Student Blog #4: David Kroos
Hey readers, my name is David Kroos and I’m a 4th year Computer Science major with a Historical Studies minor. I thought field school would be a fun way to finish up that minor while covering my general elective requirements. So far, I haven’t been disappointed. Working all day in the field has been surprisingly nice after years of avoiding the great outdoors.
Going into this course, I had no knowledge of local history, I only chose my degree combination because I though it would be funny. As such, prior to this summer, my ignorance may be baffling. Oh the things I didn’t know. For starters, Quincy mine is not the Cliff mine. On top of that, stamp mills were used to crush rock. We don’t get to go in the mines at Cliff since the mines are sealed. Earth-shattering stuff. I did know that paleontology and archaeology were different, a more common mistake than you may think. It’s really a shame that I missed out on as much of the goings on in the Keweenaw as I did during my first 3 years up here. If it weren’t for this class, I probably would have never seen the Gay stamp sands, any of Cliff Drive, or “La Roche Verte”.
I think the most surprising part of this class has been both the breadth and depth of knowledge used in the work we do. We’ve had discussions about geography, physics, chemistry, ethics – one lecture we had on Ethnography actually mirrored one I had in my software quality assurance class this past spring. Working around experts has also been eye-opening. One day I was on an excavation team and found a piece of ceramic that was about the size of a peanut M&M out of the dirt. Since this little sherd* was different from the ones we had been seeing we pulled Dr. Scarlett aside and asked him about it. Sure enough, within a minute or so, he had identified the likely source of the sherd and explained how he came to his conclusion. It’s been great to have people who know, and care, about what they are doing.
The biggest difference between archaeology and my usual field of study (Computer Science) is the destructive nature of our work. Generally, when I make a mistake while working in most of my classes, I’ll just fix the problem I’ve created and recompile the code. Maybe I’ll end up spending a few minutes (or hours) actually locating the problem and then fix it. It isn’t the same with archaeology – we get one shot at our work. It’s a strange feeling, the exhilaration of knowing that you’ll be the only one to ever uncover whatever you are working on as it is, but at the same time having to accept the responsibility of disrupting the archaeological record. Thankfully, we do have experts around to help us out when we do find something worthwhile. It’s also been interesting actually working with people. I get the impression that the Computer Science program at Tech is very suspicious of any team efforts – beyond your first semester, you have to wait until around your third year or join an enterprise program before any real collaboration is acceptable. Not to say the program is anything but excellent, I think a basic programming class could benefit just about at Michigan Tech. With a class like this though, you learn to depend on each other to get the job done, be it excavation, drawing or map making.
I’ve spent the majority of my time with the mapping crew this season. As a team of three, we have one person manning the Total Station surveying equipment, a second person recording, and a third holding a stick with a prism on top. The person using the Total Station shoots a laser at the person with the prism, and the relation between the two points is recorded. Once we shoot enough lasers at each other, we end up with a nice list of points to plot and interpret. I tend to be the one holding the prism, which can end up being really informative. Since the Total Station user usually has to follow the prism holder when mapping buildings or other features of the landscape, I get a chance to take a good look at the remains. Once I think I understand the important parts of the feature, I get to try to establish a line of sight between the important things and the Total Station. Usually it’s really fun, if the shots are clear and we keep moving quickly, or if we’re working in a mostly dead area of the woods and we can just tear down trees with our bare hands. The times it’s not so much fun, I at least get to keep learning, there seems to always be another exciting new type of thorny plant for me to work my way through. All worth it though, so that when asked how my day was, I can reply “I climbed a mountain of thorns while people tried to shoot lasers at me”.
Well, we’re already 5/7ths of the way done with the season, and I think we have plenty to show for it. We should probably have some pretty great maps of Clifton, or at least the ability to guide any visitors through the town, about 24 square meters of open, excavated ground and plenty of helpful people willing to answer questions. So be sure to check out the efforts of the 2012 Michigan Tech field school over the next three weekends.
*In archaeology the word sherd is short for potsherd and is used to describe fragments of broken pottery. Basically its the British version of shard.