Today was the fourth and final day of field trips for the Michigan Archaeological Fieldwork spring term class 2015. From the tip of the mitten to nearly the border of Indiana, we have traversed the state to visit various archaeological and historic sites as supplements to our archaeological studies.
This morning we visited the Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School where we got to help out at with the field school team. Then in the afternoon we toured the Ziibiwing Cultural Center in Mount Pleasant where we learned about the history of Native Americans who were native to Michigan, some of whom would have attended the Indian Boarding School when it was a running establishment from 1893-1934. After spending the morning at what was left of the boarding school, it was easy to picture what it would have looked and been like back then.
Overall, we had a great time on our trips over the past week and have gained invaluable experience and insights from professionals in the field of archaeology. With just one day left, it is almost time to close up the units here at Old Main. But our time and efforts have been fruitful, nevertheless. Thanks to our professors and student mentors, we have learned much and, in turn, contributed to uncovering the secrets of a timeless building of Alma College—Old Main. (MFE LA)
It turns out that location is everything in archaeology; At least at the Old Main site. With our unit square originally stationed south of where Old Main once stood, it produced few artifacts. The breadth of our discoveries at -120 N, -47 E largely consisted of fragments of brick, mortar, clinker, and coal. With the exception of one nail and one piece of glass, the variety of our findings was meager at best. Still, the awareness of a lack is just as valuable as hitting the mother load of artifacts—in this case, lack of artifacts supported the notion that our unit square was located far from the original building.
Today we were excited to open up a new unit right on top of the once-standing Old Main. Now at -72 N, -36 E, we worked our way through twelve inches of dirt today and made some intriguing finds. Beyond the usual “building rubble” artifacts, we were also able to uncover some rather interesting mystery items. One artifact, a long strip of tangled aluminum metal with deep ribbing, looked like it could possibly be the covering of some type of air conditioning unit. But due to its mangled state, its identity is still up for questioning. Another interesting item looked like a rusty key at first glance, but actually turned out to be a type of metal latch. In addition to these metal artifacts, we also found various pieces of ceramic white ware and even a small white button.
The disproportion of artifact types found between our two units can hardly be called a coincidence. The nearness of our second unit to Old Main indeed helped us find more artifacts. It did so not only for us, but for other groups digging nearby. Generally, it seems that the further away the unit from Old Main, the less variety in artifacts found. It’s all about location. (MFE LA)
It was another productive day at the Old Main excavation site! Our group’s unit is located towards the front of where Old Main once stood, so while we haven’t found any particularly intriguing artifacts such as long-lost personal items, we have found remnants of brick, mortar, charcoal, and concrete that were likely a part of the building long ago. We also found a nail and a piece of glass that is stuck in the wall of our unit. However, now that our excavating is nearing 8 inches deep, we hope to start finding other types of artifacts.
In the lab today, we learned that artifacts aren’t always what they first appear to be. After the digging is complete for the day, everything we put into our artifact bag is brought to the lab to be cleaned and labeled. After everything was set out on our tray and sorted by artifact type, we found out that a small piece of mortar (or what we thought was mortar) was actually a fired piece of clay. So not only is lab work important for documenting artifacts, it also shows us exactly what we have and that you might actually have more than what you think. (MFE LA)
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)