Student Blog #2: Emma Schwaiger

Today’s student blogger is Emma Schwaiger. Emma is an incoming Master’s student in the Industrial Archaeology program who just recently graduated from Michigan Tech with a degree in History.

Hello blog readers!  My name is Emma Schwaiger and I am an incoming Master’s student in the Industrial Archaeology program.  I recently graduated with a BA in History from Tech and am excited to take my education to the next level at the school I love.  I decided to take the field school this summer not only because it is required for my degree, but because it gives me real world experience in archaeology.  This will help me in classes because I will be more familiar with terms, techniques, and ideas about why and how archaeology works the way it does.

One of my favorite parts of field school is artifact cleaning.  When we are in the field we are split into groups doing STP units, mapping, working in the stamp mill, etc., and because of this we do not get to see what other people are finding in their units.  When we clean artifacts, we are all gathered around tables in the lab, carefully removing debris from the artifacts, but we are also talking amongst ourselves and sharing what we have found or what we are currently cleaning.  It is a great time to learn and get to know your fellow students as well.

Our artifact cleaning tools are not all that fancy, but they get the job done.

Before we begin the cleaning process, we must make sure we have all the items necessary.  Each person or team gets a large bowl, which they fill half-way with water, and a tray.  The water is necessary for cleaning items such as glass, ceramics, and bone.  The tray is an integral part of the process because all artifacts from a particular bag must be kept together on the tray so they do not end up in the wrong place.  This would mean that the context of that item is lost.  Next, each person gets a small wire brush which is used to carefully scrape the debris off of metal objects (we have had a lot of nails).  Metal should not touch the water as this will cause it to oxidize even more.  A regular toothbrush is used to clean the glass and ceramics, using the water to help release anything that may be attached.

Bone is a little trickier to clean.  There are only two brushes which we are allowed to use on bone.  One is an extra-soft toothbrush and the other is a baby toothbrush.  We must be extra careful with bone because we do not want to scrape or cover any tool markings that may be present on the bones.  If we were to lose these markings it would cause us to not be able to make conclusions about how the animals were killed or prepared.  When first taking the items out of their bags, sometimes rocks and bones can look alike.  When we have questions about the material of an item, the first thing to do is to use your senses.  By taking the item and holding it gently in my hand, I can feel the weight and the temperature.  Rocks are usually heavier and colder to the touch than bone.  Also, by gently brushing the surface with your fingertips you can feel the texture of the item.  Rocks usually have blunt edges while some bone actually feels more like wood or even coral.  If there is something that we just cannot place, we ask Lee to help us identify it and she helps us determine what it is.

Artifacts are cleaned, re-bagged, and labeled. The next step will be cataloging them so we know what’s in each bag without having to go through them all again.

After the artifacts are clean, we must re-bag them.  Each material gets its own bag, which means that we may be putting four bags back into the original because we had multiple materials.  Others simply have one.  Each bag, even if it is going into another bag, must have the detailed information on where and when the artifacts were excavated, who excavated them, and how many bags are associated with this particular place.  This is extremely important because we must be able to go back and place these items into 3-dimensional space in order to properly research, identify, and make conclusions about a particular area and about Cliff and Clifton as a whole.  Everything needs context in order to be understood.

I am very excited about the units we are currently digging in the Stamp Mill.  We are not exactly finding what Sean expected us to find, but for me, it just makes it more interesting.  We have a mystery which needs solving and I hope that we can continue our work there in order to find out what these features within the units are and if there is, in fact, a wall which runs north into the area we are digging.  We may have this mystery solved by the time public tours start, so don’t forget to come out and see what is happening out at Cliff and Clifton!

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About Sean Gohman

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

3 responses to “Student Blog #2: Emma Schwaiger”

  1. gary singer says :

    Good luck Emma on your summer experience, and future at Mi Tech.

  2. Cheryl says :

    I am glad you are finding your education to be useful and continue your knowledge building. I found your blog to be both informative and entertaining. I look forward to the tour.

  3. Travis Slooter says :

    Great post Emma!

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