Week 3 (Tuesday Lab)

By Ilan and Aubrey


Our third Tuesday of ARCN 246 was largely dedicated to learning about and practicing the various types of archaeological surveys. In class, we discussed the benefits and limits of Google Maps and its street view feature as an archaeological survey tool. We further learned about various innovations in remote sensing technologies and techniques, including AIRSAR and the revolutionary role of LiDAR scanning on jungle archaeology in particular. This lesson was supplemented by guest speaker Neil Slifka, who discussed how these technologies have assisted in his job as Area Resource Specialist for the Minnesota state parks and historical sites. Our class ended with a brief summary of the different survey types, with special attention paid to fieldwalking techniques, as that would constitute the bulk of our lab period.


The lab itself began in the classroom, where we were introduced to some of the equipment that we would be expected to use in the field (Fig. 1). These included survey forms, compassess, and sample bags. We also selected the area that we planned to survey, a relatively flat grassy area in the Upper Arboretum that would be a good spot for beginners to conduct their first field survey. Unfortunately, when we arrived the Arb crew was in the middle of a controlled burn there, so we instead traveled to the second location marked for the lab: a section of the Lower Arb that consisted of a similar grassy space and a more densely forested gully, the two areas separated from one another by a trail.


Upon arriving at our new site, the lab group split into two teams, one for each side of the trail. We walked along 10 meters of a measuring tape, counting how many steps it took to go from one end to the other. By doing so, we learned how to measure distance with our steps, a skill important to maintaining equal distance from other field walkers while surveying. We also learned how to take our bearing using our cell phones as more readily available alternatives to traditional compasses.


Team 1 was tasked with surveying the “cleaner” side of the trail, which was characterized by low shrubbery and a relatively flat topography. Six group members assumed roles as surveyors, pacing themselves out five meters from one another, using the step counts we had established by walking along the measuring tape (Fig. 2). The two team members at farthest left and farthest right marked the two corners with hot pink fly paper, and set our bearing for 250°, in order to ensure parallel orientation. The final two members, who weren’t actively surveying, acted as team leader (i.e. recorded the finds, sketched the survey units in relation to one another, and established which new plots to survey) and mapper (took photos of the hot pink flags in order to establish geographical coordinates) (Fig. 3). Our team moved through three survey units in the half hour we had! We flagged the corners of each unit to produce the surveyed area seen below (Group 1’s units are named as T1).

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Map of survey units via Google Earth.

Despite our wide breadth, we found no evidence of material culture— not one thing. Our group started to feel a little demoralized in the absence of the thrill of discovery, but, luckily, Team 2 struck gold. Team 1 still learned a great deal about the survey process, and we were importantly reminded that archaeology is as much about the process as the end results.


In contrast to Team 1, Team 2 only completed a single survey unit, identified as T2-01 (seen on the map above)— but found a much larger record of material culture. We set our bearing as 270° and set about lining up to begin the survey, marking the corners of the survey unit with pink tape as Team 1 had. It was nearly impossible to line up evenly on the uneven and obstacle-ridden ground, so we used the tape measure to space ourselves along the line (Fig. 4). Though it was clear that this would be a difficult unit to survey, it was also evident that it would bring rich rewards— the area was strewn with artifacts, largely consisting of heavily rusted tin cans, glass fragments, and shards of ceramic material. One team member reported counting metal and glass objects in their hundreds. Though in the end we were only able to complete a single survey unit, we collected 29 artifacts (Fig. 5) and counted several hundred others. The rich array of discoveries made in this challenging area not only gave us a better understanding of the types of locations where people dispose of their garbage, but also served as a reminder that formidable sites are often worth the effort spent investigating them.


In total, the most commonly observed materials were glass, metal, and ceramic. The greatest concentration of objects was within the second transect from the road, suggesting that they were deposited from the trail, likely tossed towards the woods in order to keep the path clear. Metal objects, including old cans, a sheet of wire mesh, and pieces of rain gutter, were found by all five surveyors. This could be due to several things. First, it is possible that they were thrown further from the road initially. Another possibility is that those objects, either due to being lighter or being deposited earlier than the other materials, have been further moved from their original location. If this were the case, however, it is likely that plastic objects would have also been found across the transects, rather than just in the first one.


On the whole, this lab was informative to both groups, giving us a taste of real fieldwork after our readings and discussions about it. We learned that engaging in the process of surveying is sometimes challenging but well worth the rewards, even if that reward is experience alone. We also had a lot of fun, and are looking forward to applying what we have learned to our main project for this class.



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Fig. 1: Alex discussing some of the materials for Tuesday lab, before we left for the field.

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Fig. 2: Team 1 pacing out and establishing our survey line!

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Fig. 3: Jaylin and Aaron flagging survey unit corners and taking photos in order to save the GPS coordinates.

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Fig. 4: Julianne using the measuring tape for accurate spacing.

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Fig. 5: Wendy with some finds!

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Fig. 6: Team 1 survey record sheet.

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Fig. 7: Team 2 survey record sheet.