Testing for that Early Mill

Eric taking the pick to 108.T9 as Nick looks on.

I'm trying to get the perfect action shot.

The day before Nick and Eric dug some test pits around an area I suspected might be the location for the original 1840’s mill. The results called for a larger-scale test excavation, and a 5 meter long test trench (108.T9) was put in and begun that day. At the close of the day the trench was roughly 20 cm deep, and the remains of a stone wall and brick were found. Just below the brick was a possible burnt stain (had we found an early stack base?). Apparently not, as just below the brick badly corroded iron mass was found that at this point, can’t be identified. After cleaning and conservation we may be able to determine its original purpose, but regardless I’m pretty sure there isn’t a stack base there.

The trench was long and digging difficult, but by the end of the day we reached about 1.2 meters in depth, just at a point where we could safely say that there was nothing but sterile sediment underneath. During the digging, Nick and Eric were tasked with collecting any artifacts uncovered and noting soil changes but this was a test dig, not a systematic excavation, so quick work (with shovel and pick) was more important than stop-and-go dig/record/dig excavation (with trowels) that would have taken days.

Copper impregnated screen.

At 40 cm depth in the center of the trench, Nick spotted a lot of green coloring in the sediment, and decided to proceed at bit cautiously. This was the right decision since we was digging through copper fines/mineral. Jutting out of the west sidewall was a bright green/teal piece of metal that turned out to be a piece of screen/punch plate completely encrusted with copper mineral. Whether or not it was from the original mill or the later mill we couldn’t say but its state of discovery was remarkable. Other screens found have never shown that level of copper concentration. We knew this area hadn’t been disturbed in a long, long time.

When finished, the students had to take photos of the soil profiles and then draw them as well. With these images, we could make determinations about the area and whether there was anything significant going on there. What we noticed was a distinct pattern of layers: leaf/organic duff and top soil, grey stamp sand, a red sediment mixed with pockets of sawdust, a layer of wood fragments (many showing signs of burning), another top soil layer and finally the sterile orange-ish sediment populated with small, rounded stones.

Sorry for the terrible photo but you can see the original top soil layer about 2/3rds of the way down. Just above this was a layer of wood fragments and sawdust.

So what did we find? We’re not completely sure but one thing is for certain, we now know where the original top soil layer is and that something built of wood (showing signs of burning) sat atop it. Could it be the remains of the original mill? Most definitely. Could it be something else? Just as likely. But, we have the basis for another question to be answered through more systematic and careful excavation next field season should we be lucky enough to return.

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About Sean Gohman

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

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