Week 3 (Wednesday Lab)

The class preceding our lab was primarily focused on learning about relevant archaeological survey methods. Guest speaker Neil Slifka helped the students gain a better grasp of the material as it pertained to his job as Area Resource Specialist for the Minnesota State Parks and historical sites. We talked about various highly developed technologies like Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), AIRSAR, and LiDAR, and how these can help archaeologists survey terrain beneath a forest or jungle canopy. Compared to these highly developed technologies, we also examined the role of more basic and simple survey methods like using Google Earth’s satellite images and street view functionality. We finished class by going over field walking and other methods of on the ground survey techniques, with most attention being paid to the transect method as that would be the method used during our lab.

During Third Week, the Wednesday lab section of ARCN 246 experienced our first chance at field surveying as a team. Prior to arriving at our surveying location, our class went over a few important technical aspects of survey work. We went over the use of survey unit forms for important documentation, compasses, collection bags, and pink fly tape for marking the boundaries of survey units. We also assigned tasks and roles within each of the two survey teams, including serving as team leader, serving as mapper, handing out collection bags, and marking the edges of each survey unit.

Upon getting to the survey site, a field due east of Goodhue Residence Hall and the Recreation Center (Fig. 2), and we learned how to measure ten meters by counting our steps and lined up, ten meters apart, in order to walk transects of our teams’ survey units (Fig. 3). Each field surveyor walked about fifty meters in a straight line, using an online compass as a guide to maintaining a straight line bearing 270 degrees due west across the field. The two groups continued to walk their transects as the team leaders and mappers documented the conditions, geology, and topography of the scene, noting that the site used to be used for agricultural purposes and was now a grassy field with approximately 50% visibility of the ground. Because of the rain that day, team leaders noted the overcast weather conditions and the added difficulties of the light and mud in detecting artifacts on the surface of the ground. Team leaders also handed out collection bags and collected them again at the end of each survey (Fig. 4).

During our hour in the field, each group was able to walk through two survey units. We were forced to stop early and walk through the second set of transects rather quickly because the rain became heavier over the course of the lab, and this made documentation and collection of objects more difficult as we progressed further out through the second survey unit, but this turned out alright as the general density of artifacts seemed to decrease the further the surveyors got from the path we started on. The densest region of the four survey units we worked through seemed to be the northwest corner of the field, where Team 1 began its first surveying in T1-01 (Fig. 2). Some members of the lab section discussed the possibility of an early farmhouse or other structure existing at that site at one point in time.

The units surveyed by Team 1 were 50m in length and 50m in width, with a surveyor located every 10m to maximize our chances of discovering artifacts (Fig. 1). The terrain appeared to be a cultivated field, which helped with ground visibility as there was not as much grass cover and no fallen leaves covering the ground. However, this help to visibility was counterbalanced by the rain which turned the ground into a sucking mud very quickly. Team 1 found quite a lot of tile and brick in T1-01, with a total of 66 individual bits of tile/brick and 81 individual bits of concrete, this incredibly high density of building material suggests the presence of some man-made structure in our survey unit 1. The rest of the finds appear more predictable, with only 5 bits of ceramic found (these were all piled together and found by one surveyor), 23 bits of metal (spread out more evenly between the surveyors), 32 bits of plastic, 20 bits of glass, and 9 objects that didn’t fall under any other category but were obviously manmade. Unfortunately, the survey of unit 2 was rushed by the increasing rain, and so we had to rush in order to avoid being soaked. But it appears that sector two had significantly less human artifacts, Hank found a rather large pile of bones, but we did not count them in our survey as they weren’t man-made objects and handling them was probably not sanitary. Total team 1 found one ceramic artifact, no tile/brick items, five bits of concrete, no metal artifacts, two plastic items, three bits of glass, and two items that did not fit into any other category (a baseball, and some rubber ball [possibly a stripped tennis ball]) (Fig. 8).

For Team 2’s 50x50m survey units, T2-01 and T2-02, which were located to the south of survey units T1-01 and T1-02, the most collected artifact class consisted of ceramics (Fig. 7). This team collected a total sum of 42 artifacts in the first survey unit, including 13 pieces of ceramic. One collector, Arya, found 6 pieces of ceramics within one transect. In addition to these pieces and other tiles, lithics, and plastics, our surveyors found other objects that did not fit in any category: a piece of a metal pipe and an aluminum can (Fig. 5). Like Team 1, Team 2 was rushed as we surveyed our second survey unit and collected significantly fewer artifacts. We collected 11 artifacts from this survey unit, with ceramics again being the most found class with 7 objects. This group also found 2 tiles, 1 plastic, and a baseball. It appears that this more southern part of the field was less artifact-dense, but our findings may also have been a result of the weather conditions and rushed documentation (Fig. 6, Fig. 9).

Over the course of this lab, Teams 1 and 2 learned how to measure transects, document the location and conditions of survey units, and deem which artifacts might be worthy of collection and further study. This being our first time working in the field, we learned more about both the technical work and documentation involved in field surveying as well as the difficulties that variable and uncontrollable conditions such as weather may cause for archaeologists in the field.



Fig. 1 – Team 1 survey units 1 and 2

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Fig. 2 – Surveyed field

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Fig. 3 – Discussing survey unit assignments and learning how to measure meters by counting steps


Fig. 4 – Artifact bags being distributedIMG_6517

Fig. 5 – Finding organic objects as well as man-made artifacts


Fig. 6 – Surveyors returning with bagged artifacts


Fig. 7 – Team 2 in survey unit 1

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Fig. 8 – Team 1 survey unit forms

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Fig. 9 – Team 2 survey unit forms