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.