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 Dike, 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.
This week we began excavating the quarry site. Our Wednesday lab group split into three sections, one of which excavated unit L10, cutting two inches into the soil. The unit was chosen for its profusion of surface-level artifacts, and the group’s excavative efforts yielded more of the same: they uncovered glass; metal bottle caps; ash/charcoal; and interestingly, a nail. A second group continued mapping the site using DGPS; I don’t have much to say about this endeavor other than I would personally be interested in accompanying a group conducting this activity in future labs, as it’s a skill I would like to acclimate myself with. A third group–and the one I took part in–worked on cleaning and clearing the rockface. The four of us split into pairs, proceeding to clear 3.3 by 2 meter units. It was slow, unrefined work, but we were able to discern an intriguing pattern. Prior to cleaning, the rockface appeared from the base to be, for the most part, a semi-steep slope extending from the ~18 inch tall vertical, roughly geometric feature with a flat top at one’s feet to the ~3-4 foot vertical section at the top. However, upon clearing the ostensibly surface-level rubble from the hill, it soon became clear that this rubble extended deeper than anticipated, to the point that the horizontal surface of the roughly geometric anomaly extended much further back toward the cliff. This may indicate that, if completely cleared of rubble, the rockface would be far more vertical in appearance than in its present state. We probably lack the temporal and labor-related resources to conduct a comprehensive cleaning of the rockface, but if the assumption drawn from the uncovered pattern is correct, this may provide another indication of marked human activity at the site inasmuch as such a feature would very much constitute a geological anomaly.
Our next steps appear, however, to be in a different direction. Among our chief prerogatives for the coming weeks includes an excavation of Millpond Dike, an endeavor I am eager to participate in; I believe it imperative we determine the means by which the dike was constructed, as well as with what materials. If we find geologic material in the foundation of the construction matching that found at the quarry site, we’ll have fairly substantial evidence of the quarry site not only being so nominally. That said, our endeavors on this front are not solely concentrated in excavation of the dike; units at the quarry site itself will continue to be excavated, perhaps deep enough to reveal stratigraphic elements dating to the 19th century, as well as documentary research through, in part, the plethora of digital historical databases on offer to Carleton students through the library. Additionally, I wonder if it would be possible to contact the Northfield Historical Society, Waterford township, or locals directly in an effort to procure oral (or otherwise) histories of the area in relation to the dike, Waterford Mill, and the quarry site.
This week we continued our excavative efforts. Our Wednesday lab once again split into three groups, with two groups excavating and one group continuing to map the site using DGPS; the two excavation sites were continuations of L10 at the quarry site and our first–and perhaps only–trench at Mill Pond Dike. The L10 excavation yielded more glass shards and metal scraps, as well as an entrenched piece of wood adjacent to the fire pit, a feature certainly worth excavating further next week. The Mill Pond Dike group–of which I had a much greater direct involvement with–revealed up to four stratigraphic layers within the dike, labelling three contexts (as the third and fourth stratigraphic layers were mixed to the extent that delineating distinct contexts would not have proved a productive endeavor given the prerogatives of our excavation) within a 1 by 1.1 meter trench. No artifacts were uncovered through sifting processes, although we did come across a relative profusion of (presumably) naturally occurring chalk (compared to the quarry site) and two sizable rocks in context 2.
I personally contributed to excavative efforts at the dike trench, using both shovels and trowels, and employing a sifter in an ultimately vain attempt to uncover artifacts. I was also afforded the opportunity to briefly assist in sifting processes at L10 at the quarry site, as I was tasked with transferring the sifter from the dike and back. Next week’s objectives seem clear: continue excavating L10 in order to elucidate us upon the wood feature, as well as continue to elucidate us as to the functions of that area of the site; and continue exposing strata within the dike trench as we progress toward its foundation(s).
This was our last official excavation day, and once again, Wednesday lab split into several groups. This time, however, we created four groups to tackle four separate prerogatives: two of us continued mapping using DGPS, three continued excavating L10, three more continued excavating the Mill Pond Dike trench, and finally, three of us (myself included) worked to continue cleaning efforts at Cleaning Area 2. As far as I know, nothing of particular note was uncovered at L10 save for a bullet casing; the aforementioned wooden feature uncovered the week prior was ultimately deemed entirely natural in placement and past usage, or lack thereof. The Mill Pond Dike efforts involved digging further into the feature in pursuit of the base and potential foundations, encountering a continued paucity of artifacts along the way. The cleaning group cleared effectively in full the rubble, brush, and dirt off the rock face(s) at Cleaning Area 2, revealing an irregularly distributed stairlike pattern in the rock leading to the vertical rock face. One could clearly see, upon positioning oneself at CA2 and facing west toward excavated L12, that the horizontal rockface is largely uniform in each “stair.” This pattern is less likely a geologic anomaly and more likely a byproduct of prior direct human engagement with the site.
Three our of the four primary prerogatives of the day were fulfilled. Unfortunately, the dike trench is yet to reach the foundations of the feature, and it is thus imperative we return to the field at least once more in order to determine–through perhaps only a couple hours’ worth of further excavation–if the presumed relationship between the dike and the quarry site adheres to our hypothesis.
This was our first lab day indoors and in the actual archaeology lab. We were tasked with continuing the debagging, cleaning, categorizing, and rebagging of artifacts found in the field throughout the term. Tuesday lab had, of course, initiated this endeavor, and our Wednesday group largely followed their precedent, save for a few snags derived out of confusion as to how exactly to organize artifacts into lots. Students paired together or grouped into three and began the cleaning and lotting processes in earnest. There existed a correlation between final project topics and the provenience of the artifacts; for example, students who were curating a final project relating to the quarry site tended to focus on cleaning artifacts from that site. As it so happened, my partner is in the midst of curating such a project, and thus the four bags we cleaned and lotted were each composed of artifacts procured from the quarry trenches, and more specifically, Quarry Trench 1.
The artifacts we engaged with were primarily of the glass or metallic variety–three of the original bags were filled with glass or metal items–as well as some plastic. We cleaned several presumably aluminum can scraps; bottlecaps, many of which could be identified as Grain Belt or, based on the similarities of the exterior ridges and interior contours, as of the same typology; glass bottle fragments, of which one base contains several potentially diagnostic features, including what is likely a mold number and manufacture number, which we nevertheless failed to elucidate; and assorted metallic items such as a nail and a twist-off bottle cap. Each item was cleaned in warm water and, if necessary, scrubbed firmly yet gently with a toothbrush in order to remove dirt and grime. Artifacts were then categorized into lots, which were themselves demarcated by artifact typology. Each lot was placed into its own bag, which was duly ascribed contextual information relating to provenience, date of original collection, type of artifact, etc.
Analysis of these artifacts begins to elucidate the social relationship between the quarry site and the local community and/or Carleton College. The vast majority of artifacts are those of drinking receptacles, such as cans, bottles, and bottlecaps; further, a group from Tuesday was able to conclude with considerable confidence that the cans, based on typology, were produced in the 1960s through the 1990s. The profusion of drinking receptacles points toward the site being used as a clandestine party site during this temporal period. However, other artifacts, such as the nail, add an element of doubt to the notion that the site was used exclusively as a gathering place for drinking following its use as a quarry.
I believe next week’s prerogative to be more of the same, although between Tuesday and Wednesday lab, we’ve sorted the majority of artifacts. I still hold onto hope that we will be afforded the opportunity to excavate the Mill Pond Dike trench further, with the ultimate aim of reaching its foundations.
Our penultimate lab was spent through two modes: most of the class stayed in Anderson, finishing the systematic categorization of artifacts found during our time in the field throughout the term, while five of us–including Alex–ventured back out into the arb and to the field site(s). Our aim was to continue excavating the Millpond Dike Trench 1. We continued digging–employing both shovels and trowels–to approximately 234cm (2.34m/7.67ft), digging to context 11 and sifting along the way. Unfortunately, we uncovered no artifacts, nor did we uncover any evidence of a material relationship between the dike and the quarry site. We did manage to uncover a single rock, but this did not appear to be of the same material at the quarry site, and given that it was very much an isolated find, we did not deem it worth further consideration.
Another thing we were able to do was take a sample of the soil profile in the floodplain (or rather, the ground at the same horizontal level as the floodplain) adjacent to the dike. We dug a roughly 1ft by 1ft trench below the grass root line, and compared it with soil found in context 11 of the dike trench, revealing the soil to be, at least on face value, of the same profile. This points to the dike being constructed from soil of immediately local provenience, further augmenting the case for its construction being a local endeavor.
Save for the prospective community archaeology day, this was our last day in the field. It is to my lament we were unable to uncover a clear relationship between the dike and quarry site, but this by no means makes our project a failure; if anything, it allows us to draw conclusions regarding the dike’s construction that deviate from our hypothesis, a thoroughly acceptable result in the scientific process (if we are to be channeling the processual archaeologists of the ‘60s…). We have, again, at least in part revealed the dike to be constructed from local soil, for one. It’s a shame, however, that we don’t have access to ground-penetrating radar technology, which would have served us well in detecting anomalies within the dike prior to–or during–excavation.