Travel Week

Sunday, the archaeology class began their journey to different historical spots across the state of michigan to help learn more about archaeology and more broadly, anthropology.  Our trip started at Fort Michilimackinac where we recieved a tour of the fort and also got a behind the scenes look at where the excavation takes place at the fort and where all of the cleaning and cataloging occurs.  As the day came to a close, we made the trip across the Mackinac Bridge into the town of St. Ignace and ate at Clyde’s Drive-In, home of the “Big C” burger.

Today’s adventures took us to the Michigan State University where we met with Dr. Bill Lovis who spoke to us about the artifacts that they hold in their “repository” area.  After looking at all of the items they have found and collected, Professor Conell took us on a walking tour of the MSU campus and showed us many different areas where there was previous excavation units.  Following this process we arrived to the Michigan Historical Museum where we were able to roam around and learn new things about our states that many of us didn’t know before.

All in all, it was a very long but exciting day that ended with us arriving in Niles, Michigan ready to start tomorrow’s adventure which will include us excavating a site.  We are very excited to continue learning more about other archaeology sites over the last couple of days of class and end our spring term with a bang. (DW CN)


Wrapping up Our Excavation

With Archaeology Day coming to an end this past weekend, our class excavation on Old Main has also come to an end. There were many units that had found some intriguing artifacts and others that had found simply bricks, metal, and pieces of glass. Blake and I’s 4 ft by 4 ft unit was turned in to an 8 ft by 8 ft unit with the help of some fellow classmates. Now, let me explain why this was done to our unit.

Expanding our unit was a result of a couple of probe tests and one shovel test finding a cultural level approximately 12-14 inches below datum. With clay being a part of most of our unit, these test were nothing short of ordinary. Archaeologist use these tests when their excavation unit becomes “dry” and artifacts are no longer being found. So, we connected three more units to our original, making a 8 ft by 8 ft unit. Our goal was to expose the cultural level in all four quadrants in our unit. A cultural level is the ground where Old Main sat. This would be where the top of the soil was located back then.

With the cultural level exposed in all four quadrants, we began finding whole bricks and multiple pieces of larger glass. This level was also full of nails, along with what we believe is a piece of leather. Our Old Main excavation came to an end this past weekend, so we could only reach the top of level 2 in our additional 3 units that we added on to our original unit.

Although we ended our excavation, this week will be filled with archaeology history. We will be taking field trips around Michigan learning about historical sites and their archaeological importance. These trips will wrap up our archaeological experience, as well as leave us with a bit of history about the state some of us grew up in.


Fort Michilimackinac

Today we went on our first field trip of the week to Fort Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City. Our day started off with a history of the British and the weapons that they used in the 18th century at the fort. They then showed us a demonstration of how they load and shoot the gun. After that was finished we got a tour and a history lesson of how the fort changed throughout the years.

Following our tour we went on another tour with Dr. Evans who focused mainly on the archaeological aspects of the fort and told us about the excavations that have been taking place since the 1950s. This was really awesome to see because we were able to get a good idea of a lot of the artifacts that have actually been recovered throughout their years excavating. Dr. Evans also told us that most of the building have been rebuilt based on the excavations that have taken place, meaning that they excavate before they build the building in order to get an idea of the actual building dimensions and what was used in those structures.

After receiving the tour with Dr. Evans of the fort she took us on a behind the scenes tour where we were able to see where the lab work takes place, as well as the storage of the items. This was an awesome experience because usually the only people who are able to see those building are the people who work there. We were then given free time for the following hour to explore the fort on our own. Following our free time we met again as a class at 3 o’clock to see the cannon get fired! We were then given free time again, but this time to roam around Mackinaw City. We enjoyed walking downtown and most of us bought some fudge to bring home!

Finally, after a long day, we went across the Mackinaw Bridge into St. Ignace to have dinner at Clyde’s Drive In. This is not a chain restaurant, it is a one of a kind drive in. They have a variety of burgers there but their most famous is “The Big C” which is a 3/4 pound burger! Everyone enjoyed their food and then it was time to make the 3 hour drive back to Alma. We all had a great time on our first field trip and are looking forward to the next 3!

(SW & JM)We

Archaeology In The North

Nothing like going up to Fort Michilimackinac for a field trip during the last week of class! We had the chance to tour the fort with experts on the history and learn more about the time period when the fort was in use! There was also another tour (more personal) after. This time we were able to learn about the artifacts that have been found while excavating the site over the years! Then, we were able to get an inside look on how the archaeologists prepare the artifacts for cateloging. We were able to see/learn about Musket and Cannon Firing! Once we finished up in the fort we were able to go walk around Mackinaw City for awhile before we continued our trip! It was a long, but very good day learning about Fort Michilimackinac! (JCAH)

Archaeology Day

Today we finally had our Archaeology Day. It started out with everyone preparing stations and getting all the equipment ready for digging. Because not all of the holes were completed we had to finish some while the festivities were going on.  We started off by finishing our hole. For the past few days we have not been finding many artifacts and were hitting sterile soil. After we were able to level out our hole to 22 inches we probed our unit and confirmed that it was now sterile and we could end our excavation.

Archaeology day started out slow but as the day went on more people came. One of the first people to visit was an older man that had been at Alma when the fire occurred. we were able to ask him some questions and record his responses so we could possibly gain some more information about Old main and the fire.

By far one of our best participants were two little boys that came in the afternoon. They were so happy to get the chance to dig and so curious about learning more. Before Archaeology Day we set some goals to help people learn more about old main and about how important archaeology is to our society. These little boys helped us reach these goals and everyone had a great time teaching them and watching them have a blast. (AW and MS)

Community Archaeology Day

Today was finally the archaeology field day for the community! The day started off like any other, with the usual setting up of the sifters at each unit, and bringing out the needed materials from the lab. It was sort of a cloudy day to begin with, not bringing too many people out to enjoy the fun activities the students had planned. There was more to do this time around, after gaining some much needed experience from last year about what the public liked and what could be added for even more positive feedback! Some of the activities included a cool scavenger hunt that led you around the entire Alma College campus, letting you explore the campus, and teaching you fun things along the way! Another activity that was set up closer to the actual dig site was the ‘mock’ dig site that allowed the smaller archaeology lovers to dig into the rice and find cool ‘artifacts’ that made them feel like one of the team! After the afternoon sun finally came out, many people started to show up to explore the site. Some of the visitors actually were able to tell stories of their own time spent on Alma College campus, and some even were once students taking classes in Old Main! That was fun to hear about real life experiences from people who were actually there during the days of Old Main and the day of the fire, one visitor talked about his professor losing his doctorate paper in the fire causing him to actually lose his hair from all of the added stress! So many people enjoyed all the aspects of the dig day, being a mentor allowed us to go around and help where we were needed and to be able to share in the fun with some of the visitors that took the time out of their day to come and dig with us. In some of the units, the visitors could actually dig for real and help find some interesting stuff with our archaeology team, and that made it even more fun to be a part of something really awesome and history making! Families loved the hands on feel, and the day couldn’t have turned out better with the beautiful weather, and the amazing people that came to visit us to learn more about what happened to Old Main so many years ago.

End of Excavation

Yesterday we had an exciting day in the field. While we were digging we accidentally broke into an ant colony and discovered a giant mass of ants. After all of that excitement we were able to finish excavating our unit. We took the level down to 16 inches everywhere. Once we did that there was a very defined strip of soil that was darker than the rest. After that Professor Conell came around to probe our hole to see if there was anything important under the 16 inch mark. They did one probe in the darker soil and it hit something about 5 inches below the 16 inch mark and our professors thought that it might be a pipe of some kind so we ended up excavating that area further down. We went down to 25 inches in that area to uncover the pipe which ended up being a thick plastic water pipe which we believe is still in use.

After finishing our excavation of the water pipe we cleaned up our unit and took our final picture. After the picture we went inside to finish up lab work we found a ceramic pipe that could have been used as a smoking pipe. We found a lot of klinker, charcoal, wire, and some glass.

Today we focused on helping other groups and straightening out the walls for the majority of the morning. With Professor Freund we learned how to use flotation to separate the soil from the lighter artifacts. The floatation sample came from our unit with our two features that we had. The whole class took turns doing the floatation, which took up the rest of the afternoon. Everyone cleaned up their units as best as they could in order to get ready for archaeology day and then we went into the lab to clean, bag and tag the rest of everyones artifacts for the day.


Last Day of Digging

With only two days left until Public Archaeology Day, it is the perfect time to reflect on everything that we have accomplished over the last few weeks. As a class we have learned many archaeological skills for both excavation and preservation of the artifacts. This includes how to properly use a shovel or trowel when excavating and how to accurately take records at each level. In the lab, we learned how to wash the artifacts and make bags and tags while taking precise notes for the inventory sheet. We have also learned quite a bit about the history of Alma College and Old Main. It was fascinating to learn how much the campus has changed and that some of the buildings we walk past every day were here long before the fire. The Hood Building is a perfect example of this. The Hood Building currently holds the offices for Advancement, but initially it functioned as the campus museum. Now that information on the history of the college can be found in the archives in the basement of the library, or within the findings that will be displayed at Public Archaeology Day. Many groups found some fascinating artifacts, such as a nickel dating back to the 1800’s, an old Coca-Cola can, and a lot of construction pieces from the building – like nails and brick. I cannot wait to share all that I have learned with the public this weekend and am excited for the chance to share archaeology with others!

Hole Digger

There are only a few days left of class and only one more day to complete some of the remaining units! Today there were some more groups that were finishing up and then some that were removing their sod and working at the first 4 inches. We were also preparing for Archaeology Day on Saturday! Starting Sunday we are going on field trips to places around mid-Michigan to learn more about archaeology! Exciting things to come! (JCAH) #teamtorch

Location, Location, Location

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)