This week’s lab constituted a tour of the Cowling Arboretum grounds. We were accompanied by Alex, as well as Nancy Braker. The former was able to offer valuable archaeological insight throughout the course of the tour, and the latter, as the director of the arboretum, provided both a general history of the arb and guided us on our tour through a more ecological lens. Being that the material record is affected by and found within the ecological environment, this bifurcated yet complimentary framework for the tour succeeded in engendering a collective comprehension of archaeology in the arboretum, and served as an excellent launchpoint for future fieldwork during the term.
The route of our excursion took us north from the arboretum office to the ruins of the Waterford Mill via an elevated dike. Following the presentation of a brief synopsis of the site by Alex, we headed back south toward the main trail connected to the dike path; along the way, we stopped at a quarry site strewn with beer cans, bottles, and a fire pit. No known archaeological activity has been conducted at the site–survey, excavative, or otherwise–a point we were made to note. Personally, I would love to excavate the quarry site and/or dike to explore, alongside the use of archival references, the power dynamics of quarrying and the construction of the dike. Who was doing the work? Who was directing it? Where did these people come from, and where were they going? What were their prerogatives (did they, for example, have a vested interest in the community and would thus benefit from the construction of dike instructure, or were they employed from outside of Northfield? What did the authority hierarchy look like? These are a few of the questions which I would like to consider in the event we select the aforesaid sites for survey and excavation. Our route then took us to the northeast tip of the arboretum’s boundaries at the historic Waterford Bridge, now closed but evidently still in use by local public artists and denizens. We subsequently headed south to the former site of the Women’s Cabin, where we had the pleasure of encountering four young men exploring the wonders of phytology. It is interesting to note that, in its present functions, the site occupies a sort of juxtaposition between the public and the private. It is widely known in the community as a place where one can find solitude, whether it be for contemplation, clandestine activity, or otherwise. This contemporary paradox of publicized seclusion is not far removed from the functions of the original Women’s Cabin, which retained during its heyday the isolated connotations of the present as a place where a constituent group of the Carleton student body–namely, women–developed a collective understanding of this space on the periphery of Northfield as comparatively private and remote. We were then directed back southwest, stopping at the site of a demolished farmhouse, now a cornfield, before culminating our tour at the site of the former World War II veterans’ village. In spite of a bloody heel and sore left acetabulum (which sounds infinitely more dirty than it is…), the tour was thoroughly enjoyable, not to mention valuable. I was able to acclimate myself with the arboretum’s history in a more intimate manner than I had been afforded hitherto, an experience which should enable me to better engage with both the environment and material record we encounter in the field.
This week’s lab entailed an introduction to field survey. In preparation, we read material relating to survey methods, including Chapter 3 of our Renfrew and Bahn textbook, which gave brief synopses of ground and aerial survey methods, remote sensing methods, and environmental variables which affect the preservation of the material record (and thus affect survey and excavation). Additionally, Alex gave a briefing of the site of our own survey–a seasonally-used cornfield east of the baseball fields in the upper arb–immediately prior to heading out into the field. Once at the site, our group of ten students was divided into two groups of five, with one team lead/recorder and four conducting ground survey. We surveyed, in total, six 40 by 100 meter sections of the field, employing a linear transect method. We collected, identified, and recorded a respectable cache of items, including scraps of metal, pieces of brick and potential tile, a presumed (metal) trailer hitch, some pieces of plastic, and a seriously ridiculous amount of golf balls.
Our survey units and the trajectory of our transect lines were oriented on a north-south axis, running parallel with the road to the immediate east. Just off the eastern side of the road lies a driving range, the probable source of the aforesaid dimpled spherules. Upon reconvening following raw survey, we were able to discern a rather distinct spatial distribution of the golf balls; while all six survey units exhibited at least one ball, the middle two units–running east-west–yielded the overwhelming proportional majority. This makes sense in context, as the driving range lies adjacent to the middle two east-west units. Moreover, it exhibits significant overlap with the southern two units, which were certainly not subject to a paucity of balls either. However, the proportional distribution of golf balls decreased in the northern two east-west units, while the frequency of trash simultaneously increased. Once again, context elucidates us as to why this may be: the driving range is cut off from the cornfield by a line of trees, and garbage may be more prevalent in the northern two units on account of the large natural refuse pile, composed primarily of wood, which may be seen by passerby as an acceptable place to leave trash, or act as a marginally sheltered gathering spot. Whatever the case, our survey of the cornfield facilitated our hands-on acclimation with one of the foundational concepts of field survey, that being the importance of context and its value in elucidating the archaeologist upon the “why” and even the “how” of patterns of spatial distribution, as well as introducing us to basic methods of ground survey and data collection.
During this week’s lab, we revisited the site of a potential quarry deep within the arboretum. Our prerogative was similar to that of the previous week inasmuch as we were conducting a field survey; that said, this was far more meticulous than the walking surveys of Week 3. For starters, the Tuesday group plotted out sixteen 5×5 meter grid squares–with several more squares added the next day–demarcated at each nexus by a ribbon of blue tape. A team in the Wednesday lab tracked these points–and thus the grid squares themselves–using a GPS with the capacity to read one’s location down to the centimeter. (It may have been a Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS), but I am not certain about this. Regardless, very precise measurements were recorded, enabling us to execute more refined processes of mapping, tracking, and recording of artifacts, features, and the site as a whole.) Teams of two systematically surveyed each square, clearing surface-level brush and recording any finds of artifacts and features. Glass and metal, overwhelmingly functioning as (presumably alcoholic) beverage receptacles or bottle caps, constituted the majority of artifacts recovered; a Halls breath mint wrapper was also uncovered. All collected artifacts were bagged and recorded by material and the grid-square in which they were found. Further, a summary of each grid-square was composed during the survey process in an effort to, again, track the context and provenance of artifacts and features, as well as the distribution of the former.
On a personal note, I found a piece of vitrified metal roughly thirty-to-forty yards south-southwest of the site before dropping it back onto the ground. This could indicate the historical presence of metallurgical processes at or in the immediate vicinity of the site, supporting the quarry hypothesis. Either way, though, further survey and, ultimately, excavation is required to truly elucidate us upon the chronology and historical functions of the site. Our next prerogatives appear to be surveying visually similar sites in the general area identified via LIDAR and other geospatial cartographic resources, the excavation of grid-squares exhibiting the highest densities of artifacts at the present quarry site (perhaps Quarry Site 1?), and potentially an excavation of the Millpond Dyke, which I personally believe is among the most plausible destinations for the quarried stone, assuming the site in question did indeed function at some point as a quarry. Finally, reconnaissance at the ruins of the Waterford Mill would be prudent if only to compare the stone used to build said mill matches with that at the potential quarry site; that said, even if a geological parallel is drawn, this may not be enough to confirm our site to be the source of the mill’s material, as there have existed numerous rock quarries along and around the Cannon River MNDOT, MNDOT from the 19th century onward.