The End of Our Semester

The last few days we have been traveling around to different significant archaeological sites in Northern Michigan. Our first stop was the petroglyphs in Sanilac. These rock carvings are culturally historic to the Chippewa people in Michigan, who still come annually to perform a cleansing ceremony. Unfortunately, many of the carvings have faded or disappeared because of visitors touching the rock and natural weathering processes. To combat this, the carvings have been surrounded with fences as well as covered with a pavilion style covering. Unfortunately, the disintegration of the carvings is still occurring and talks of how to preserve this unique archaeological feature of Michigan (the Sanilac petroglyphs are the only ones known located in Michigan). On the second day of our trip we visited the Shipwreck Museum in Thunder Bay. This was a great experience for us students because we got to experience a completely different variety of archaeology–maritime. On the final day (today) we travelled to historic Fort Michilimackinac. This portion of the trip was quite interesting  because we were able to see a lot of the behind the scenes processes regarding the artifacts discovered within the fort. (It was also great to see where one of our professors does archaeological her archaeological work!)

It was a great experience to see these archaeological sites regardless, but it was even greater to be able to experience them with with my classmates. I’m sure it has been discussed before, but the amount of teamwork which goes into archaeology is astounding. Through this course, we have all become extremely close as a team and, as a result, have become a posse of great friends. The research and fieldwork gave us the basics of the team mentality, but it was the trips–the driving for hours on end, late night homework sessions, and the early mornings–that truly created bonds which will last quite a while.

The group of people who began this class were, for the most part, a group of eleven strangers. What we ultimately ended up with was a team of eleven individuals who can work together to accomplish most anything–what I am quite sure is similar to a true archaeological team.                                                   image image

The Guardians Of The Sanilac Petroglyphs Struggle To Conserve And Preserve Their Continued Existance.

Our class had the rare honor of visiting the Sanilac Petroglyphs today.   We were excited and wondering where our guide was because no park employee was there to greet us.   We were soon informed the park thought we were visiting tomorrow,so we had to wait about forty-five minutes for an employee.   We also walked the park’s trails for another forty-five minutes.   Visitors are NOT permitted to view the petroglyphs without a park employee present.   They (Sanilac Petroglyphs) have been at the mercy of vandals, erosion, animal activity, and plant activity.   This is especially true due to the petroglyphs being inscribed into a Marshall sandstone of 40 feet by 15 feet. Sandstone is in fact a stone made of sand. Not very durable as let’s say limestone or granite.   The engravings are less defined now than they were one-hundred years ago.   A structure, which looks similar to a house without walls complimented by a tall locked fence, protects the petroglyphs from damage.   There are petroglyphs of human hands, human figures, animals, animal tracks, and spirals.   The Sanilac Petroglyphs are located near the Cass River of Sanilac County, Michigan.   They are many centuries in age.   Maybe even thousands of years.   Their exact meaning remains unknown,but they hold great significance to Michigan and Michiganians.

Sanilac Petroglyphs

Today, we went to the Sanilac Petroglyphs in Cass City, Michigan.  Petroglyphs are carving or line drawings on rock.  These petroglyphs are thought to be left by the Chippewa Indians.  Unfortunately, we will never know the exact meaning of these symbols.  

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These symbols are not permanent, even though they are carved in rock.  There are many factors that have been affecting the symbols to change over time.  First, there have been many people who have drawn graffiti on the rock.  For security, the stone is contained in a fenced in area that is locked at all times.  Unfortunately, people still find ways to get inside the area without permission.  Another factor is the natural weathering of the stone by rain, snow, and many other natural causes.  Right now, they are talking with the Chippewa Indians to determine what is best for the stone and the symbols it contains.  

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We also learned of some of the different things that the Indians do with the rock.  One thing we learned was that they leave prayer bags filled with tobacco tied to the fence.  Also, kids from the community come and leave prayer ribbons on the fence to show their appreciation for the petroglyphs.  

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On the Last Day

It is a melancholy feeling knowing that the excavation of Old Main has come to a halt for now. 

Over the last three weeks our team has vigorously worked to uncover the remains of Alma College’s first academic building. We have found many artifacts, Eco facts, and even some features we did not expect. Some days have been rainy and others sunny, but every day has been different and interesting. 

Today we held a service learning project that was intended to teach the community of Alma what archaeology is all about. Overall the project went well and many people arrived , showing that there is a strong presence of historical importance in the minds of the Almanian community.

Though many community memebers had not been trained to excavate they all came enthusiastic and ready to learn. With the help of the community our team uncovered many new artifacts and discovered more about the history that has been hiding directly under our feet.

Our team sends a thanks to everyone who lent a helping hand. With all of your support we have been able to observe a culture that could not have been observed any other way. We look forward to work with you all in the future!

 

Thank you,

From the Old Main Excavation Team

 

 

The End of Old Main…Kind of

Holy cow! Today was a tornado between finishing all of the units and trying to finish as many artifact catalogues as we could. Not everything got done, though, so tomorrow some of us are going in to finish as much as we can. The weather worked out rather well except for it spitting on us around 2:30 PM.

Little did I expect this much stress for the end of the dig; this may be due to the fact that we started a unit yesterday afternoon and got to level 2 by the end of today. A big thank you again to the many of you who helped us finish our unit, it literally wouldn’t have gotten done without you.

Now we just have level 2 artifacts to clean and then we will have a fair amount of results for our site reports. Along with that and social media, this next week will still be academic even with three days of travel and museums. It’ll be fun though, especially given how much all of us have bonded it seems. I’m rather surprised but thats what we get with having a small, hands-on course.

All in all, it was a good work day looking back but I’m still stressed through the ceiling. It’ll go away after a warm shower!

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Features

Today we finished excavating our third stratum level in our unit.  Because of the few artifacts that we were yielding from this level, my partners and I thought we might be done with this unit and wouldn’t find anything more of interest to us.  We guessed it was just like our previous unit, where after three levels, we weren’t finding anything but a lot of rocks.  When we took the picture for the bottom of this level, our professors noticed that we had a feature.  A feature is remains that cannot be removed from the unit.  Usually when you find a feature, you excavate it separately from all your other dirt in the unit.    Image

By looking at the picture, you can see that our feature was a straight line of darker dirt going diagonally across our unit.  Initially, we didn’t think much of it, but we decided to continue to dig that part of our unit separately.  We excavated down about 4 inches when we found a pipe going across our unit in the exact same direction as our feature.

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The pipe was an old abandoned irrigation pipe that was possibly from the 1980s and was made of black plastic.  One thing I learned today is that even when your unit isn’t yielding many artifacts, it doesn’t mean that your unit can’t offer any more valuable information.  I also learned that by excavating a feature separately, you can discover a lot more information than you would if you excavated the entire unit together.  Also, features can tell you a lot about your unit and may help you uncover artifacts or tell you a little bit about your unit’s past. 

Rain Cannot Stop Us

May 15, 2014

 

Despite the fact that everyday has the same amount of hours in it some days may seem longer than others. The first hour of the day was spent in preparation for the service learning project we are hosting on Saturday, May 16. 

Due to the rain we were unable to excavate at the Old Main dig site until after 10:00am. Upon arrival at the site each group cleaned their site and began excavation. Multiple teams finished their first excavation unit today and began opening new units in areas we expect to be promising,

After breaking for lunch our dig was brought to a halt due to the poor weather conditions, but in archaeology not being able to dig means the opportunity to wash and catalog artifacts. The next 4 hours of the day were spent in the lab cleaning and cataloging the artifacts we had already found. 

 

Artifact Discovery

The past few days have been very flexible due to the weather changing in just a matter of moments, but yesterday was a great day for getting pretty far for a lot of the groups, and giving time for some to even open a brand new digging square! Our group found a lot of good stuff yesterday, and the weather was good enough for us to get a lot of our work done. We completed our second level of digging, putting us about 8 inches down into the ground. We came across an almost whole brick, that was partly burnt on one side, a good hint that it was a part of Old Main. We still have our feature of charcoal, seen in the picture as the large mountain, that has been like that since the first day of digging. We hope to excavate piece by piece to take into a flotation, which means adding water and shaking through a system to find all the smaller pieces that a regular sifter couldn’t find. But since the weather has been a little iffy lately, there hasn’t been a chance for us to do so. We also found a few more pieces of glass, different from the pieces we had earlier found that were curved and had a slight letter etched on it. It was so interesting to find the large brick, because that gave us hope that we were digging in the right area. We have also found a lot of cement/concrete pieces, sizing from small pebbles to large pieces that could range in a few inches long and in width. We have a running joke in our group, that we have found so much cement that we could put the backstairs back together when we’re all done. We have found more larger pieces as we dig deeper so that may give us reason to keep going too. Further on in the day, in the opposite corner of the brick, my partner found a piece of wood that ranged in four inches in both width and length. It was an exciting find, we hope its from a piece of lumber that helped build Old Main, or as some other students said it could be from a beam that held up the building’s roof. Either way, it was exciting to find such an intact piece of wood because in the beginning of this excavation, the hope of finding wood was low because of the many decades of decomposition in the ground the pieces would have. It was very fragile to get out of the ground, but with the impending rainstorm last night it was important we got the piece out before rain came down and damaged the already fragile wood.

 

Today we had a few finds, but due to the cold/wet weather it was hard to uncover more, and when the rain started to fall in the afternoon we all headed inside to the Lab to continue bagging and tagging our already found artifacts to finish before our community day of Saturday! It was a great few days all in all! Image

Finishing a Unit

When a unit doesn’t yield many artifacts, it is time to begin a new unit and try to find artifacts in other locations.  When my group got to stratum level 2 of our first unit, we stopped finding as many artifacts and began finding only small pieces of brick and charcoal.  We decided to excavate one more stratum level to be sure that there were not any more artifacts that our unit was still hiding.  Once we finished stratum level 3, the dirt was mostly clay, hard to get through, and was very unpromising.  Before finishing stratum level 3, my partners would get excited just to find a rock.  At that point, we decided that starting a new unit was the best thing we could do. Before finishing a unit, you have to create a profile map of all the layers of the unit. It is interesting to see the differences of the soil’s textures and colors by just going down a few inches. Also before finishing a unit, it is important to probe in a few places within your unit to make sure that there aren’t more artifacts hidden under the soil that you have not yet uncovered. To do this, you use a probe to dig into the dirt layers at a time to determine whether there is anything more to find.

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Probing a Unit

If you find something within the probe that is useful, then you continue to dig in your unit. If you do not find anything, then you move onto a new unit. When we probed our unit, we did not find anything but clay, so we were able to start a new unit. Thankfully our new unit is yielding many more artifacts than our first unit, such as a bone, nails, a wire, brick, glass, an iron piece, and a small green handle.

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