Week Ten Summary

With exams right around the corner, students were busy using their last lab period to finish up their final projects. Most groups are in the process of uploading and finalizing their write-ups, and were able to consult with Alex on Skype for feedback and closing advice.


Hard at work on final projects.


Skype with Alex to discuss final projects.

Finally, to the tune of Bob Dylan, students began the cleanup process. This included organizing and re-bagging the artefacts, and then placing them in storage. Essentially, our goal was to make the lab appear as it was ten weeks ago.


Time to cleanup!

We have come a long way from our humble beginnings at the start of the term, learning the archaeological process be it research, survey, excavation, analysis, publication, or cleanup. Through this course, we have probed into the past through material culture informing us about the present and the future.


Farewell Archaeological Methods!


Week Nine Summary

This week the class was busy working on their final projects, which include trench and field work analyses, GIS mapping, oral histories, a history of gendered spaces at Carleton and Women’s Leagues in general across the country, and public outreach. On Tuesday, we discussed the issues of storage space, which is of special interest because the course is almost over and there is the question of what should be done with the artifacts retrieved from the Women’s League Cabin (Figures 1 and 2). We also discussed how one goes about determining the value of archaeological finds in order to decide if they should be stored for future analysis or discarded. This is particularly pertinent to our work, as we have a fair amount of trash that has been collected. As well, considering the high concentrations of objects such as glass shards found at the site, it is debatable whether the benefit of keeping every single shard is greater than the cost of energy and space put into storing them.


Figure 1: Artifacts recovered from the survey units at the cabin


Figure 2: Artifacts from Trench 2

Later in class, people broke off into their individual groups to work on their projects (Figures 3 and 4). The last of the artifacts from the site were cleaned, and individuals began compiling data relevant to their topics. The time was productive, with photogrammetry models produced, artifact catalogs created, findings compiled, archival information researched, and the website upkept. Thursday we picked up where we had left off on Tuesday, and Mary Savina and Austin Mason were in class to provided assistance. The projects are coming along nicely, and everyone is working hard to finish their drafts for Tuesday.


Figure 3: Several groups hard at work


Figure 4: Groups working on their projects


Week Eight Summary

This week was the third and final day of excavation work at the Women’s League Cabin site. While the excavation and total survey work continued, the class also hosted a Community Archaeology Day. Members of the Carleton and Northfield community were invited to come and visit the site between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to check out the area and our finds, chat with students, and watch archaeology in action. A shuttle was driven between the Arb Office and the site on the half hour in order to facilitate visits. The event was well advertised by an outreach team of students and Alex through targeted emails and flyers to individuals with an interest in the site or class. In addition students were encouraged to invite their friends to attend. Many different people visited the site over the course of the afternoon and allowed the class to better engage the community in our project.

Approximately twenty people visited the site as part of the Community Archaeology Day. Visitors ranged from current Carleton students to professional archaeologists. Several professors visited, especially from the Classics department, and one even brought her family along. Students from Carleton and St. Olaf with relevant interests in archaeology seemed excited by the class and interested in future projects. Carleton administration and Arb staff were also present and very enthusiastic about exploring Carleton’s past archaeology. Someone from the Minnesota State Archaeologist office and Alex’s relatives rounded out our fairly large party of visitors.

Chloe and other students greeted visitors and conducted tours of the site, explaining both the history of the Women’s League Cabin site and the archaeology work conducted by the class. Explaining the site to a range of visitors gave the class the opportunity to learn about different potential community and professional interests in our work. Additionally, describing our process for different audiences helped us to understand it better ourselves. It was also useful to talk and connect with other people interested in archaeology.

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Excavation Report:

While visitors mingled throughout the site, excavation in all three trenches continued. The tarps were successfully removed to initiate work, and the trenches were largely free of water. The class was divvied up and resumed the process that had been established in the previous week. Teams at all three trenches separated soil scraped from different contexts into buckets. If artifacts were not found during the scraping, they were revealed when the loose soil was passed through the soil sifter. Overall, fewer artifacts were found in the trenches this week than during previous excavation.

Trench 1:

On this final day of excavation, Trench 1 remained divided between sandy orange context 2 and dark organic rich context 4. We believe context 2 to have lain outside the front door of the cabin. We continued and completed excavation of context 2, which contained the highest concentration of artifacts within trench 1. The highlights included a piece of ceramic plate and some bones. Context 4 contained fewer artifacts and many pockets of black clay. We found an additional paver at a lower depth, and some nails.

Trench 1 findings are as follows:

Context 2: Metal – 4, Ceramic – 2, Bone – 3, Other – 5

Context 4: Glass – 4, Metal – 1, Lithic – 1

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Trench 2:

As excavation of trench 2 continued, contexts 3 and 4 were complete and closed, and context 5 was opened. The contexts in the trench were divided by a row a stone pavers.  During excavation, the team reached below the level of the patio, and evidence of additional stone below the patio was found.  The most unique finds of the day included a bullet casing and pencil lead.

Trench 2 findings are as follows:

Context 3: Glass – 4, Metal – 6, Charcoal – 7, Other – 1

Context 4: Glass – 37, Metal – 2, Lithic – 5, Other – 1, Unknown – 21

Context 5: Lithic – 8, Charcoal – 3

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Trench 3:

Trench 3, the smallest trench, was very deep by the end of this excavation period.  A new soil layer that was documented as context 5 was finally reached, and some nails and charcoal were found.  Overall, there were fewer artifacts found than in previous weeks.

Trench 3 findings are as follows:

Context 4: Glass – 1, Metal – 4

Context 5: Glass – 1 Charcoal – 8

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Week Seven Summary

This week saw the class back at the WLC site. After a week of spring rains, the excavation pits were damp but not muddy, due in large part to the tarps placed last week to protect them. Before starting excavation on the newly exposed contexts, one student went to each pit and photographed the exposed layers. This serves as a documentary record of progress made within the inherently destructive pits. The photographer recorded the context currently exposed in the photograph, the direction of true north, and the scale of the pit.

Once the photographs were completed, the excavation crews got to work. As the class worked within the trenches, they uncovered ‘contexts’ or layers of soil that seem to fit into a similar category or spacial area. Last week the class was mainly working on context 1 in all three trenches, but this week they uncovered new layers. To dig deeper into the new contexts, individuals scrapped at the soil with trowels to expose potential artifacts and collected the removed soil in buckets. This soil was then sifted through using a standing sieve, ensuring that no small artifacts were overlooked during excavation.

Sifting after shovel scraping

Sifting after shovel scraping

The depth of contexts varied greatly between trenches, with Trench 3 having a pretty deep context 3 while Trench 2’s contexts were overall more shallow. Trench 2 decided to label different contexts on either side of the flagstones that transected their pit. Trench 1 had originally identified 3 different contexts on the same level over their trench section. Throughout the days excavation, they focused on the two side contexts, 2 and 4, then decided that context 3 belonged within context 2, dissolving the distinctions. The excavation crews were able to uncover several more interesting finds, including multiple nails of varying lengths, deposits of charcoal, ceramics, glass, and a metal clasp from Trench 3. Trench 1 even uncovered a corroded bottle cap.

While the excavation crews worked, the total station team took measurements of the survey grid. To do this they lined up the total station with its marker, then recorded the distance between the marker and the total station. This allowed the total station to stay stationary while the marker was moved to the corners of the survey grid. However, it wasn’t as simple as just setting up and taking measurements. The team encountered set backs when the total station couldn’t detect the marker due to trees and other plant matter being in the way. To combat this, several of the team were deployed to hold the branches and leaves out of the path between the marker and total station. The picture below shows the process of lining up the total station and the marker. Added to the picture is the sight line. If this line is broken by plant matter, or people, the total station team would need to clear the line of site.


Nearly all the total station measurements were completed during the class lab period, though near the end some issues were found with the height of the marker, which may have potentially shifted during the day. Corrections were made and the change noted for future use of the readings. Another day of excavation was wrapped up with end of day photography documenting the progress within the trenches, with the excavation teams bagging all collected artifacts.

In class on thursday we began talking about Community Archaeology Day next tuesday and how the different archaeology teams were moving forward with their group projects. The outreach team successfully sent out Community Archaeology Day invitations, while the oral history group set up a ‘Throw Back Thursday’ post through Carleton Archives and have begun collecting stories. Artifact analysis also began in class Thursday, with the class laying out and organizing all found materials so far. A strict organizational scheme was set up to ensure proper labeling and handling throughout the analysis process. The non-organic and non-metal materials were washed and set out to dry for further analysis later. Next week we go into more rigorous artifact analysis and have our last day of excavation.


Week Six Summary

Today our class began its excavation. We decided to dig three trenches. Trench 1 was located by the doorway to the Women’s League Cabin and was two meters by two meters wide. Trench 2 was by the back patio and was 1.5 by 1.5 meters wide. Trench 3 was located to the West of the main patio along the downward slope, and was one meter by one meter wide.

We split into three groups, one for each trench.

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Alex’s colleague from the University of Southern California, Tom Garrison, came to introduce the Total Station to the class. He also helped set up the grid areas for the trenches.

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Meanwhile, the group assigned to Trench 2 had to clear the dirt on top of the paving stones before they were able to determine exactly where the best trench location would be.

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Once each group had established where they were going to dig their trench, roles were assigned. Shirley, Adam, and Erika filled out excavation forms for their respective groups. They had to detail the layout of the trench on the form’s grid so that we can visually understand where all of the artifacts were found.

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Theo’s job was to manage a photo log for all the trenches. He kept track of the context (which layers of dirt were in each photo), the artifacts found in each context/location, and the direction he was facing while he took each photo. In order to match the specific photos with the records of the excavators, he had to mark which trench and context corresponded with each photo number. Here are the photos in chronological order:

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Week Five Summary

This week, once again, our class was split into three groups to complete different tasks in the field. One group began in the agricultural fields, to finish a small section that had yet to be surveyed there, one group was split into pairs who were assigned the task of doing an intensive ground survey of the 10-by-10 grid we had created on the Women’s League Cabin site, and the final group worked on clearing the site and working with the scaled diagram of the Women’s League Cabin in an attempt to determine the location of major features and discover the level of accuracy the plan offered.


Field Survey Completion

The first group finished up the last 3 remaining survey units, A09-A11, out in the fields surrounding the Women’s League Cabin site. The field had been freshly zone-tilled which is a method in which the ground is tilled only where crops had previously been grown. The effect that the tilling had on the survey finds is unclear, but the group found very few artifacts. The surveyors saw several plastic, paper and styrofoam artifacts that they did not collect, although they did collect one bag of 10 bones, which appear to be deer vertebrae from the size, shape and context.

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Clearing the Site

The group that was clearing the site uncovered some of the remains of the brick patio in the back of the cabin and inadvertently began to excavate the patio slightly. This uncovering and clearing is helpful to the comparison of the plans and the site and is an important and exciting discovery.


Matching The Plans to the Site: Mapping Cabin’s Location

To begin, this group took a look at the diagram of the Women’s League Cabin and an old photograph (figure 1) that had been found of the cabin and formulated a hypothesis on the location of the cabin’s foundations, basing the prediction on the location of several large trees in WLC SU_C3.

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Figure 1: a historical photograph of the Women’s League Cabin. Note the location of the fence, flagstones, and tree

The third group then began testing the scale of 1/8th in: 1 ft marked on the diagram against the reality on the ground by measuring the width of the path between the steps and the patio. Eventually, we determined that the ratio of centimeters of the map to centimeters in the field was almost exactly 1 cm: 98 cm, which indicated that the diagram was to scale, at least in some parts. The team moved to the northernmost edge of the patio and began measurements there, quickly discovering that the number of flagstones depicted on the diagram and the number located on the site was different (the diagram shows the flagstones 12 across, 10 were found on site). The group then attempted to determine the location of the edge of the cabin by scaling up the length of the map that showed the distance between the NE side of the patio and the northern wall of the cabin. Continuing this process, the group attempted to flag the corners (and other key points, like doorways) of the cabin. While the location of the entrance as extrapolated from the diagram seemed to fit perfectly with the edge of the patio after the edges were cleared (figure 2), the corners of the cabin didn’t seem to be accurate, seeing as if they were, there would have been a rather large tree in the center of the cabin, near the location the toilets are marked as being on the diagram. As one student noted, having a tree in such a location would be “problematic.”


Figure 2: clearing dirt to locate the edges of the patio

Various theories for reconciling the difference between the diagram and the reality on the ground were proposed, mostly relying on the assumption that the cabin dimensions shown on the diagram were accurate (because they matched almost perfectly with those shown on the blueprint) but that the cabin was further south than initial measurements suggested (figure 3).


Figure 3: a comparison of the old photograph to the hypothesized location of the cabin in the present day (with a student standing in for the second tree)

Next, the group focused on measurements in the western portion of the patio and the path at the south of the patio. In the first section, the diagram appeared to be incredibly accurate except for the fact that the row of flagstones on the edge of the patio was incomplete. However, as the patio turned into the path the diagram became increasingly inaccurate. Most notably, the diagram shows only one set of steps and includes a “drive” that did not appear to correspond with anything that we found. Instead, we discovered that the flagstone path continues in the same southerly direction much further than anticipated, although we only excavated limited portions of it. Similarly, the path to the pump (and the pump itself) were much further south than the diagram appeared to indicate, but the angle of the path to the pump was roughly accurate, which allowed students to locate and excavate portions of that path as well. By the conclusion of the field day, the group had amended the diagram with rough measurements that attempted to reconcile the diagram with the reality found in the field (figure 4).

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Intensive Survey

Last week the groups completed the gridding of the site and marked the corners of each 10mx10m unit square, so this week 8 people were assigned in pairs to each square. The site is divided North/South into units 1,2,3,4,5 and East/West into A,B,C,D. Because each unit square was relatively small they were surveyed completely and intensively in the grid as opposed to the transect method we had been using previously for our field survey. Simultaneously, as each pair surveyed their square, they would map it out in detail, including any features, eco-features (such as trees or rocks) or notable boundaries.

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Several units, like unit D, were densely covered in leaves and had to be cleared before they could be properly surveyed. Notable features were found in several units, including large metal pieces and springs that appear to be the remains of a bed in unit D and a rusted metal barrel in unit B5 filled with pieces of glass, metal, ceramics and plastic, from what could be seen on the surface. The items in the barrel were not collected and it will instead be examined more carefully in its preserved context.

There were several high density areas for artifacts including much of unit A, which yielded many intact finds including many glass pieces and several plastic combs. The highest concentrations for unit C were in C1 and C3. C1 revealed a significant amount of charcoal remains, this raised some questions because the charcoal deposits were not near the fire pit, the chimney or the kitchen of the cabin.

In class we hypothesized about possible drop-zones for the site and tentatively suggested that the areas of A3 and A4 were drop zones for the patio and cabin area. These finds are leading to questions about the use of the cabin, the activities, how they changed over time and what we can deduce from what we have. We started thinking about the post depositional processes the site may have been subject to.

Full PDFs of the survey unit forms can be found here: 3155_001

Additionally, the gallery below shows some of the many features and artifacts found this week:

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Week Four Summary

This week, on Tuesday (April 21st), our archaeology class went out into the field. However, this week we divided up into two different sections, one to continue doing survey work that was incomplete after last week in the prairie portion of the Arboretum, and the other half of the class went to the site of the Women’s League Cabin to begin preparing the site for survey.

Women’s League Cabin Survey Team

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One half of the class worked on prepping the area containing the Women’s League Cabin site for survey. The area was covered by leaves and brush, which needed to be removed. Several students worked on clearing the ground with rakes, and moving large branches. While doing this some artifacts were noted on the surface of the ground, primarily glass fragments. While the ground was being cleared a group of students worked on marking the survey units. It was decided that the perimeters of the survey would be 50 meters by 50 meters with 10 meter survey units. The lines were measured using tape and then marked with string. A compass was used in order to ensure that the lines forming the units were running in the same direction and thus were parallel to each other. However, the high concentration of trees and general brush made it difficult to adhere to a straight line. We finished marking about half of the overall survey area, which will be completed during next week’s class time.

Field Survey Team

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Last week, when we went into the field, we broke up the prairie fields that we were working on into three larger sections, one that each group (Group A, Group B, and Group C) were responsible for. We conducted a survey, in which each team used the transect/intensive collection strategy. As it was last week, the survey units conducting this week were 150 meters long, and each surveyor had about 15 meters in between each other. Each person was responsible for a meter on each side of them. However, this week, Group A was the only group that continued to do surveying on these fields. This was because there was an area of land between the survey units of Group A and of Group B that was left unfinished last week. We ended up completing three more survey units, two of which were the full distance (150 meters long), and a third which was only 95 meters long at its maximum length. The last one was smaller because it was the remaining distance between the last survey unit and grass next to the road. Unfortunately this week, the weather was overcast and cold, and was hailing for part of the duration of our lab. It was also very windy.


The three survey units that this group examined were A06, A07, and A08. As previously mentioned, A06 and A07 were 150 meters long and 75 meters wide, but A08 was only 95 meters long at its widest point and 75 meters wide. For all three of these survey units, the surveyors walked south. A04 bordered the east side of A06, and A05 bordered the east side of A07. A08 shared its south border with a dirt and grass path that bordered the road (Highway 19).The team that continued surveying was comprised of Elizabeth (who was responsible for the recording), Chloe (who was responsible for the mapping), Alex, Carrie, Claire, and Megan.

The findings of each survey unit were broken up into seven categories: ceramic, tile/brick, litchis, metal, plastic, glass, and other. Some of the objects found were bagged, while others were left behind because they were judged as unuseful to any further investigation. All of the objects found were either plastic or paper.

Below is a chart of the comprehensive findings for all three survey units:

Survey Unit Ceramic Count/Collected Tile/Brick Count/Collected Lithics Count/Collected Metal Count/Collected Plastic Count/Collected Glass Count/Collected Other Count/Collected Other Notes
A06 0 0 0 0 0 0 0  
A07 0 0 0 0 1 0 2 plastic bag, paper bag, paper Arby’s fries container
A08 0 0 0 0 4 0 0