Week 3 – Unit C

Alex and Jerica discuss their mapping plan.

Alex and Jerica discuss their mapping plan.

As the team continues to make progress in our work, I think it is safe to say that we have faced a few challenges along the way. This week in particular, the heat and humidity have intensified. I, personally, am not used to this kind of physical work. I have felt my body getting tired quicker as the summer weather settles in. One of the advantages that we have is that we have tents to keep us shaded for most part of the day. Not every archaeologist is lucky enough to have a tent to shade them from the sun. So this increases my respects for archaeologists even more.

My favorite part of this week was sketching the north wall of Unit C. It took me some time to get it right but the process taught me that, in this field, it is very important to pay attention to detail. Mapping requires a lot of concentration in order to get all the details right. It is also important to be a team player. My field school partner, Alex, has been a great team player and, in my opinion, we have been able to get a lot of work done in the couple of days that we work together. Mapping the wall would have been so much harder had it not been for Alex’s help.

Alex and Jerica discussing mapping the north wall.

Alex and Jerica discussing mapping the north wall.

Another one of my favorites is doing the Munsell Test. Finding the right color of the soil has been challenging as well, but it makes me want to keep trying until I can match the color to the right shade. I think this is one of the coolest steps when finishing a level of our unit. I actually went online and took a Munsell Hue Test to sharpen my skills. I was surprised to have scored a 7. So here is the link for those who are interested in taking the test and finding out how sharp your color vision is http://www.colormunki.com/game/huetest_kiosk .

Even though Unit C had an exciting start, we found ourselves screening buckets worth of clay, really nice rocks, and some more rusty nails. So it was decided to close the unit and move on to Unit D. The day Unit D was excavated, the field crew found a bone that could be from a cow. So, as we head into week 4, I am looking forward to making more intriguing discoveries and continuing this journey.

Jerica measures a depth on the north wall.

Jerica measures a depth on the north wall.

I think that my least favorite part is taking notes. I have always been a visual and hands-on learner. When I’m shovel skimming or sketching, I get “in the zone.” So, stopping to take notes of measurements or of what we just did, can be a little tedious for me. But I think that everyone has a favorite and least favorite thing about their job. All in all, the field school has been an awesome learning experience for me.

This is it for now. Until next time, fellow readers.

CAP Field School: Week Two

After a week of digging around tree roots and finding nothing but nails, Cooper and I began to find some interesting things in Unit B. One of those things happened to be a lot more nails. Underneath a layer of clay, there was a layer of darker soil that consisted almost entirely of nails. This was interesting because although we had found many nails before this, we had never seen so many in one area. This only occurred within a small layer of dark soil and not many nails were found in the subsequent layers of soil. There were so many nails that it looked like a whole bag of nails was dropped. We aren’t quite sure yet why there was a layer of nails but perhaps, with further excavation we can gain more information.

Unit B South Wall.

Unit B South Wall.

Clip from Unit B.

Clip from Unit B.

Around that layer of nails, we also found a few metal artifacts that were interesting. We found a wheel and what appears to be a door stopper in our first level which was exciting since these were the first artifacts we found that weren’t nails. Although we didn’t find nearly as much in our second level, we did find a metal clip and what looks to be a coin or button. Both artifacts were quite corroded so it was hard to tell figure out exactly what they were. Hopefully after some time in the lab, we can gain more information on these artifacts.

Disc - possibly a button or small coin. Hopefully cleaning it up in the lab will tell us more!

Disc – possibly a button or small coin. Hopefully cleaning it up in the lab will tell us more!

I won’t lie, excavating our unit has been very frustrating at times. Our unit was at a weird angle and had countless tree roots, large and small, that made it very difficult to dig. It took us over a week just to finish our first level, but I’ve learned that’s archaeology. By having to deal with these difficulties, I’ve learned that archaeology isn’t easy because the dirt doesn’t care if you want to have a nice clean, square unit. We had to take our time, be patient, and always have root clippers handy. It was frustrating sometimes to see other units finishing levels but I think having to deal with these additional difficulties has made my experience more useful. Without encountering these difficulties early on, a young archaeologist may have an idealistic idea of archaeology and subsequently, unable to deal with challenges at a time when the stakes are higher. I’m glad that I can encounter some of these challenges during this learning experience because that will make me better prepared for the future. After finishing our first level, which took over a week, we finished our second level in just over a day. As we start our third level our unit looks completely different than it did a week ago because the large roots along our west wall that have characterized our unit have been removed. I was relieved at first because it will make everything much easier, but, in a way, I’ll miss the roots because I’ll miss the challenge. However, we still have a long way to go and undoubtedly many challenges to face. I can’t wait to see what other challenges lie ahead!

Week 2

Unit B South Wall.

Unit B South Wall

Once we got below the dark layer that contained the bed of nails, we were no longer finding them as consistently.  It was quite a quick change from finding up to 10 nails in one screening to finding none.  The thin layer can be seen on the walls in between two layers of similar soil, so we think that someone could have spilled all those nails or dumped them there.  Today IPF came out and to help us with the roots in the southwest corner and west wall.  The roots were slowing us down because of having to dig around them, so they came and cut out them with a chainsaw.  This allowed us to fix up the walls and corners that we were having problems keeping them straight because we were unable to get completely under the root to clear our the dirt.

Clip from Unit B.

Clip from Unit B.

Although we were no longer finding nails every bucket, we were still finding new artifacts.  I found a clip of some kind, which at first I thought could also be a part of a zipper, although the piece inside seems to go along with it being a clip.  Desiree found a broken piece of glass as well, we at first thought it was melted, but after talking with Professor Goldstein, we think it could be a piece of a bigger glass object.  We found a round metal object, which we at first thought was a coin, probably a dime by the size, but it seems almost too light, so until we clean it we will be unable to determine if it is because of erosion or if it is not even a coin at all.  Another artifact we found was a type of wheel that seemed too small to be for a modern desk chair, which could have been on the bottom of a cart or some kind.

Jerica and Alex are finishing up another level, before they might call their unit sterile and move to the new one, Unit D, which was dug out of the west wall near Unit A thanks to the help of Campus Archaeology field crew.  Josh and Kayleigh are getting closer to finishing the excavation of their feature, which seems to be a pit where someone may have dumped the remnants of a fire along with some bricks and pieces of broken ones.

Disc - possibly a button or small coin. Hopefully cleaning it up in the lab will tell us more!

Disc – possibly a button or small coin. Hopefully cleaning it up in the lab will tell us more!

This week has been really hot, yesterday was not so bad because of the breeze, but this morning the humidity was pretty high and there was no breeze so everyone made sure to drink lots of water and to try and stay in the shade.  Tomorrow is supposed to be just as hot, but we will not that stop us from getting the next level done.  We have the guide holes all dug out, just need to shovel skim the level down another 10 centimeters.

 

 

The Closing of One Unit and the Opening of Another

Unit C is done!

…Well, mostly done, anyway.

After four ten-centimeter levels, a good ten or so probe tests, and our final two levels only producing about seven nails and two tiny glass shards its been determined that unit C is now sterile (that means we’ve gone through all the cultural material and it’s just undisturbed sand now). So now we’re going to be finishing up our final tasks for this last level and the things we need to do to close a unit before we’ll be switching to a new unit, unit D, on the far side of units A and B from where we are now.

Field crew clearing overburden over future unit D

Field crew clearing overburden over future unit D. Photo courtesy of MSU CAP Twitter

Some of our final tasks for closing the unit involve cleaning up the floor of any loose dirt one more time and giving our North and West walls a very thorough clean (trimming roots, making sure it is as smooth and vertical as possible, etc) so we can take pictures and make profile maps of the stratigraphy of the walls.

Closing a unit also often includes back-filling the opening but we won’t be doing that this time. IPF has been kind enough to offer to back-fill the entire site when we’re finished since there are so few of us on such a short project and such a large area needs to be backfilled. Since the placement of unit C is conveniently close to the other units we will screening into it instead once it’s finished. This means that the excess dirt that would just go to the back-fill piles for IPF to deal with (after we’ve carefully removed any artifacts) will fall into the unit itself instead which should make a little less work for the back-filling crew. It also means that we won’t be carrying buckets of dirt up and down the stairs around the edges of the excavations to the screens which should make screening the dirt a little faster (not to mention easier in this heat we’ve been having).

It’s only been about two weeks but closing unit C still seems a little bitter sweet. The new unit should be inside the actual Station Terrace building, based on what was found during last year’s excavations, and should hopefully have a greater wealth of information for us to find, after all, the field crew found a really cool cow scapula just while removing the three feet of overburden to bring it down to the same level as the rest of the site.

Our first large cut bone – found in new unit overburden- most likely cow scapula. Image courtesy of MSU Campus Archaeology Twitter

 

On the other hand, unit C has been Jerica and I’s primary focus since the beginning and to leave behind the very visible progress we’ve made for a whole, untouched (apart from when the field crew removed the majority of the overburden) unit seems like a bit of a set back but it should be fun nonetheless and with the amount of trouble we had getting to grips with the way the unit borders need to be laid out initially, I’m sure it will be helpful for us to get to go through the process of setting the unit up from start to finish again (hopefully in fewer than five tries this time).

 

CAP 2017: Week 3

Hot Weather and New finds.

This past week has had the most unbearable weather so far, but overall, the learning process at CAP 2017 Field School is still continuing! Although I probably differ from my peers, I find that the most difficult thing about this project is not dealing with the weather and the environment, but learning new processes, such as mapping, can be the most time-consuming. However, once the process is learned, future applications of that process tends to be done smoothly and more quickly.

As my “squadmate”, Kaleigh Perry, noted in her most recent blog, much of our time at the end of last week and this week has been spent excavating the Field School’s first feature, Fea 1A. We are almost done with that and we will then move onto the next layer. Oh joy! A quick summary of the feature is that it contains a gigantic amount of cultural deposits, such as coal and nails, and the high frequency of roots that pass the feature could indicate that the deposit was filled in slowly and naturally over time.

Knob and Tube Wiring

However, besides talking about the current state of the field school, I also wanted to discuss one of our more notable finds, which was the ceramic tube found in our unit’s first layer. Knob and tube wiring was used in “old school” electrical wiring in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, but more specifically, the tubes were used to pass wires safely though beams, such as wood, to avoid electrical and thermal damage to the surroundings (Myers 2010).

Thomas ceramic insulator from Unit A.

Thomas ceramic insulator from Unit A.

At the digestion of this sweet and tasty (and very simple) knowledge, most people may think, “Cool. You found a nasty old ceramic tube used in outdated electrical wiring.” Although they are partially right, they would be missing the real meat of the knowledge sandwich, which is that you can use the ceramic tube to date an area! Ceramic tubes followed specific styles of their time, and not only that, but they also contained makers’ marks as well, both of which can be cross-referenced to give an idea as to what time period the tube, and potentially, a building, came from (Myers 2010).

And this, right here, what I just told you about dating, is one of the reasons why archaeology and anthropology is so important. Everyday items used by populations in the past can provide us with a massive insight as to what those people were doing and also when they were doing it. Thousands of years into the future, future societies could be able to date areas or buildings by which iteration of an Apple I-phones are in an area. So, the same dating processes that work in the past and present will always stand the passage of time, and will always aid archaeologist in uncovering what shenanigans people in the past were engaged in.

 

References

Adrian Myers. “Telling Time for the Electrified: An Introduction to Porcelain Insulators and the Electrification of the American Home” Society for Historical Archaeology Technical Briefs in Historical Archaeology 5 (2010): 31-42.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/adrianmyers/4

Feature 1

After two weeks into the field school, my “squad mate,” Josh Eads, and I finished the second level of our unit. After the floor was leveled, and all the loose dirt was cleared away, we noticed something peculiar about this level: there is a large black rectangle that starts at the northern wall of our unit and extends 108 centimeters southward into the middle of the unit. This unusual area has been designated as Feature 1, or FEA 1. Unlike an artifact, which is considered to be portable, a feature is a non-portable object or area – such a as a wall, a pit, or our interesting black rectangle – that represents a past human activity.

Unit A Base of Level 2 - feature is the dark rectangle in the top part of unit.

Unit A Base of Level 2 – feature is the dark rectangle in the top part of unit.

On Friday (6/9/17), Josh and I began excavating the eastern half of the feature and finished clearing it out on Monday (6/12/17). Our goal here was to find the boundaries of the feature — to determine how deep it was and how far east it stretched. We left the western half of the feature undisturbed so we could examine any stratigraphy (changes in soil type, color, or texture) that may be present, and perhaps use a different technique to further analyze the feature. Excavating this half of the feature proved to be exceedingly time-consuming. It goes without saying that since we wanted to determine the exact shape of the feature, we had to be extremely careful while looking for the diagnostic change in soil color that told us where the feature ended. Finding the eastern boundary of the feature was rather simple, but determining its depth was much more difficult. After nearly four hours of fighting tree roots, clumps of an unknown burnt substance, and large chunks of coal, I finally started to reach the bottom of the northern half of the rectangle. Rather than a simple flat floor, the floor of this area gradually slopes inward from the eastern wall of the feature. After some interesting attempts at finding the best place to sit while excavating this awkward slope, I was finally able to reach the lowest point of this fascinating feature, which turned out to be at a depth of 34 centimeters. Josh also had to fight tree roots and coal while excavating the southern half of the feature. He was able to determine that the floor in this area was relatively flat and had a depth of about 30 centimeters.

Base of FEA 1A - the eastern half of feature 1.

Base of FEA 1A – the eastern half of feature 1.

Even though excavating the entire eastern half of this feature took up the bulk of our day, Josh and I also carefully screened the soil we removed from the pit. We found quite a few rusty nails, some of which were bent at a near right angle, some large pieces of glass, a couple of paper clips, and a sizeable amount of an unknown burnt substance — possibly clay or plaster. But the most substantial amount of material found was burnt coal. It was not burned to the point where it had become charcoal; it was more like lightweight, brittle chunks of carbon. While shovel skimming both the first and second layers of our unit, we found a large amount of coal, both burnt and not burnt. However, FEA 1 is primarily composed of the substance — it is essentially a deposit of used coal. Needless to say, our hands had a nice black hue to them by the end of the day.

The significant amount of used coal in the feature led Josh and I to hypothesize about what this feature was. We believe it may have been the location of a furnace or chimney. Another classmate, Cooper Duda, suggested that the feature could even represent the location of an old fireplace. All of these theories could also explain why we recovered so many nails — old pieces of wood containing the nails might have possibly been disposed of by being placed in an incinerator located in this area. However, we need to investigate the feature a little further before we can draw any definitive conclusions about it.

Although excavating this feature is taking such a long time, I am enjoying the task since it is giving us the chance to explore something a little more specific about Station Terrace.

Reflections on two weeks of field school

Campus Archaeology Program (CAP) has been one of the most exciting and engaging learning experiences I have ever had. We are still on Week 2, but I feel like I have learned a lot through this field school. I have always been a visual and physical learner. So, in a way, this has been perfect for me. I cannot say that it has been easy, but it has been pretty great.

Dr. Goldstein explains how to lay out a perfect 2m x 2m grid for an excavation unit.

Dr. Goldstein explains how to lay out a perfect 2m x 2m grid for an excavation unit.

One of the main things that I have struggled with since choosing Anthropology as my major is deciding what to do with this degree and where to find opportunities to gain experience that will prepare me for life after graduation. As I looked for opportunities, one of my anthropology professors encouraged me to participate in CAP. I never imagined myself getting my hands dirty and digging in the dirt.  I have always been an indoors person and this experience has pushed me to step out of my comfort zone.  It takes a lot of determination and perseverance to do this job, and knowing that there will be days when we will not find anything. Having said that, I have really come to appreciate the arduous effort that it takes to be a good archaeologist.

Well, it is almost the end of week 2 and I am glad I signed up for this. Through this experience, I have learned to pay close attention to detail. Everything that is part of the environment  influences everything around it. That helps us understand how everything affects its surroundings and how we can interpret it. I have also learned to be meticulous when screening dirt. Even though most of the buckets of dirt that I have screened are made up of rocks and clay, I have been able to find rusty, old nails, a couple pieces of ceramic, and a couple pieces of glass. Sure, I am still hoping to find some type of cool bone, but any finding that can reveal a piece of history from the past is also great. One of the main things is to be gentle with the shovel and trowel. We never know what is hiding in the dirt 1 cm below the surface. So being careful is important so that, in the case that something valuable is hiding there, we can avoid damaging it.

An essential aspect of this field school is team work. Being able to work with a colleague and communicate with them is key. The work everyone does is equally significant to the success of the excavation. I am happy to say that all of the students participating of CAP this year work so well together. Even though we did not know each other prior to the field school, we now have this common experience that links us together and makes us the 2017 CAP family.

Thank you, everyone, for reading our blogs. I look forward to sharing more of my experience in CAP next week.

CAP Field School: Week One

Desiree excavating in her unit.

Desiree excavating in her unit.

The first week of the 2017 field school has quickly passed and, although my unit hasn’t found much of anything yet, I have learned so much. I’ve learned how to shovel skim, measure elevation,and dig guide holes. I’ve learned that archaeology takes patience from the many tree roots in our unit that have made things a little difficult. Most importantly, however, I’ve learned that I definitely want to be an archaeologist.

Coming into this field school I was a little scared that after getting hands on experience, I wouldn’t like archaeology. Although I’ve taken many archaeology classes, I wasn’t quite sure that I would like digging all day in the sun. Many past classes have strengthened my love for anthropology and have confirmed that I would like to be an anthropologist but this field school has been my first opportunity to apply those skills.  After just one week, however, I know that this is definitely the field for me. Even though our unit has had some difficulties getting around tree roots and finding anything but nails, I am having so much fun. Of course I hope that I eventually find something cool, but despite that I’ve still had a lot of fun and learned a lot.

Finishing up Level 1

Cooper excavating in Unit B.

Cooper excavating in Unit B.

We began with setting up our units after clearing the top layer of the entire surface.  We had some big roots in the northwest and southwest corners that we had to dig around to get the guide corners to the correct depths.  There was a layer of clay that had to be worked through while shovel skimming to get our first level even with the guide holes.

We found many rusty nails, at first they seemed randomly spread out in our unit, but once we got down a little deeper with shovel skimming the nails seem to be concentrated on the western side of our unit.  The western side has darker soil than the east, which has a layer of clay that goes deeper than the other, with the difference running almost down the middle of our unit.  We also found some pieces of broken glass in the western side.

After having gone down the first 10 centimeters below the line level line, Dr. Goldstein decided that the first level was still too shallow due to the natural slope.  We needed to go down an extra 10 centimeters in our guide holes in order to make sure the first level was even.  After working through roots and clay, we have gotten our first level almost all the way down to the correct depth and kept it level, so tomorrow we should be able to finish it up.

Campus Archaeology: Week One.

Week One: First Impressions, Dirty Digging, and Tired Bodies.

Josh & Kaleigh dig a guide hole in their unit.

Josh & Kaleigh dig a guide hole in their unit.

Well, it’s Tuesday, June 6. After Completing week one and working towards defeating week two, I can safely say that working for the field school has been pretty great so far. We started off our excavation by setting up a 2 meter x 2 meter guideline. Then, we dug guide holes into each corner of our unit and also in the center, which was supposed to be approximately 10cm down. After that, we shovel-skimmed the surface until we were 10cm down into the unit. Of course, this process has had its complications, but at the end of the first week me and fellow squad mate, Kaleigh Perry, have completed the first level.

Level 1 Artifacts/Debris.

Although we have not dug deep beneath the surface of the Earth, we have found plenty of items. The most common objects are nails and shattered glass. It goes without saying that the nails we find are incredibly rusty and sometimes are almost unidentifiable. Also, coal is plentiful. From small chunks to big chunks, KP and I and the other classmates have found plenty of coal. Not every item we found has been a nail or piece of glass though. Some of the noticeably distinct items found have been a four-hole button, ceramic tubing for electrical wiring, some decorated glazed ceramic pieces, and a fragment of a Diamond Ink Co. bottle. More information on some of these items to come, but if you want to read about the ink bottle fragment, my more initiated partner, KP, wrote about it in her first blog post here.

Overall Observations.

With regards to the artifacts and debris we have found thus far, there have been some noticeable patterns. Firstly, much of the glass and nails have been found near the Station Terrace wall that runs along the West wall of our unit. The nails/glass being found mostly in this area supports the evidence that construction and deconstruction of a building has been performed in this area. If these items were found in similar numbers in other areas of our unit, it could suggest the presence of another wall or that the building covered the area, but that currently is not the case.

In addition to the pattern of nail and glass fragments, some soil patterns exist as well. Based off of a prior excavation, the wall should continue to run South, past the current spot where it ends, which is a meter down our West wall. However, the soil changes from a dark color to a much lighter and tan color once we reach the “end” of the wall in our unit. We aren’t sure what this means, but its presence with the placement of the wall may be of importance, and naturally has been written down in our handy-dandy field notes.

Conclusions

Overall, the entire process of excavating is methodological, systematic, and most importantly, it’s a learning process. We are all new to the game and are learning a massive amount of this process, and even though my body is tired and I have a terrible sunburn on my hairline, I love putting my trowel into the ground and gettin’ dirty.