Archive | April 2015

The Journey Has Officially Begun

With the final week wrapping up, the class has learned multiple areas of archaeology and its processes. From measuring excavation units, to developing research questions, our class is well on their way to begin excavating the site of Old Main. With research questions locked and loaded, multiple groups are excited to see if they can discover something new about Old Main. For example, one of the research questions was “Were there any renovations done to Old Main before it burnt down”? We will have to figure out what kind of materials were used when Old Main was first built and if there were any new materials used before Old Main burnt down in 1969.We have learned the history of the building, including the departments that were inside of Old Main, as well as the amount of damage (in dollars) that was caused by the fire.

Before we dive into today’s activities that include: measuring our units, excavating, and gathering valuable information, we needed to spend some time on Thursday’s Archaeology Olympics. We were asked to compete multiple events that are related to archaeology.  For example, we competed in:

5 – meter pace and Labeling Artifacts

Trowel Toss and Dirt Toss

Re-organizing a mixed up Munsell Chart

Measuring 1 meter excavation units and using line levels

The competition was there and we were having a good time learning about archaeology. I know that at least a couple of us are excited to excavate a real historical building that unfortunately burnt down.

Today will be the first day of excavating, but first we need to measure our units and gather supplies. Once these tasks have been accomplished, it will be time to begin excavating! Many of us have talked about what we may find and what the possibilities are of finding something of value. There are talks of some findings that may include bricks, nails, glass, and maybe even some ceramics. We were given information on these possible artifacts by our mentors, which will help us identify the different types of artifacts that could be involved in our excavation findings.



Archaeology Olympics

Today we had some fun perfecting our archaeological skills & competing with other groups in the Archaeology Olympics! Being a mentor was a fun twist on the day, seeing as how we’ve already done our parts & have won our own medals. So we split up our mentees & got started on competing between mentors to see who had the best mentees! Of course it was a tough competition, with everyone participating & challenging each other to be a better archaeology student. The day had beautiful weather & that meant better results! We had a dirt toss, color chart puzzle, & even a pace off! Along with other events, we mentors were fighting hard to have our teams win & stand up on the “pedestal” to collect their gold, silver, or bronze medals. After a long day with some very close calls, & some great team spirit, I can proudly say that 3 members of the Team Torch group (my mentees) took the overall 1st place. Attached is a picture of my wonderful mentees; Aggie, Sam, & Jenny! Congrats to them! We can’t wait to start the dig tomorrow, & hoping for the beautiful weather to continue! image

Archaeology Olympics

Today we celebrated the annual Archaeology Olympics at Alma College!  The class spent the afternoon perfecting their archaeology skills and competing against each other in teams.  The timed activities included:

1.  Correctly writing a bag tag

2.  Correctly organizing the 10YR Munsell chart

3.  Accurately leveling a string level

Other activities based solely on accuracy were:

1.  Walking/pacing 5 meters

2.  Tossing dirt into a screen

3.  The trowel toss

We were also going to time how fast and accurately each group could plot a one meter by one meter square.  However, we ran out of time and will continue tomorrow.

While this afternoon was meant to be fun, we also learned how to correctly write labels for our bags, how to accurately pace 5 meters, how to throw a trowel (maybe not as necessary as the others…), and we learned to have an appreciation for a straight string level.

Tomorrow we will be perfecting our skills in plotting one by one meter squares, which we will plot out “in real life” later in the day for our actual excavation.

The winning teams were: FIRST PLACE – Aggie, Jenny, and Sam.  SECOND PLACE – Blake, Mary Francis, and Luke.  THIRD PLACE – Doug, Phil, and Colin. Congratulations!


Old Main History

We did not only learn about proper techniques in class but we also learned about the history and some fun facts about Old Main as well. Old Main was built in 1886 and the college was originally called Central Michigan Normal School. After a year the name was changed to Alma Normal School then a few years later the campus was named Alma College. Although Old Main held class rooms and offices it was considered an administration building during its first years. Old Main burned down on March 10th, 1969, at 11am due to an unknown fire. The fire started in the attic; this allowed time for students and faculty to gather as much materials from the building as possible. When the firefighters showed up they stopped the students and faculty from going into the burning building. The students were so shocked and heartbroken about the loss of old main that some of them even wrote eulogies. With Old Main being the main building where classes were held after it burned down a new building needed to be erected. In place of Old Main the campus now has Swanson Academic Center or better known as SAC.

With this information we know to look for artifacts like scissors, pencils, nails from the building’s structure, and glass to name a few. With the artifacts that have already been found along with the artifacts that we will find, we will analyze the materials together to gain more information of the time period.


Preparing for Excavation of Old Main

In class today we learned about the process of flotation and how it is an important step in the excavation of artifacts. We learned that organic substances tend to float while inorganic substances tend to sink. A problem that archaeologists tend to have is that they do not use the process of flotation enough or they use it inconsistently. If archaeologists are not careful with this process they may ruin the seeds. They must be patient and stay consistent in order to preserve any seeds they may have found. In our excavation of Old Main we are more likely to find modern seeds, as opposed to historic seeds which we would be more likely to find while excavating the remains of Native American villages.

In class today we also learned about stratigraphy and how this helps us identify the different layers of soil. To practice this concept, we were each given a cup of pudding and were instructed to eat the pudding one layer at a time. Additionally, we learned that as you move down the layers of soil you tend to find older artifacts. Another thing we learned is how different types of pottery are found based on how old they are. Pottery from a long time ago is much different than the pottery from today.

We learned all about ceramics, glass, and metal from our 315 students as they completed their presentations. They taught us which types of these we should expect to find in our excavation of Old Main. Lastly, we learned all about the history of Old Main as each of the 215 students presented their research on thus topic. From this, we learned when Old Main was established and how it tragically burned to the grown in 1969. From all of this information we are now ready to begin excavating the site of Old Main. (MS + AW)

Background Research Presentations

A crucial step in the archaeological process is the background research. Today in SOA 215 we learned a variety of interesting and useful information. The first subject was soil, how to classify dirt through its’ coloration and how to properly excavate under different circumstances. Professor Alexandra Conell outlined proper techniques for different types of soil. Following this presentation, the class learned about several variations of artifacts that may be discovered during the excavations this semester. Caroline “the Conqueror of Ceramics” Wiles taught the class about different ways to study and identify ceramics through formal and informal methods of analysis. Different types of ceramics were also discussed including Terra-cotta, Earthenware, and several others. Next, Brennan “the Great Glass Guru” Rodriguez presented his expertise on glass, how it is formed and how it changes over the years. Several types of glass we hope to find include bottles, windows, or even some shards of containers that were left behind in the Old Main fire. More than likely, the most common artifacts that will be discovered when excavating Old Main will be made of metal, as Steven “the Masterful Metal Magician” Fischer explained in his presentation on metal artifacts. The types of artifacts described in his presentation include nails, wires, and tin cans – as opposed to the copper artifacts found at prehistoric sites. Dr. Mary Theresa Bonhage-Freund presented next on how to identify fashion trends and date sites through the analysis of buttons. This included analyzing the materials, sizes, and styles of the buttons found. In addition to the types of artifacts we may find, Dr. Bonhage-Freund and Professor Conell discussed excavation methods and how to interpret what we find. We learned about the process of flotation in order to excavate organic materials, such as seeds and bone, in order to apply paleoethnobotany – or even ethnobotany in the case of modern sites, such as Old Main. Furthermore, we learned all about relative dating and how to figure out how old our artifacts are through seriation or stratigraphy. Overall, the presentations on what we may find and how to interpret our findings provide us with the necessary information to go into the field. We hope to find many of these types of artifacts over the next few weeks and cannot wait to share all that we learn about Old Main here in Alma!

In Preparation for Excavation

Learning about the magnetometer, a surveying device that can detect metals underground.

It has been an informational couple of days learning about the many aspects of archaeology in preparation for the excavation of Old Main, one of the original college buildings that burned down in March of 1969. From legislation to geophysics, we have been busy studying the many components of archaeology.

First, we learned about the basic definitions of archaeology. Also known as “the study of humans through their material remains,” archaeology deals with the excavation and study of objects, artifacts, and civilizations of both the past and the present. Archaeology can be historic or prehistoric. Old Main is considered a ‘historic’ site because it was established in a time of written historic record. Archaeology can also focus on narrower time periods such as industrial, postcolonial, and pre-Columbian to name a few.

We also talked about archaeological laws and ethics of the 20th century. For example, the Antiquities Act of 1906 was the first law that required permits for digging archaeological sites, and the Historic Sites Act of 1935 required land to be surveyed prior to excavation.

Today, we learned about geophysics, a non-invasive method of surveying land before excavation may begin. Between ground penetrating radar, electromagnetic induction, magnetic surveying, and electrical resistivity, there are many ways to find the right spot to dig without actually disturbing the soil. Today we got to measure the magnetic field of the site we will be excavating next week using the magnetic survey method.  Above, you can see us preparing to use the magnetometer to detect magnetic variations below-ground that could indicate metals or other objects. This helps us to determine which spots are likely to contain artifacts.  (MFE/LA)