May 17th: A cautious beginning leads to unexpected early results

We began excavations with two large trench units, each 4 x 2 meters in size. The first trench (100.T1) is located at the north end (the highest elevation) of the 40+ meter long area we are setting out to uncover. The second trench (101.T3) is actually the third in the line and therefore 4 meters south of 100.T1.*

Students were instructed to be careful in removing the topsoil and uppermost layers of sediment as we were trying to team them artifact collection and how to recognize an artifact (nail, button, glass, ceramic) versus a twig or rock. It sounds silly that one could confuse a rock for a ceramic fragment or piece of metal, but it happens to everyone. Soil and sediment is then collected into a dustpan and dumped into a bucket. Once the bucket is full it is brought over to a screen and dumped onto it. The screener shakes the screen forcing the loose dirt and soil through it, while catching anything over a 1/4 inch in size. Once the dirt has been sifted, the screener paws through the rocks, wood, and artifacts in the screen, collecting anything we want to keep for further analysis.

For some archaeological excavations, artifact collection is extremely important. A prehistoric camp site may only have a few artifacts and ecofacts useful in determining anything of significance. In this stage of the Cliff Project however, artifacts are secondary to features, those things that have a permanence to them (can’t be moved easily like architecture, wood floors, and ephemeral spaces where a machine may once have sat.

100.T1. Two wood features uncovered just below the surface. One one at upper right, the other in the foreground.

Our desire for features related to stamp milling was quickly satisfied in 100.T1. Within 20 cm of digging with trowels, we struck a feature made of wood planks in the NE corner of the trench. In the SE corner, another wood plank feature was uncovered only a few centimeters further down. The entire crew was very excited at the result. It was initially believed (I’ll admit it-my belief) that we wouldn’t hit something of significance until 50 cm depth at least. The areas immediately to the east and west of the trench were much lower than this so finding these features so early was a welcome shock.

I know you’ve all probably been asking yourself, “When is he going to get to the good stuff?” Well, after this post the goods will be delivered. I promise. We have been blessed with great conditions for excavation, an enthusiastic crew of students and volunteers, and so far some excellent finds.

Excavations at 101.T1 were not as exciting as those to the north. Here 2 students are digitally mapping the trenches corners while 2 others trowel the uppermost level of the trench.

In the other trench, 101.T3, the first couple of days digging revealed little more than nails, broken glass, a lot of fill dirt, and some burnt/charred wood. Why the charred wood? That is for another post.

*The naming of excavation units and trenches generally falls under some sort of predetermined rubric. Sometimes it is related to known coordinates such as GPS points. Other times, like in our work, a specific Area of Interest (AOI) may have a signifying name already assigned and any units therein are given names that correspond to that AOI. In this case, there are two AOIs: one is 100 (the possible stamp room), while the other is 101 (the possible wash house). The T1 and T3 tagged on at the end of the AOI tells us two things: the T stands for trench (a smaller excavation unit would be U, for unit) and the 1 and 3 just mean the order they were laid out from north to south.


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About Sean Gohman

Currently a PhD Degree seeking student in the Michigan Tech University's Industrial Heritage and Archaeology program.

One response to “May 17th: A cautious beginning leads to unexpected early results”

  1. Joe Dancy says :

    Awesome. Great commentary. Look forward to details. Have a great Memorial Day weekend.

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