015 (Week 4)

Today we divided our time between field work and lecture and demonstration by Professor Sarah Murray, from University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Sarah is an expert in photogrammetry and the class discussed possible applications of photogrammetry in the field of archaeology for preservation and dissemination of information. We moved out to the statue in front of Laird to participate in a demonstration of 3-D modeling. We attached coded targets to the statue and took numerous photographs from different angles and heights, and then returned to the classroom to feed it into the Agisoft Photoscan program. Unfortunately we did not have time for the software to render this model completely, so Sarah showed us mock-ups she had completed of a wall near her home. The accuracy and detail of the model was very impressive and I can see how this technology could greatly improve accessibility to archaeological processes (and accuracy and cost, given the lecture on earlier methods of modeling and recording). Additionally Prof. Austin Mason sat in on the class and demonstrated how even an iPhone could create 3-D mockups, although not at the level of accuracy required for archaeological work. I am very interested in reading more about this and seeing it applied to more archaeological projects. I am sure it will be extremely useful in sharing information, preserving works in peril, and in documenting areas destroyed by excavation.

For the second half of the lab period we moved to the Women’s League cabin site to begin preparations for future archaeological work there. Some students finished the field survey from the previous week, while others raked the ground and measured off survey units at the cabin site. I was in the group helping to measure and stake out survey units at the cabin site. This involved marking out the total area and then survey intervals (5 units? I don’t recall exactly) with flags. Stakes and string was used to mark the boundaries for next week. The process required using a compass to ensure proper orientation and then carrying measuring tapes through brush and trees to mark along. We marked out two edges and two more survey lines. It was also quite cold and windy complicating the process and demoralizing the archaeological team.

April 14, 2015 (Week 3)

Our field work this week focused on gaining more experience with the process of archaeological survey. We picked a fairly large section of land in the Lower Arboretum that included agricultural fields and a recently burned patch of prairie area. We completed a pedestrian survey of the area, looking for any artifact evidence of human activities, collecting and bagging anything we found that was of significance. We divided into three different survey groups. I was in group B, and we tackled the section of farm field closest to the burned area. We divided the area into distinct survey units of 75 meters by 150 meters. I was one of the five group members assigned to walk the survey and visually search, while two other group members were responsible for mapping and documenting anything we found. The five of us searchers were stationed 15 meters apart and were visually searching a one meter swath of ground around us. We collected and categorized objects we found as brick/tile, ceramic, glass, plastic, and other, noting down the survey unit in which they were found.

It was somewhat difficult to spot objects as many of them were small and partially hidden by corn stalks and other agricultural debris. I did end up collecting several interesting ceramic fragments and some colorful glass in addition to the expected litter of plastic bags, cans, and cups. Some artifacts may have come from the nearby highway, but others are of less clear origin. There was no one area with denser concentration of artifacts; generally a few were collected by each person in each survey unit. I was also interested in some of the ecofacts (an interesting feather, skeletal remains, and tufts of hair), although they were not significant or collected for our survey. Our group ended up covering five survey units total.

I found the exercise useful in planning a more thorough and methodical survey than the one we initially completed behind the library. I now feel like I have a better grasp on some of those techniques. I was a little unsure about what artifacts were or were not of archaeological interest for our survey, and so may have ended up collecting unnecessary litter in order to be on the safe side. This survey also yielded more interesting object than out first one though, and I hope we will get to follow up on some of them with further investigation or study. The glass and ceramic fragments were of particular interest and I am curious about how me may identify and date them, as well as about their origin and how they came to be there. I think that this lab was a useful preparation before we undertake the Women’s League cabin site, although I now see even more the potential difficulties there. This survey was already difficult in relatively recently cleared farm field, while the cabin site is wooded and covered with leaf litter.

April 7, 2015 (Week 2)

The field work for this week consisted of a class field trip to Red Wing, MN to visit the Goodhue County Historical Society and archaeological sites in the nearby area. I drove one of the vans to the site and back. At the Goodhue County Historical Society, we were given an introduction and tour of the museum’s collections related to archaeological. The readings for the day had been about the Energy Park site in Goodhue County that had been recently excavated and contained mounds and evidence of Native American settlement during the Silvernale period, so we were ready to ask James, our tour guide, many questions about the site. The exhibit itself contained displays describing the survey and excavation processes that had been conducted at several different sites in the area and some of the recovered artifacts. There were several particularly remarkable pieces of pottery that had been recovered, some of the still intact.  We discussed how the pottery was useful in helping us understand the lives of the early Native Americans and in making connections to other Native American groups including Cahokia. The designs of pots and their decoration also revealed various things about the possible origins, trade practices, diet, and spiritual belief of the Native American occupants.

Next, we met with the curator of the Goodhue County Historical Society who brought out several pottery shards, a small pottery reconstruction, some bone awls, and other tools including a fishing hook and possible bead all dated to the early Silvernale period and discovered in Goodhue County. We discussed the difficulties of preservation and interpretation of material artifacts and also had the opportunity to handle the actual artifacts. I found it very exciting to handle objects so old and wonder about their various uses and the people who created them. The pottery was surprisingly heavy and strong feeling, while the bone tools were very light and intricate. We were also given time to explore the other museum exhibits, and I particularly enjoyed looking into the archives. I was surprised by some of the resources they contained and interested in consulting them further for future research.

As we got ready to leave the historical society we walked next door to see a minor nearby mound. We discussed the prevalence of such mounds near sites of high altitude, near water, and their possible spiritual significance and well as the differences between burial and settlement mounds. The view overlooking the Canon River and Red Wing was impressive, and nearby bluffs of archaeological significance were also pointed out. On our way back to Northfield we attempted to visit the Energy Park site and see what evidence of mounds and archaeological work we could find. We walked around the probable area, but time constraints and inclement weather prevented further exploration. I think that the field trip was valuable in showing us the resources the Goodhue County Historical Society and other may be able to offer, and I enjoyed the chance to personally examine some artifacts. I look forward to returning in the future with the class to explore the sites further.

April 2, 2015 (Week 1)

Class Thursday met in the Arb field office and consisted of a tour of different possible Arb sites of historic and archaeological significance. We saw the site of the old Waterford Mill and the Women’s League cabin. I enjoyed exploring new areas of the Arb in nice weather and look forward to returning for further study.

March 31, 2015

The class met for the first time and discussed possible methods and fields related to archaeology before beginning our very first lab. The purpose of the lab was to learn the basic procedures of planning and carrying out an archaeological survey, so that we may prepare more effectively for later archaeological explorations. We began with a brief discussion of the oldest buildings on campus and an observation of the library building to estimate dates of renovations and additions through things like weathering and building style.

We then embarked on our own archaeological survey of the area behind Gould Library to see what sort of artifacts where there and where we might discover them. We divided the area into different irregular survey units based on land use and topography with different teams of students responsible for surveying different areas. In the end, some survey units were far more fruitful than others, and should this have been a real survey specific areas for greater follow up study could have been identified. We noted that areas that received the heaviest human traffic, such as sidewalks, and areas where debris might be moved to naturally, such as the drainage ditch and the bottom of the slope, yielded the most artifacts.

I worked as part of survey unit 7 which was responsible for the large grassy area bordered by the road, the building, and the volleyball courts. Despite the large size or the area, our group yielded relatively few artifacts; we speculated that this was due to a lack of traffic and interest in our areas. The total unit area was divided into 6 paths, of which I walked the second one. I found relatively little: a metal nut, a piece of plastic bag, a shard of red plastic, and a small piece of brick broken into several fragments. Others members of my survey unit found similar results with our overall yield being 3 metal artifacts, 1 glass, 10 plastic, no cigarettes, and 5 objects of other classification. One question that arose through this process was how to count objects that are clearly broken into multiple pieces as with the brick piece and the glass. We noted that artifacts were concentrated closer to the building, perhaps noting greater use of that area.

The class then put together the results of each survey unit to better understand the area as a whole. From certain artifacts, human use of the area may be ascertained should we be interested in further archaeological study. Overall, parts of this first survey were somewhat sloppy, but provided valuable lessons for how we can more effectively plan later surveys.

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