Scout Riley

Week 2

For our first lab, we did a walking tour of the Cowling Arboretum with Nancy Braker, the director of the Arb. She guided our walk and let us in on some history of the arb, and current methods being used to restore the prairie. She showed us a couple of interesting natural sites, such as a wetland that was the home to thousands of frogs, and even picked up a snake that we could all touch. We also saw archaeological sites that were investigated by past Archaeological Methods classes, such as the Waterford Mill on the side of the Cannon River, the Women’s League Cabin, and the Pine Hill Village, which housed veteran families during World War Two. 

We also saw sites that have not been investigated by previous classes, such as the Waterford Bridge. This site was interesting on a historical, archaeological, and typological level, as the bridge was constructed in 1909 and is no longer in use. The sign on the bridge and the abbreviations used due to a lack of space is an interesting view into the early 20th century. Another site that Nancy took us to was one that she had recently stumbled upon, which was a partially hidden grouping of stone close to the Cannon River. We observed this area and made our guesses as to what was originally here, and whether or not it was manmade or natural. A strong theory was that it was a quarry, and we discussed having this be a possible site to further investigate and possibly work on for our class project and future labs. I was personally very interested in investigating this area because of the mystery around it, and I think that further searching could yield some really interesting and perhaps unexpected finds. 

In many of the sites that we looked at, such as the bridge, the quarry, and the old Women’s League cabin, there was evidence of recent (or present!) human activity. There were beer cans found near the quarry area, and there was a group of teenage boys that were presumably using substances in the area. This possibly presents some issues if we were to excavate a site such as the quarry, as there might be people there when we go to do our lab. However, it would be interesting to analyze some of the trash that has been left behind and try to see how old it is, and how long people have been using that area as a social gathering spot. 

A personal point of interest on this walk was about halfway between the quarry and the bridge. I was walking with Sam, and he stopped walking when he noticed some shards of pottery. I was absolutely amazed by this, as we were in a very remote location and I was in no way expecting to see any remnants of modern human domestic activity. Sam estimated that it could not have been very old, although we could not figure out why someone would be so far out in the arb with pottery. We thought that it could have been a pot for a plant, and perhaps someone was trying to plant something in the arb. Regardless, it was really cool to come across something semi-independently during my first lab that got me excited to continue to look for objects of interest at whatever historical site we decide to base our project upon.

Week 3

This week, we did an intensive field survey of a field in the Cowling Arboretum. Before we embarked on our field study we did a brief orientation, and looked at some GIS and LiDAR mapping of the area that we were going to survey. We saw some examples of the different categories of artifacts that we might find, and then we set out for the arb. We separated into two groups, and within each group we stood ten meters apart. My group was located on the edge of the field, close to a road, while the other group was farther in the field. Once we were in our positions, we began to slowly walk forward and survey the ground in front of us, looking for objects that may have been a result of human interaction with the landscape. Once everyone in the group had gotten through their survey unit, we all got together as a group, and had our recorder take note of what we found, and separated it by material type. In the first survey unit, our group did not really find anything other than some pretty looking plants and rocks. In the second survey unit, my group found a large number of golf balls, as we were right across the road from a driving range. It was interesting to be able to see the direct result of human activity through the objects we were uncovering. In the third survey unit, we did not find that many objects, but at the very end, I came across a very intact piece of plastic that we determined was a part of a gum wrapper. We were even able to read the label, and see where it was manufactured (Chicago, IL). Although it was a very small find, it was a cool reminder that even the smallest and most inconsequential of things can be observed by other people, both near and far into the future. It made sense that there would be some sort of trash laying around, as we were fairly close to a road and this part of the arb is more heavily trafficked by students than other parts of the arb, as it is fairly close to campus. After going through these three survey units, we made sure that all of the objects were separated by material and by survey unit, and then took them all back to the lab. Overall, it was very interesting to see that objects of interest in archaeology can be quite recent, and that even little wrappers can make for an exciting find.

Week 4

For this week’s lab, we started in the classroom, going over some of the methods we would be using in the field. We went over mapping, feature recording, methods of photography, cleaning and site clearance, and geophysical survey. We then went out into the arb, going back to the quarry site that we had located during the second week. We divided into groups with some members of the class mapping out the space, some dividing up the area into grids, and some that went into the grids and surveyed the area, looking for artifacts. I was responsible for surveying three grids, those being K11, J12 and J13, along with my partner Bee.

K11 was the first one that we surveyed, and we found a large amount of glass, 35 pieces to be exact! They all appeared to be from the same bottle, and so we made sure to take all of the pieces we found in the hopes of being able to reconstruct, or at least partially reconstruct this bottle. In addition to this, we also found a small metal piece that appeared to be the top of a beer can. The other two survey units that we examined were situated on the side of a steep hill, making it difficult to survey the area. We did not find anything in these units, which is probably because there were not people sitting on the hill and drinking due to its uncomfortable nature. We made sure to take pictures of all of the grids we surveyed.

It was interesting to examine this area, as it certainly appears that there has been human interaction there. From what we have seen so far, it seems that the area has been the site of some social gatherings and parties, but it will be interesting to continue to observe this area and what else we can gain from this site.

Week 5

As always we started off in Anderson to discuss our upcoming excavation process, and the different ways in which we can document it and record it. We walked out to the quarry and split into groups. One of the groups continued to do the GIS surveying and recording data about the site, another began the excavation process in one of the trenches, and the last group, which I was a member of, started cleaning another section of the area. Along with Bee, Connor, and Kalju, I measured out some of the terrain immediately next to the trench currently being excavated, and observed the area. This specific part of the quarry area is both flat and elevated, with a gradual slope upwards as the rock formation that we observed in the first place enters the landscape. We split the group in two, with Bee and Connor examining the half of the area that is closest to the trench being excavated, and Kalju and I cleaning up the other half.

As we went about the process of cleaning the area, we first decided which direction we should go. We decided to start from a more elevated position and then work downwards so that the soil and leaves we were clearing would go downwards, which made the process easier. We focused in on the large rock that was under the topsoil, and we worked on getting the leaves, soil, and moss off of it. We wanted to see how far the rock extended backwards, and if it was connected to the quarry looking structure. Since we were just cleaning, we did not really find anything of note, other than some small pieces of glass and some bugs! However, we did make some pretty good progress on the cleaning process, and were able to compare the rock that we saw on the ground with the possible quarry structure we are investigating.

Week 6

Since this was our second week of excavation, we got right out into the field, immediately split into groups, and got right to work. This week, I worked with Sam doing the DGPS mapping of the area. One of the other groups did further excavation on a trench in the quarry area, while the other did excavation on the Millpond Dike. Sam and I did DGPS mapping all around the quarry site, walking up to the top of the area and doing some points up there.

We also did some more in depth mapping of the trench area by the quarry, and then in the trench by the Millpond Dike. I am excited to see what data we get back when it has finished processing.

Week 7

For our last day of excavation, we once again split into groups. One of the groups stayed at the quarry site and examined the rock face of the quarry wall, while another group continued to work on the trench. Sam had another group helping him do DGPS, while the group that I was apart of worked on the Millpond Dike. I was new to the Millpond Dike this week, and I went into the lab not quite knowing what was going on. For most of the lab, I was concerned with sifting the soil that was being overturned, and checking to see if there were any artifacts or anything else of interest.

I sifted alongside Bee, Sam, and Cecilia, (the DGPS and Millpond Dike groups converged at times out of necessity), and although we put in a good deal of physical exertion, we did not find anything that appeared to be human-made. Most of our batches of soil did not have anything besides clumps of dirt, although we did see some changes in the soil as the shovelers got deeper. We started to notice that we were coming across more roots, and the soil was clumping together more and more and in bigger clumps. We told the shovelers that we suspected that there might be a context change occurring.

After sifting for awhile, I helped shovel to relieve Cecilia of her duties for a little bit. Since I was not shoveling for the majority of the time, I did not get to see any context changes, but I did get quite tired from the act of shoveling! I went back to sifting, and then finished up by running buckets back to the quarry area. Although we did not find much, getting to see the progress on the trench and knowing that I contributed to that was quite rewarding.

The Millpond Dike trench

another angle of the Millpond Dike trench

Week 8

This week was our first lab where we did not go out into the field and instead focused on artifact analysis. I worked with Cecilia and Bee to clean and analyze the items found in collection unit GS-K10. This consisted of three bags: one of the glass pieces, one of metal can pieces, and one of a food wrapper. We first went through and cleaned off all of the items, and then separated them into lots. For the glass pieces, we identified nine lots. There were many bottle bases that had identifying information on it, and so we separated them into lots of their own. The rest of the bottle pieces that were identified as body pieces were placed in a lot together (Lot 8). The singular piece of brown glass was put into Lot 9. As for the metal pieces, there were also nine lots. Many of the metal pieces had unique phrases on them, such as “Lift tab”, “Pull Ring”, “Pat Pend”, and “Schlitz”. The wrapper was put into a lot of its own.

After we had cleaned and separated our artifacts, we started to research them in an effort to date them and understand more about the objects themselves. I was responsible for researching the metal cans, and I started this process by looking at the databases that had been linked on the assignment sheet. From looking at timelines of beer cans in the 20th century, I realized that the cans we were dealing with were made between the years of 1965-1975. This is because they had pull tabs, which we know because they say “Pull Ring”, and we have remnants of the tabs as well. Pull tabs were introduced in 1963, and pull tabs with a ring were introduced in 1965. These types of tabs were replaced by stay-tabs in 1975, and so these cans must have been made before that date. After discovering that information, I presented it to my group, who had found that the bottles were most likely from 1967 or 1968. Since our findings seemed to agree with each other, that lead us to believe that we were correct in our dating. I found it quite interesting that these cans and bottles were so old, and were most likely from some sort of party or social gathering from the 1960s!

Here are the sources I used when researching the metal cans:

Week 9

This week, half of the class went back out to the quarry and Millpond Dike sites to backfill the excavation areas and take the equipment back. The other half, which I was a part of, worked on cataloging the last couple of bags of artifacts. Along with Cecilia, I worked on cleaning and cataloging glass pieces from GS-J11. We cleaned and dated the glass, which we determined was from the same year(s) as the glass we dated last week due to the design of the glass and its similarities to the bottles previously found.

After finishing up the artifact analysis, we were allowed time to work on our final projects, and so I kept working on my public archaeology signage project.