Rain Day = Lab Day

How many artifacts can you identify in this picture? I see a horseshoe, an iron shim, part of a bucket, a nut from a bolt, and many nails and spikes.

So it rained on Sunday, June 19th. It was supposed to be a public open-house day but we had to cancel on account of the weather. What does an archaeology crew do on a rain day? They sit in the lab and work on cleaning and identifying artifacts.

Natiffany (not someone named Craig) cleaning a piece of iron strapping with a wire brush. The apron keeps her clothes from getting stained with rust.

Cleaning artifacts is a dirty business. First, everything is covered in dirt and soil. Second, iron artifacts have corroded over time and stain everything reddish-orange. Ceramic artifacts need to be washed delicately with water. It all adds up to a big mess, but when you’re done, everything is easily identifiable and put away in new artifact bags for cataloging and storage.

A new artifact bag is prepared.

Items are sorted, brushed, and then bagged again according to where they were found during excavation. Also, items first thought to be significant can be removed from the collection and returned to the site. I mean how many nails does one need to keep to figure out what type of nail they were using, right?

Cleaned artifacts ready to be sorted and bagged. You can see some tar paper with roofing nails still attached, glass, and way to many nails.

It’s not just cleaning that takes place on lab days, though. It’s also a chance to get caught up on paperwork and show students what happens to that paperwork after it gets back from the field. Mostly, its digitized with a scanner so that its is stored both in a physical form and digitally in case one or the other is lost to time, fire, or vandalism.

A drawing of 101.T8 before we excavated the southern portion of the unit. Everything else was a wood surface or beam. The numbers in circles are locations where we measured the depth of that point from the datum (the starting elevation point).


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About Sean Gohman

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

2 responses to “Rain Day = Lab Day”

  1. Joe Dancy says :

    Is there a dating difference between the square and round nails, or is the difference a function of the use?

    Also, there was no horse power at the mill, was there? Why the horse shoe in the ruins?

    • Sean Gohman says :

      My understanding of nails is that their diversity in a Copper Country archaeological sight is a function of time/location. Wrought nails are common throughout the nineteenth century in the Copper Country due to its remoteness and the fact that all mines had their own blacksmith and machine shops. You could simply make your own.

      Cut nails are also common (which can look very similar to wrought nails-though the wrought nails show different wear/corrosion). Wire nails (rounded, modern type) were not widely used until well into the twentieth century.

      So the typology of nails can help with general dating. For instance, the roofing nails we uncovered (wire nails) were associated with Warren’s Mill, an early twentieth century constructed wood framed structure.

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