Field School Update: Weeks 3 & 4, let the games begin…

Field school students continue to excavate

After weeks of survey, getting used to working together,learning the note taking process, and getting to know the space, our field school students were ready to begin the next step of archaeological methods: opening up full scale excavation units. We opened up six units at in three spots to the west of Beaumont Tower in Week 2, and during weeks 3 and 4, students have learned all about the process of moving through an excavation unit.

There are a host of new skills that students need to learn when excavating a unit that are very different from Shovel Test Pits. Instead of digging straight down, students need to learn how to use their shovels and trowels to “scrape” and “clean” the surface of the 2 x 2 meter unit. This means that the dirt is excavated very carefully in very small increments. Units are taken down in levels following the changes in soil; each level has an extensive amount of paperwork, including measurements, artifact recording, mapping, and photographs. This can be a long and tedious process, and does not have the immediate rewards that STPs can often produce. Because of this, it took almost a week for most of the units to get down to depths where artifacts were found.

Some great artifacts have been found. Nicole has written about the first arrowhead ever foundarchaeologically on campus, Keenan has discussed the butchered cow bone, and Lindsay, Evan, and Chelsea have shared their thoughts on finding the pocket knife. Each discovery reenergizes the crew, and leads to even more exciting finds. We have a display case of some of our significant finds down at the site, so please visit!

Field school students work to clean a unit floor

It is becoming evident that we can make some interesting observations based on what we are finding. Layers of rubble found by Beaumont Tower has shown that the building of the Tower led to the almost complete destruction of the remains of College Hall and the Artillery Garage that stood on its foundations.  Plow scars found in units further west of Beaumont may be indications of some of the earliest moments at Michigan Agricultural College, when students and faculty had to remove the many trees and stumps that filled what is now known as the sacred space. Excavations along the slope leading to Sleepy Hollow suggest that the early students scattered ashes from their stoves, as well as deposited trash and garbage along the slope. All give a window into periods of our University’s earliest periods, and how different the lives of students, faculty, and staff would have been.

Students also spent their first day in the lab, working on cleaning and sorting the artifacts found in our STP survey. This process includes using household tools such as toothbrushes, colanders, and washtubs to scrub the century-old dirt off the artifacts. Often times, a great deal is revealed during this process: artifacts that were unidentifiable in the field become amazing discoveries when the grime is washed off, while other items thought to be artifacts turn out to be only rocks.

Students also had the good fortune of hearing a guest lecture by Professor Bill Lovis, a professor of anthropology and MSU Museum Curator, who discussed the importance of artifact collections and conservation. We also had a guest lecture by Duane Quates, an MSU Anthropology PhD student and an archaeologist at the Fort Drum Cultural Resources Program (read a post by Mike Millman about this lecture!), which has spearheaded the protection and preservation of cultural and archaeological resources in military zones. MSU Anthropology Graduate Student and TA Chris Stawski gave students a lecture on GIS and mapping, while they also had the opportunity to spend a rainy afternoon in the MSU Historical Archives and Collections, looking at old documents and photos.

As always, please check out the photos on our flickr page of the students excavating!

Author: Terry Brock

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