Join Michigan Tech industrial archaeologists in documenting a historic copper mine in the heart of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. The Keweenaw is famous for its abundant formations of native copper, ranging in size from pebbles to record-breaking boulders of pure metal. Our ongoing project investigates the ruins of the Cliff Mine, the region’s first profitable copper mine, the townsite of Clifton (established 1845, peaked c.1870, and abandoned in the early 20th century), and comparable sites on the Keweenaw. The “Cliff Vein” produced over 38 million pounds of refined copper over a 40-year period, paying dividends to its investors totaling $2.5 million. People working in the mine and living in the town transformed the social and technological practices of mining, adapting to the mass copper running through the region’s rich veins and starting America’s first successful industrial mining boom. The Cliff site is situated along the 200-foot greenstone bluff that runs up the spine of the Keweenaw Peninsula, about 30 miles northeast of Houghton, Michigan.
Fieldwork in Clifton during the 2012 season included both Wide Area Excavation and Shovel Test Probe survey.
Learning archaeological fieldwork is an immersive experience where teamwork is essential. It takes weeks of work before a person can begin assembling the clues from each discovery into meaningful pictures of the past. As a result, students should expect the work to be exacting, often slow, and physically challenging, as one develops professional skills over time. We work eight-hour days in all conditions, five days a week (generally Wednesday through Sunday) throughout the six-week summer course. All that time is essential to the process of learning tools and techniques, as well as piecing together the clues of Cliff and Clifton. Students should expect to do the actual fieldwork instead of watching other people work and tell you what it all means. Every day, each person adds an important piece to this large, multiyear, interdisciplinary jigsaw puzzle that is rediscovering Cliff and its community.
The class is led by Associate Professors Timothy Scarlett and Samuel Sweitz, in close collaboration with Project Archaeologists Sean Gohman and Lee Presley. The course runs May 13th-June 28th, 2013. Instruction is enhanced through the active participation by guest scholars and experts in Copper County industrial and preindustrial history, archaeological and environmental sciences, and planning and industrial heritage studies. The course may be taken for undergraduate or graduate credit.
Our research is driven by questions posed by a team of graduate students and faculty, as we pursue several intertwined threads:
• We are reconstructing the evolution of the mine’s industrial processes during its heyday, using clues left by workers as they built, worked, and reworked the site’s shafts, mills, engine houses, stacks, shops, houses, and offices.
• We are excavating in town to recover artifacts that tell stories about the residents’ daily lives, putting “meat on the bones” of the animals they ate and illustrating the material worlds they built in their homes, churches, and schools.
• We have established a landscape archaeology theme as well, in which we are using bioarchaeological, geoarchaeological, and archaeochemical studies to enhance our understanding of how the residents transformed the Keweenaw’s ecological setting. Our effort ties the people of the Cliff Mine to the transformations of the entire region as farms and villages waxed and economic, social, and ecological relationships with Cliff waned.
On the Cliff Mine and Clifton site, students will learn a wide range of archaeological field methods and gain proficiency using important equipment and tools, within a committed public archaeology context. Examples of what team members learn include the following:
• consulting documents, maps, aerial photos, and oral history during excavation and survey, including several different types of remote sensing (satellite, aerial, ground-based, and maritime remote sensing systems have all been used in past seasons);
• using traditional mapping technologies, along with LiDAR, Global Position Systems (GPS), and digital Total Station (EDM) tools, in mapping landscape details such as walls, structures, and roadways for the purpose of creating “living” geospatial environments within a Geographic Information System database;
• working with both “wide area” excavation and Shovel Test Pit survey for data recovery, including appropriate sampling methodology to ensure that artifacts are representative of the larger area;
• completing measured drawings of architectural remains with traditional tools, as well as digital equipment like EDMs and LiDAR, to produce measured drawings;
• sampling for archaeobotanical, geoarchaeological, and archaeochemical analyses;
• ethically driven decision making about artifact collection, cleaning, identification, analyses, and conservation, with concern for industrial archaeological sites in particular; and
• working with stakeholder and descendant communities in the responsible conduct of public scholarship and research with industrial heritage; including legal, ethical, and environmental issues surrounding industrial communities, sites, and landscapes.
During time off, students will be able to enjoy the rich cultural and natural heritage of Michigan’s spectacular Keweenaw Peninsula and the shores of Lake Superior. A short drive brings visitors in reach of two national parks, two national forests, several state parks and wilderness areas, industrial heritage museums and monuments, miles of public lakeshore, watersports, and world-class mountain biking trails. Students are also encouraged to attend the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Society for Industrial Archaeology in Minneapolis, Minnesota!
More information about class registration and costs can be found here:
Sorry for the lapse in posting everyone. I’ve been pretty busy with things outside of Cliff research for the past month. First, I had to work on and finish a report for one of my funders. Second, I got married and there were TWO receptions in two different parts of the Midwest. I’ve therefore been […]
I’m told this story ran on Sunday night.
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We had some decent weather yesterday and that brought out over 80 visitors to the site. From what I gather some of our visitors spent hours visiting the excavations and then hiking along the cleared trails using a map we’ve created for the event. Another mild day today will hopefully mean a higher number. We’ve […]
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I just wanted to post a quick thank you to the Keweenaw County Historical Society for inviting Lee Sweitz and myself to talk about our research at Cliff and Clifton. The event took place today at the Eagle River Community Building and was attended by about 60 people. Lee and I spoke for about an […]
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I was asked by a blog follower to put together some kind of overview of the mill site to help people “piece it all together.” Last year our work was confined to the middle of the mill. It was basically one long line of open trenches and excavations. This year we are working in the […]
WE hope that everyone will come to visit us this summer in June! Cliff is an important site with a fascinating history, and we hope to share it with as many visitors as possible. Come see the excavations while they are in process and talk with the student, faculty, and volunteer research crews while they dig, screen, and map!
As Sean Gohman has written, we’re working in the Stamp Mill Complex again this year, expanding our excavations from last season to answer questions raised by last year’s dig. In addition, Anna Lee Sweitz and Roger Gerke are leading teams working in Clifton, mapping and excavating house structures in the town.
Last year, about 650 people visited us during our fieldwork and we were thrilled by everyone’s intense curiosity. To help people plan, I am posting this schedule to the blog early. Research teams backfill all the excavations on the afternoon of Sunday, July 1st, so try to visit before then!
Public Tours led by students and faculty:
June 30th-July 1st
The first tour heads out at 10 AM and subsequently start around the top of each hour. Each tour lasts about an hour or more and people can visit several parts of the site this year, so multiple tours are available. The tours are informal, and led by faculty and students while work continues right in front of you. Visitors speak directly with researchers.
You can find detailed driving directions here, and remember to be prepared for rough backwoods hiking in the Keweenaw: bottled water, hat, bug repellent, clothes that can get muddy, etc. No flip-flops please.
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Today was an amazing day weather-wise so we went off on a 140 mile road/field trip to Keweenaw County. Thematically it was linked to both the geology of the area and its early pioneering history. We visited Brockway Mountain and talked about the Portage Lake volcanic series that created the various ridges that run the […]
Welcome to our third year of field work at the Cliff Mine. Monday kicked off the first day of Michigan Tech’s summer semester and that means our Archaeological Field Methods course begins this week too. The first week is generally composed of lectures, site walk-overs, field trips, and basic field methods training, but soon we’ll be out excavating the stamp mill, mapping the town site, taking soil samples, and basically trying to make sense of this place we call Cliff.
This year looks to be our largest yet in terms of field crew. We have two instructors, Dr.’s Timothy Scarlett and Sam Sweitz, and three graduate students, myself included, collecting data for their dissertations/thesis. Another three, possibly four, grad students are joining us to meet their degree-course requirements. Eight (!) undergrads are also signed up for the course and four to five volunteers have also stepped up to lend a hand. With this many people we’ll be able to spread out and cover both the mill site, the town site, and possibly other related locations in the Keweenaw. It definitely looks like we’ll be able to expand our site tours this spring to include Clifton, an area that for the last two seasons were neglected either for lack of time or personnel.
I hope you can join us either at the site or here, on the blog.
-Sean M. Gohman