Week 2 (Tuesday Lab)

On Tuesday April 9th, the class went over logistics for the field trip, weekly summaries and fieldwork journals as well as material culture and garbology information during the regular class period. During this time, we discussed some of the surprising insights we found when examining our own waste, and what the changing nature of American trash disposal will mean for future archaeological finds.

Midway through the class period, we visited the Carleton archives on the first floor of the Gould Library, where we met Nat Wilson, the digital archivist at Carleton. Nat Wilson presented information about archives and research techniques and encouraged us to look through materials relating to the Northfield Women’s League, the subject of a previous Archaeological Methods class project in the 2015 field season. We were able to examine photographs and documents taken at the Woman’s League Cabin, and learned some strategies to identify and analyze these documents, and key questions we should always be asking ourselves when interacting with historical documents: what does the person who produced these materials want to show, and what should we be looking for?

During the lab period, the Tuesday Lab group rode over to the Rice County Historical Society in Faribault. We met with Susan Garwood, the executive director of the Historical Society, to discuss some of the current collections. She started the presentation by referencing a map of the surrounding Faribault area to talk about the local geological and environmental history. She gave detailed explanations of how the glacial activity, and the stagnant nature of many of the ice shelves during the period, shaped the geology of Rice County by forming a large number of lakes in the region, a defining feature of Minnesotan geography.

Both lakes and rivers are important features for understanding the history of human habitations in Southern Minnesota. Susan explained how lakes were the preferred places of habitation due to the often violent nature of larger rivers. This information is corroborated by the placement known archaeological sites in the region, the vast majority of which are located around a cluster of large lakes in Southwestern Rice County. However, the presence of materials may have been significantly impacted by the environmental factors, such as river flooding.

One notable piece of Faribault’s early history was the role Alexander Faribault played in aiding the local Wahpekute population. He sheltered around 200 Dakota people on his land during and after the Dakota War of 1862, a decision he made in part due to his family history in the fur trapping business. This community continued to play a large role in the shaping of Faribault’s history, as some of the few Dakota people in Minnesota who were not forced out of their ancestral lands by white settlers.

Susan also discussed with us some of the peculiarities of dealing with collections and material sources found by local(and often amateur) archaeologists. One more notable example of this are the bison discoveries found in Eastern Rice County– a region that, up until very recently, nobody thought bison had ever populated. However, donated  bison bones revealed six skeletons located near a river. When an archaeological team made it to the site later, they unearthed many more bones, all of which dated back thousands of years. None of the bones found displayed evidence of human activity, so it is unclear if the local peoples of the time hunted the bison or not. This find has exciting implications for the field of Minnesotan Prehistory, and further investigations are underway.

For the rest of the visit, our group was able to tour the Historical Society individually. Near the end of our stay, Susan pulled out boxes of historical documents to show us, including from the last hundred years, and we listened as she explained some of the intersection between written and material culture when documenting the history of a local area. One of the major takeaways we left with was the importance of saving things, and donating old documents and objects to local history centers whenever possible– you never know when your box of old newspapers or bison femurs could be the key to the next major discovery!