Student Blog #3: Traci Billings

Hello, my name is Traci Billings, and I am an undergraduate at Michigan Technological University majoring in Biomedical Engineering and Anthropology. This summer I have had the opportunity to participate in the Michigan Tech Archaeology Field School at Cliff/Clifton, and it has been nothing short of an amazing experience so far.

However to be completely honest with you, when I first heard about the field school at Cliff I was not too excited. In fact I thought that Industrial Archaeology could not be farther from my interests. I mean what is it about anyway a bunch of semi old buildings, machinery, and industrial waste, not very interesting if you ask me.

Well I couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only was I incorrect about the time period covered by Industrial Archaeology, but I was completely wrong about the field’s content. Industrial Archaeology is about so much more than just “semi old buildings, machinery, and industrial waste”, it is about people. It is funny how most things in Anthropology seem to connect to each other.

La Roche Verte off Hay’s Point in Copper Harbor.

What is most striking about Cliff is that it really exemplifies the above point, that studying at Cliff covers a huge range of topics and shouldn’t be pigeon holed to only a few as I so eagerly believed. For me the most interesting thing about Cliff would be the people who lived and worked there. Being on the site really drives the idea home, that these were real people, not just characters on the pages of school books, where it is easy to disconnect yourself from the reality of the story. I am interested to know what type of lives these people had, for example what made them come to Cliff, how did the mine play apart in their daily lives, how did they feed themselves and survive in such a relatively isolated place to begin with, where did they live, what was their quality of life, and what did they imagine for the future of Cliff? I think that the research that is being done this summer combined with past efforts will really shed some light on these questions as well as so much more.

So far our team for this summer’s Field School has been quite busy. The first couple of weeks we have focused on learning about the history of the copper mining industry in Michigan, and how to use a compass and measuring tape to make a map. We have done various mapping exercises including mapping buildings on campus and Quincy Boiler House #07. We also went on a Field Trip around the Keweenaw to learn about some of the Copper-related history of the area. We stopped at a number of places, specifically “La Roche Verte” which you can see in the picture. “La Roche Verte”, French for The Green Rock, is located in Copper Harbor, MI. Malachite veins like this one (which also includes Calcite and Chrysocolla), as well as Native copper trade goods, gave initial European and American explorers, a hint to the mineral potential of the region.

More recently we have started to do work out at the site, and have been rotating between a mapping team, a Stamp Mill excavation team, and a Shovel Test Pit digging team. The mapping team gives participants a chance to learn how use a total station to map an area, while participants in the Shovel Test Pit digging team, learn the fine art of recognizing changes in soil layers, screening, and the redundancy that is required in the field of archaeology when it comes to paper work. Members of the Stamp Mill excavation team have been learning proper excavation techniques and how to fabricate detailed profile drawings. The Stamp Mill excavation team has also been hard at work getting units ready for the open houses later this month, if you get a chance you should definitely stop by the site.

Traci is bagging some of the artifacts, including decorated pottery, found while shovel testing in Clifton.

While participating in all of the teams, I found that the experience itself of being at the site, fighting the bugs and weather, digging in the middle of a field and finding broken pieces of what used to be a toy or cut bone, that is what drives the realness of this place home, that people lived here and more importantly that they survived here. One of the most memorable things when we first surveyed Clifton, for me, was our walk through “Log Cabin Row”. I remember wondering what it was like for the children who may have lived in these cabins, if they played on the road, if they could hear the workings and smell the dust from the mine, or if it was just as tranquil as it was now, with the smell of the forest in the air and the shady groves of trees allowing only for a few spots of sunshine to penetrate to the ground.

In closing, I underestimated what an experience like this would be worth. I have learned an incredible amount in these last few weeks about the Copper Country and myself, and I look forward to the upcoming weeks, as they will hopefully continue to be a source of knowledge and fun.


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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 #3: Traci Billings”

  1. Joe Dancy says :

    Awesome summary Traci, Clifton and the Cliff Mine tends to get into your veins. The more you learn about the place, the more you realize you don’t know, and the more impressed you are with the people who lived there.

    I ordered a book on the financing of early mining ventures – 1840-1900 – that will come Wednesday. Hope they have some good stuff in it on how these ventures were financed, shareholder rights, corporate structures and the like.

  2. gary singer says :

    I second that summary, good job and good luck on the dig this month.

  3. Lee Sweitz says :

    Traci — I’m looking forward to working with you again in Clifton during our open house this weekend. Your enthusiasm and careful attention to detail is much appreciated. See you in the “interyard!”

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