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
Yesterday was the last day of the field season and the last of our open house days. We saw about 190 people on Saturday and another 220 or so on Sunday. That’s over 400 people visiting a site in a county of 2,000. Not too shabby. Overall, we had at least double the number of visitors as last year, and if it wasn’t for the rain last weekend and the timing of the local news stories coming after the first weekend already occurred, we would have easily tripled or quadrupled that number.
So thanks everyone for visiting the site and showing interest in our work and the Cliff mine. The timing of my posts run about 3 weeks later than current time so there are still a lot of posts and photos yet to come of our work. Plus updates on our findings and announcements about upcoming talks to be given (by me and others) in the coming months. Both the Keweenaw and Ontonagon County Historical Societies have requested talks for this summer and fall so stay tuned.
This was an extremely successful field season. I am excited (and frankly scared out of my wits-this is some complicated stuff) to get working on processing data, and then start planning for next season.
Here is a brief announcement about the tours we’ll be giving each weekend (Saturday and Sunday) for the next three weeks.
Weekend Tours of Cliff Mine Start Saturday
HOUGHTON–Industrial archaeology faculty and students from Michigan Technological University are inviting the public to view their excavations at the first commercially successful copper mine in the Upper Peninsula.
Tours of the Cliff Mine ruins and the nearby town of Clifton will be held on Saturdays and Sundays in June, starting June 11. Tours start approximately on the hour beginning at 10 a.m., leaving from roadside signs near the parking area at the northeastern end of Cliff Drive, near the small town of Phoenix. Phoenix is about 33 miles north of Houghton on US-41.
Tours will continue all day until about 4 p.m., weather permitting. Visitors are advised to wear clothing appropriate for hiking, boots or sneakers, carry water and be prepared for the weather. The site is not improved and has no toilets.
The Cliff Mine, the Copper County’s first profitable copper mine, opened in 1845 and mined “native” copper until the 1870s. After mapping the site last year, faculty and students from the Department of Social Sciences are now conducting excavations in one of the mine’s stamp mill buildings. The research teams discovered substantial remains of the building, including floors, stairs and machine footings, that allow them to reconstruct daily life for workers at the mill.
Faculty members Timothy Scarlett and Sam Sweitz lead the field teams, and PhD student Sean Gohman is the project archaeologist.
The Cliff Mine was owned and operated by the Pittsburgh & Boston Mining Company. Discovered in 1845, the Cliff Vein produced over 38 million pounds of refined copper over a 40-year period and paid dividends to its investors totaling $2.5 million.
From 1846 to 1858, no other copper mine in the region could match the production of the Cliff Mine. After the Civil War, however, as miners followed the vein as it dipped 1,000 feet underneath the basalt Cliff face, the depth made the operation increasingly difficult. By 1870, the company decided the mine, though still producing, was not worth further investment, and sold it for $100,000.
Activity at the Cliff continued for the next 60-plus years under various managements, but it never regained its earlier success. In the 1920s and ’30s, the new owners of the Cliff, the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company, were still hoping a new vein would be uncovered and drilled dozens of holes throughout the property. Nothing of promise was found, and by the 1950s all interest in the Cliff as a producing mine ended.
To learn more about the excavations, visit the Cliff Mine blog, http://cliffmine.wordpress.com.
For the students taking the field methods course this year, the first week is all about instruction. Admittedly, this can be a difficult time for those of us who’ve waited all winter to get back out in the field and start mucking about the site. But its essential that the student’s are not simply worker bees doing the bidding of instructors and PhD students looking for dissertation material. The point of the field methods course is to teach practical skills as well as those tools necessary for being able to take field data and make something wholly new out of it.
On Monday, students were given an introduction to the course by Dr. Tim Scarlett (what’s expected of them, what they should expect to learn and experience week to week, etc.) followed by a brief (well, 2 hour) lecture on the history of the Cliff Mine and last year’s fieldwork by me, Sean Gohman. In the afternoon we began first aid training taught by Michigan Tech housing director and EMT Travis Pierce. We were all certified in CPR and learned how to deal with all manner of injuries and ailments that could occur while out in the field.
On Tuesday, Dr. Scarlett gave a lecture on the history of archaeological studies and how it arose out of other sciences like geology, history and even the work of Charles Darwin. The central idea the students were to take away from this lecture was how archaeology uses context (where things are found in relation to others) to build a story of change over time. In the afternoon we finally made it out to Cliff to take a tour of the site so the students could have an idea of what they were getting themselves into.
Wednesday and Thursday were a mix of classroom lecture and in-the-field training. But that’s for tomorrow.
Date: September 17, 2010
Contact: Ellen Schrader, (906) 337-3168
Have you ever walked along one of the trails at the Cliff mine, stumbled upon a crumbling masonry ruin, and wondered what it was? If you are one of the many people who explore the site, chances are you have come across a feature you can’t identify. Join Sean Gohman as he describes recent archeological investigations to learn more about these features and this significant copper mine.
The Cliff mine began in 1845. The first Keweenaw mine to pay its investors a dividend, the Cliff operated successfully until 1869, when production dropped for the first time. Different mining companies continued to work the lode on and off until 1931; the shafts were finally capped in the 1960s. Today, only remnants of this once-mighty mine mark the landscape: poor rock piles, masonry foundations, and wagon road traces provide clues to the how the men, women, and children of this mine lived, worked, and played. Gohman, a PhD student at Michigan Technological University, spent the summer documenting the site as part of an archeological field school, and will share what he and the other students discovered.
This program will be held at 7:00 pm on Thursday, September 23rd, at the Eagle River Community Center, located at 57935 Calumet Avenue in Eagle River, Michigan. It is part of the Fourth Thursday in History program sponsored by Keweenaw National Historical Park.
The Fourth Thursday in History series arranges public presentations on important aspects of Copper Country and regional history, including techniques for historic preservation. Presentations are scheduled in venues throughout the
Keweenaw Peninsula , particularly at historic sites associated with specific topics. They are free and open to the public.
For further information, including specific directions to this event, contact Keweenaw National Historical Park at (906) 337-3168
A few weeks ago I wrote a short post about LiDAR. This technology (Light Distance and Ranging) allows for precise mapping of topographical and structural features from the air, the ground, or even space. The idea behind LiDAR is that light (or more specifically, lasers) travel from a scanning device to the ground and then back to the unit. The LiDAR device can then calculate the distance the beam of light travelled as well as the time it took to return to the device, thereby providing data that can be used to create a 3D representation of the area being scanned.
In early May, a team of researchers from Michigan Tech lead by Dr. Michael Falkowski of the School of Forestry Resources and Environmental Sciences and including myself and fellow students Sinan Abood and Stephen Curelli, brought a ground-based LiDAR device out to Cliff to see how effective a scan would be.
Due to the timing of the scans (this took place before the field school, and clearing of vegetation, began) and weather, our choices for scanning locations were limited. We chose to set up the device in two locations: at the No. 4 Shaft rock piles located above the bluff to try out a landscape scan, and inside the stamp mill’s boiler house for an interior structural scan.
Once the LiDAR unit is put in place, it rotates 360 degrees while emitting light towards the target being mapped. At the same time a digital camera mounted on the LiDAR unit takes pictures in order to provide a color scheme to match the “point data” created by the scan. This way the data can be processed to look almost identical to its real world target.
Both scans are currently in the data processing phase but recently we were able to create two videos showing how the data can be used to create 3D representations of the data. Due to time, the scan of the No. 4 Shaft area has been narrowed down to focus on the steam stack that sits within a large rock pile. Compare it to the photo on the right. What you will notice is how well LiDAR picks up each individual stone as well as the leaves of the vegetation at the stack’s base.
The scan of the mill interior is obstructed somewhat by the trees and vegetation lying in and around the structure. With time, these obstructions can be removed from the point data but for this demonstration I think its valuable to see just how well the LiDAR picks up even the smallest detail.
Here are video animations of two structures at Cliff using LiDAR technology from our YouTube site.
This introduction is by Mark Dice, one of our project team members.
Today the Michigan Tech University Faculty/Staff Newsletter printed a story on the project. Here’s a link to the article below.
I’m currently a second year student in the Masters of Science program in Industrial Archaeology at Michigan Tech University. My job on the Cliff Mine project is to be the lead graduate student, as this work will go towards the completion of my Master’s thesis. I am also tasked with writing a bulk of this blog, as I’ve been deemed, “an expert.”
A proud native of Minnesota (go Twins!), my journey to the Cliff Mine began in 1993, as an undergrad at St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN. A move to St. Cloud State University brought me into the world of archaeology, and for four years I made a go of it, part-time. However a hiatus to “live life and see rock shows” meant a long wait for my completion of an undergraduate degree in Anthropology. I finally received his Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from St. Cloud State University in 2004. My work experiences range from archaeological fieldwork in Belize, to managing record stores (remember those?) on the frozen plains of North Dakota, to selling TV’s in Marquette, MI. While living in Marquette, my interest in the Iron Mining industry of the region brought the Industrial Archaeology program at Michigan Tech to my attention.
My current interests academically include copper and iron mining, whaling, and the early history of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. My thesis work is focusing on the technical systems of Cliff and the mine’s importance to the Keweenaw peninsula, where Tech happens to be located. I’ve also been recently accepted into the PhD program in Industrial Archaeology and Heritage Management at Tech, and hope to continue working on CLiff for my dissertation. I am also interested in historic preservation, and as a former board member of the Quincy Smelter Association, helped to raise awareness (and funds!) for this valuable resource. Finally, I am currently the acting Secretary for Michigan Tech’s Graduate Student Government (taking over as V.P. this summer), and I see my graduate experience at Tech as having a profound impact on his professional future.
What interested me first about the Cliff Mine was its location. For anyone who has had the opportunity to visit the site, you know what I’m talking about. The views from the top of the cliff are amazing, and the evidence of man-made changes on the land keep me coming back for more. Anyone who has visited me while living in the Keweenaw knows that your visit isn’t complete until I’ve given you a tour of the Cliff. But it’s also the story of the changes that occurred here that pulls me in. When the mine first began, horse power was literally power-driven by horses, not steam. These guys pulled giant masses of pure copper (as many as 10 tons!) from the earth here, and that floors me. Anyway, this mine lead the way in determining how to mine copper in the Keweenaw, and the history of the region was set in motion by the discovery of the Cliff Vein in 1845. For these reasons, I think having a chance to document and research the Cliff is pretty awesome.
So please, continue following the blog and please comment/ask questions. I could talk about this stuff all day.
Be seeing you.