Student Blog Post #5: Trevor Curtis

Trevor, a Chemistry major at Michigan Tech, is seen here working on the east half of SM100.T12. The section of the trench is supposed to be (fingers crossed) just outside the Cliff mill’s stamp room.

Hello Cliff Mine Blog readers. My name is Trevor Curtis. I am a chemistry major undergrad with minors in math and history who is going into his senior year at Michigan Tech.

When I tell most people about my major and my two minors they give me a funny look. Most people can understand how a math minor could be related to a chemistry major but are completely baffled by how a history minor works in. Then I tell them what I want to do with my chemistry major and it kind of clicks. I’m looking to go into Forensic Chemistry in graduate school after I graduate from Michigan Tech. It’s my dream to figure out exactly what happened at crime scene with the smallest amount of evidence provided. Does this sound familiar?

This is the exact same premise that occurs with any kind of archaeology. In archaeology we try to figure out what happened at a site based on the artifacts that were left there. The way I view it is that archaeology is just forensics on a bigger time scale. It’s just that archaeologists and forensic scientists have different terms for the same thing. For instance, the area in which an event occurred to a forensic scientist would be called a crime scene while to an archaeologist it’s called a site. The things left behind by people are called evidence by forensic scientists while archeologists call them artifacts. Tomaytoe. Tomahtoe. This is why I’ve been filling my history minor with archaeology based classes.

The field archaeology class has really helped me gain skills that I’ll be able to use in my future endeavors, not only in archaeology based work, but in forensics as well. One of the most helpful skills that I’ve learned comes from the collection and preservation of artifacts. When we collect artifacts at either Clifton or Cliff mine we must know the context of the artifact, where was it found and what’s its relation to other artifacts found on the site. I order to do this, as a few other bloggers may have mentioned, we must set up a detailed three-dimensional grid of the area. This includes taking x, y, and z axis measurements of where artifacts are within the site and making detail records of these measurements. These records usually consist of making a detailed drawing of the site along with a profile drawing of the site. Also, as a back up, pictures of the site are also taken with each new layer dug out in order to maintain context. Similar, if not exactly the same measurements are taken by forensic scientists when they first enter a crime scene.  Just like with an archaeological dig, once something has been moved at a crime scene the context and thus any relevant information from that object can be lost.

Here Trevor is assisting Brittany and a volunteer with drawing SM101.U7, a unit that straddles the junction between the Cliff mill’s stamp room and wash house.

Another thing that we learned from our field archaeology class is the preservation of artifacts after they have been taken out of the site. We learned many different preservation techniques for many different types of materials such as metal, leather, organic materials, and wood. For instance, one basic preservation technique that is used is to store organic materials that may rot is to store them in a cold environment such as a freezer in order to prevent bacteria and fungi that would cause the material to degrade from growing. These techniques could also be applied to the preservation of evidence from a crime scene.

There are so many things that I’ve learned from this class that I could apply to forensics, but one of the most valuable is the ability to look at the evidence presented, piece it together, and come up with what happened at the site. Take the work that Sean has been doing at Warren’s Mill for instance. When we first dug up the site we had no clue what was happening. We could see pieces of a large log, wood from a floor, and a large piece of stone. The log also had been cut in odd ways and at first we thought it might just be rubble. However, after Sean looked at some old photos of the mill when it was still in use (kind of like an eye-witness account), he was able to determine what could have possibly happened. Now we think the large log was a log from the old mill that Warren’s had been built on. The weird markings on the log came from people trying to fit new equipment on a pre-existing piece of lumber. They had basically cut the log in order to fit their equipment. The stone in front of the log was what they were using as a mortar for their stamps to fall on. This is what amazes me about forensics and archeology. We can take things that separately mean nothing and figure out at least approximately what happened.


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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 “Student Blog Post #5: Trevor Curtis”

  1. Travis Slooter says :

    Great post Trevor

  2. Lee Sweitz says :

    Trevor — you are absolutely right about the connections between archaeology and forensic science.Thanks for all of your hard work and attention to detail during our time at Cliff Mine and Clifton this season, especially when caring for the artifacts in the lab!

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