Where Does the Water Come From and More Importantly….

…where does it go?

Dr. Scarlett (with dye in hand) prepares to test the water flow of the mill.

That was the question we asked ourselves at the beginning of June 10th. Just how was water used at the Cliff mill and what was their source? Did they use seasonal runoff from up above the bluff behind them? Did they run a water race from a dammed pond a 1/4 mile to the west? Or did they pump water from underground (or the mine) via a sump or well near the mill?

The green dye lazily winding its way behind the mill.

To test these possibilities, Dr. Scarlett brought to the site a bottle of green dye. The idea was to drop the contents of the bottle in the seasonal run-off creek that runs behind the mill (it originates at the top of the bluff and runs underneath the large rock pile abutting the bluff before exiting at its base) and see where the dye ends up. This small creek winds around for 30 meters or so behind the mill and then disappears in a sink just at the edge of a stone foundation wall that housed the mill’s boiler(s). We believed that the water flowed under the mill here and then came out again just under the large wood beam supported with stone unearthed in 101.T2 and exposed  just to the west. Water can be seen trickling out from under this exposed beam after every rain, and its flow creates a green, mossy rivulet running down the length of the mill remains all summer long.

When we excavated 101.T6, we found water gushing out at less than 50 cm depth. We figured the dye would be seen here as well in no time. By measuring the time it would take to reach here we figured we could estimate its speed and volume. Unfortunately, we were not able to make these calculations because the timer never stopped.

Whether due to the volume of water that exists under the mill diluting the dye or maybe just the filtering effects of the stamp sand itself, the dye never made it out from under the mill. Therefore, no timing of the flow rate. We would have to try again with more dye later, but for now the mystery of the Cliff’s water supply had to remain unsolved.


About Sean Gohman

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

6 responses to “Where Does the Water Come From and More Importantly….”

  1. archaeofieldtech says :

    What kind of dye is that? I don’t have any experience studying water flow… Is that environmentally friendly?

    • Sean Gohman says :

      Dr. Scarlett tells me (I’m paraphrasing a bit) that the dye is a standard groundwater tool used widely in environmental sciences and residential situations. It is not carcinogenic, does not react with other chemicals to form any toxic substances in the environment, and does not degrade into a toxic material. There are no known hazards from the dye from ingestion or eye/skin contact.

      So to answer your question, it looks to be environmentally friendly, and a common use item in water flow studies.

      • archaeofieldtech says :

        That’s some seriously fascinating stuff. I’m glad it’s environmentally friendly! I’ll have to store the idea in my arsenal of archaeological field methods for some future potential use. Thank you for sharing!

      • Timothy James Scarlett says :

        Hi Archaeofieldtech! The dye I used was made by Norlab Dyes of Loraine, Ohio.

        You should get to know more of the environmental engineers at your company (if the company is a large one). I just use this to track flow, but in more skilled hands I think this dye can be used to calculate volume and rate of groundwater flow. Flow can be an important “n-tranform” or “site formational process” for the archaeological record. Of course, in Industrial Archaeology, flow is important to understand design of power systems and landscapes.

        According to the MSDS safety sheet from Norlab Dyes, there are no known hazards from the material, including either acute or chronic inhalation, direct skin or eye contact, ingestion, or any other acute or chronic exposure. MSDS data sheets are intended to present chemical information and possible hazards to humans and environments (if you work for an environmental engineering firm, they should have a bunch of these on file for whatever chemicals or materials you use on a day-to-day basis in the field or lab).

        People also use dyes like this to color fountains for parties and from the description, the dye can apparently be mixed with water for a drink, although that is not a recommended use (because while neon pee is funny, their lawyers probably know that one person in a million might sue the company for mental distress– or have an actual allergic reaction and get very sick). Generally, I would not do that.

        BrightDyes, Inc., makes a similar product, and they published their MSDS data sheet here:

  2. Joe Dancy says :

    Maybe you should have used concentrated radioactive solutions to put into the water to trace the flow. With a geiger counter I’m sure you could find the outflow. :)

    • Timothy James Scarlett says :

      Ha! I generally try to avoid any tools that require me to wear rings measuring rad exposure, Joe, except when among the company of other professionals at an archaeometry lab with a nuclear reactor!

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