Week 2: Arb Tour
Our first lab this Tuesday involved a tour of the arb in order to get an idea of places that past classes have investigated, and potentially start thinking about any places we might like to examine this term. We met MJ, who was leading our group for the day, outside the arb office, then entered the arb as a group. Our first stop was the site of the old Waterford mill. As we looked at the most visible remnant of the mill — a bit of concrete in the middle of the river, which someone had placed a chair on — MJ gave us a brief recap of the mill’s creation, use, and ultimate demolition. After leaving the old mill, we walked to one of the arb exits onto a road, where we could view the Waterford bridge. We then walked along the road until we got to the Women’s League Cabin. MJ recounted the history of the place, detailing its use as a retreat for Carleton students, and its subsequent decline and destruction due to the safety hazard it posed. Considering the evidence of continued human activity around the site, though, I imagine that past classes who’ve examined the area likely confirmed that it is still being used as a modern day ‘retreat’ (of sorts) for young people today. Following our departure from the cabin site, we began our trek back towards campus, sticking to the roads for a direct route. We stopped briefly by a field in the upper arb to hear a bit about what survey work entails from MJ, then headed to our final site: Pine Hill Village. MJ explained some of what past classes had identified from their examination of the former veteran’s village, such as some nondescript poles. It was striking just how little remained — enough that I for one hadn’t known the village was ever there, though I’ve seen those remnants many times. It is really easy to miss some of these things when you don’t realize they are there — I go running in the arb fairly often, so I thought I was pretty well acquainted with most of it, but before this class I had no idea of the significance of many of the places I’ve passed before. After the tour, MJ led a few of us into the archaeology lab, where we got a good look at some of what previous classes had found, as well as some artifacts that had been donated to the college. This gave us a glimpse into some of the organization that has to be maintained with artifacts that we might find, as well as just providing a wide array of different things that can be considered ‘artifacts.’ In combination with the arb tour, which revealed the history behind fairly nondescript places, this drove home the importance of giving attention to your surroundings — even things we might consider insignificant can have a history behind them, if you know where to look.
Week 3: Survey Walking
This week’s lab involved the application of survey methods which we discussed in class; specifically, we practiced walking transects in groups to observe any surface evidence of the archaeological record. We selected a field behind the Hill of Three Oaks, which contained the possible site of a former house in one corner. The weather was cold, windy, and at times snowy, and the largely overcast sky did not aid in visibility. Still, we proceeded to do our first survey walk. We began by counting paces so we could quickly measure the ten meters needed to separate each walker. We then divided into two teams to begin surveying our field. Each team covered three areas of approximately 50 by 100 meters. As we walked, each person focused on a roughly 2 meter swath around them on which to focus their attention. Our aim was to discover any surface archaeological evidence that may give us more information about the area. We had previously looked at both satellite and LIDAR imagery of the area we were walking, which had given us an idea of where the remains of the house might be located. The results of our survey aligned with what we saw on the LIDAR map: the sector A01, which corresponded to the rectangular plot which was likely the house’s base, contained a large variety of tile, brick, glass, and other evidence. The localized nature of this evidence would seem to connect it with the location of the former house, especially since the other sectors did not turn up much surface evidence. My team (B) didn’t find much in any of our three sectors, besides a couple of chunks of concrete which we ultimately left in the field, a piece of plastic, some glass, and a wire which we bagged to practice labelling our finds. However, our survey may not have been as thorough as it could have been. The weather, in addition to the long, matted grass which covered the ground, decreased our level of visibility. Our team also had a hard time actually staying regular distances apart, so we might not have covered the ground in a representative way — a consideration which we should be sure to keep in mind if we do any further survey walking. While the majority of the survey did not result in any finds, it did give us a better idea of what survey work involves.
Week 4: Site Survey
This week, we planned to do a more intensive, gridded survey of a site surface. We had to start by deciding what site would be the focus of our lab — a prospect which was easier said than done. Our choice came down to further survey of the old house site that we walked last week, or the possible quarry site in the arb, which we hadn’t seen before but were curious to learn more about. While we debated the merits of more intense investigation of a site we were somewhat familiar, or going to a more unknown place that held the possibility of exciting finds, we ultimately voted to survey the arb quarry, as the research questions we could pose about that site were more compelling than any for the farmhouse site. We headed off to the arb, with a few straightforward questions in mind: was there a quarry at this site? If so, how big? What was it used for? When we finally pushed through the undergrowth to reach the steep rock face that marked our site, it showed obvious signs of human use in the form of a trash dump, of old and rusty beer cans. To gain a further understanding of the scale and nature of the site, a small exploration team set out to map the area in more detail, while the rest of us got to work measuring out our first grids. We used a distinctive rock as our base point, then set out tape measures to mark North and East facing axes with the help of an app that marked our bearings. A third tape measure was placed parallel to the North axis at 5 m intervals to help us mark out a 5 by 5 m grid. While a few people finished marking out this initial grid, we began to survey a few grid squares in pairs. I was in square L12 with Emmy (the squares were labelled in such a way that it would be possible to extend them in either direction if need be). As we had left the cluttered grid with most of the trash dump for later, initially we were not sure if there would be anything of note in our square. We began by walking the perimeter of our square, noting any features. The underbrush and dead leaves which coated the ground didn’t make it easy, but Emmy noticed a pile of stones which seemed densely congregated in one area of the square. We concentrated there, clearing away debris to reveal an interesting rock formation. It appeared intentional, with rocks of fairly regular, rectangular shapes, which were carefully nestled together. They also formed a fairly distinctive corner at one point, which further suggested that they were arranged by humans. While clearing away leaves in the rest of our square, we found other, more obvious remnants of human presence, such as glass shards — one of which was distinctively the top of a bottle — and a plastic comb. The experience of surveying this square, while it was the first time we had attempted something like this, emphasized some of the advantages of a more intensive site survey. Though it covers a lot less ground, I was amazed by how much we found in a single square, just by looking carefully and being willing to get down and root around in the leaves. Especially in a wooded area like the arb, interesting details such as this stone would be easy to miss if we were just walking along like we did last week.
Week 5: Excavation (and Exploration)
This week we began initial excavation efforts at the old quarry site. After a class where we discussed excavation practices and formation processes, we discussed the benefits excavating might have for learning about our site in particular. We then headed out to the arb with several bins of equipment, despite the gathering clouds. While we stopped briefly at the dyke to think about potential excavation strategies which we might later use there, today we were focused on the old quarry site. Once we reached it, we split into three teams to divide up the work we planned to do. Two teams stayed at the quarry site, while the other headed off to explore the other anomalies found on the LIDAR map of the arb. As part of this exploration team, I had the task of recording what we found on feature forms for later reference–a task which was not made easy by the increasingly heavy rainfall. We began by heading in a northeastern direction to the closest feature. It was a ditch not too far from the quarry, partially bordered by a geometric-looking rock face. While not as big as the quarry, we wondered if it might also have been created by human intervention, especially as one of the sides of the ditch had a circular dip in it which didn’t seem terribly natural looking to us. However, other than a couple pieces of trash, we found no obvious remnants of human activity.
The second LIDAR feature was much more exciting for us to explore. While initially, we were disappointed as we climbed down the slopes of this feature towards a flat area which appeared to have been flooded at some point, even if the feature itself did not appear to be made by humans, there were plenty of additions to the area which had clearly been put there by people. On the first slope we descended, we found numerous fragments of glass, including several bases of jars or bottles, which had the potential to provide identifying information. We collected the one intact bottle we found to bring back to the group as we thought this was the extent of what we would find at this feature. However, the next slope we explored was clearly the site of a massive trash dump. Along with glass, there were ceramic shards — including some recognizable plates, teacups, and pots — building material such as brick and cement blocks, and rusted metal waste that ranged from cans and wire to large sheeting and even what appeared to be a gutter or eavestrough.
After taking copious photos of this site, we stopped by the quarry site before heading off to the other two LIDAR features which we planned to investigate. Nancy, the arb director, kindly let us through the gate into the enclosed area which contained the next feature. Apparently it was in the area of a former pine plantation (and, possibly, a rat-shooting destination?) and had recently been replanted with native species, and was fenced in to prevent damage by deer. The feature itself seemed to be a flat, sparsely-grown area of sandy soil, next to a steep and overgrown slope. While we climbed the slope and looked around, we couldn’t find any signs that pointed to obvious human involvement in the feature’s creation, but may have been hindered by the thick shrubs and the fact that we were all getting quite soaked by the rain at this point. The final feature we investigated was near the dyke. While we wanted to investigate it to see if it might be connected to the dyke itself, when we got there, all we saw was a gentle slope with plenty of trees — nothing that looked unusual for a forested area. Though the LIDAR ground truthing we did this lab did not result in us determining anything certain about how the topographical anomalies were formed, we did discover things like the trash dump which we never would have been able to seen from the LIDAR map alone, reinforcing the importance of ground truthing.
Week 6: Continued Excavation
Our lab this week involved the continued excavation of the quarry site, as well as the start of excavation at the Millpond Dyke. To get started, we split into three groups: quarry excavation, dyke excavation, and a mapping team. I was on the dyke excavation team. We began by scouting out the eastern side of the dyke to find a place that would be suitable for excavation. Key requirements were a reasonable distance from trees to avoid damaging roots and minimal steepness, within the area decided upon by Alex and Nancy. Once we decided upon an area to begin digging, we scraped away plants from a roughly one by one meter square, just off the main arb path. After measuring and roping off our square more exactly, we began a combination of troweling and shovel scraping, to see if we could expose any distinctive soil stratigraphy. As we filled buckets of dirt, the other members of the team would carry them to the sifter to sift them for any artifacts. While sifting mostly revealed pebbles, we did find one piece of metal that appeared to be an old-fashioned staple. The soil we were digging in was a sandy loam that largely appeared consistent throughout the depth that we were excavating. However, there were occasional bits of lighter sand which would appear as we dug, though they did not seem to indicate any new layer of soil. The expertise of Mary Savina indicated that the soil layers which formed the dyke did not have the appearance of a naturally occurring feature, supporting the idea that the dyke was formed by humans hauling earth. Still, more investigation is needed if we are to connect it with the quarry site, or discover any other information about its creation. In combination with our excavation efforts, which have been left covered with a tarp to be continued, we may want to look into the documentary record to see if we can find any more information on both the quarry and the dyke.
Week 7: Excavation Part III
I was sick this week, so I was not at lab, but looking at the weekly summary, I gathered a general idea of what happened while I was gone:
- Excavation at the quarry trench was finished, stone was soft (good for quarrying) so patterns made are likely natural
- Debris was cleared away at the quarry rockface, revealing layers of dirt and another layer of rock at the abrupt junction between rockface and level ground
- Millpond dike excavation trench was deepened, revealing new contexts of heavier, darker soil
- Sifting dirt led to the discovery of a bullet casing from circa 1912
- A final group worked on collecting GIS data, to get better measurements of the trenches and the dike
Week 8: Artifact Analysis
This week, we began cleaning, sorting, and analyzing the artifacts we collected over the past several weeks, through field walking, site survey, and excavation. Since we are beginning to think about how this data might be useful in final projects, my group began with artifacts collected through site survey of the quarry. Specifically, we spent most of our time with the glass collected in grid square L10. There was a lot of glass which had to be cleaned, using water and a toothbrush. As we cleaned it, we started sorting into piles based on color to get a preliminary idea of what sort of shards we could lot together, and what pieces might be a source of further information about where the glass came from. At first, we were planning to have as few lots as possible, sorting our color piles into bottle tops, bottle bases, and miscellaneous shards only. However, we soon realized that several of the pieces could be fit together, indicating that they came from the same source, so should probably have a separate lot number. After looking closer at the bottle bases, we also realized that while there were pairs which appeared to have the same logo and could thus be grouped together, many of them had different diagnostic clues and needed their own lots. We ended up with 18 lots, and proceeded to use the diagnostic pieces — mainly the bottle bases, which had production information molded into the glass — to try to establish a possible chronology for them.
Some of the logos were easily identifiable, but others took extensive searching to find information. One bottle, with the second half of the brand name “Bacardi Corp” could only be identified after we found a labelled lid when sorting metals from the same grid square. By looking closer at the glass, we discovered information including possible date ranges for the event of their arrival at the site, which we entered in a spreadsheet for future reference. To round off our examination of artifacts from L10, we cleaned and sorted some plastics and metals which had been found in the square. The plastics had little to no diagnostic information, so were separated into lots and re-bagged. However, the metals contained many beer can tabs, which could be dated upon further examination. This information, in combination with the group who was examining the cans themselves, could be useful for providing further chronology of the site, and its uses over time. Further examination of any artifacts found during excavation, and comparison across grid squares, could help us craft a narrative of the site history, which will be useful in the final project that my group wants to create.
Week 9: Dike Excavation & Artifact Analysis
This week, we divided into two groups to try and finish the two main areas of lab work that had yet to be completed before we could work on final projects. The first group was to stay in the lab and finish analysis of the remaining artifacts, then use the rest of the time to keep working on our respective final projects. The second group headed back out to Millpond Dike, to see if we could get to the bottom of the dike, and establish or disprove any connection between the quarry and the dike — or just get any more clues into the dike’s history.
I was part of this second group. The walk to the dike went quickly, as we didn’t have much to carry and we were a small group. After retrieving our excavation supplies from where they were stored at the quarry site, and uncovering the dike trench, we set to work digging (while one group member went to take photos for a photogrammetry project). Two of us worked on the digging itself, while the other two sifted the dirt. The recent rain had not only caused a lot of new plant growth in the arb — it also made the soil around the trench muddy and slippery, so we had to be careful at first as we descended the side (Another thing to be careful of, apparently, was the large spider sitting in the trench which frightened someone in our group before I removed it with a shovel). This week we were aiming for speed over finesse though, so we used large shovels and did not take as much care to note small changes in context as we were digging. The soil we were digging was quite thick and heavy, almost clay-like. As we sifted it, we were left with a lot of clumps of dirt, but no artifacts.
The heavy and densely-packed soil made the digging go slow, so we did not actually end up finishing the trench this lab, and had to leave the Wednesday group to finish up. However, we made it noticeably deeper — the trench started out shorter than me, at least, and by the end it was much taller than I was. While we did not discover anything of note which could help us learn more about the dike, we did make a lot of progress towards finally finishing this excavation.