Field School Week 1: Geology and Snow in the Woods!

The first week of the field school is dedicated to orientations and background knowledge.  The students come to fieldwork with different backgrounds and experiences, which makes for a great learning environment as they develop into a team collaborators and colleagues.  We start intensive training and build from the ground up, and so we begin with geology!

Geology is important to understanding what has drawn humans to the Keweenaw for millennia.  Many readers of the blog already know a great deal about the geological formation of the Keweenaw and Lake Superior Basin.  For those who don’t, you’ll be happy to learn that the communities have made steady improvements in our heritage.

In past years, we’ve enjoyed an introduction to Keweenaw geology from Dr. Bill Rose of Michigan Tech’s Geological & Mining Engineering & Sciences Department.  This year we tried an experiment using the online educational resources that Dr. Rose, his students, and collaborators have published.  From the very beginning, we started challenging the students to think about how they can effectively tell stories from their work at the Cliff Mine and in Clifton.  Dr. Rose has worked hard to keep his scientific studies grounded in public science.  As a result, the work that he and his colleagues do has been a great comparative study for our research team. In this case, they can learn from online resources (under our guidance), while also learning the costs/benefits of online presentations of cultural and natural heritage.  The “geopark” concept is a great case study.  These heritage parks combine both “natural” and “cultural” heritage into a single system, while many other management organizations around the world stubbornly keep people and nature separate from each other.

We started the students with this recorded lecture in which Bill explains the history of the Keweenaw Rift and the formation of the Lake Superior Basin:

Then we jumped in our van and took the students to look at geology in the field.  We used a couple of resources where we could show the students rocks and landforms in both “zoos” and in their “natural habitat.”

To see rocks and minerals in zoos, we started at Michigan Tech’s new Boulder Garden:

We are saving the next resource for a rain day later in the field season, but we plan to visit more geological specimens in the newly remodeled A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum at Michigan Tech.  The Seaman is Michigan’s Official State Mineral Museum.

Silver crystals (to 0.6 cm) on copper from the Wolverine Mine, Keweenaw County, Michigan

Silver crystals (to 0.6 cm) on copper.
Wolverine Mine, Keweenaw County, Michigan
A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum, Michigan Technological University
John T. Reeder collection #431.
John A. Jaszczak photo.

From the “geology zoos” we move on to learn geology the best way, by looking at landscapes in the field. This included two major driving trips.  We loaded into the van and headed on a trip around the Keweenaw, from Houghton and Hancock and the Quincy Overlook to Calumet and along the spine of the peninsula via Cliff Drive; to the north shore via Eagle River, Eagle Harbor, and Copper Harbor; back up onto the spine to Brockway Mountain and then down to Lac La Belle; back along the south shore to Gay, and Torch lake and home.  The next trip was a day long hike into the Porcupine Mountains State Park to study the geology, landforms, and mining sites in parts of the park.  The trips were challenging this year because of the heavy and late snow. Snow still covered some of the landscapes and the high spring flood waters also obscured some of the geological features we hoped to see.  Not all the roads had been throughly cleared of snowmobile traction studs yet, a perennial problem in Michigan’s UP early in spring.

Sam Sweitz fixes a flat tire during a field trip.

Professor Sam Sweitz changes a flat tire on our field trip van in Ontonagon, Michigan.

We also used a couple of online resources for these trips:

The new Houghton Geology Walk/Bike Site System:

We also drew upon the resources established for the Michigan Teacher Excellence Program (MITEP), using these pages:

The first week also covered introductions to mining technology and history, the antiquity and history of the Keweenaw, and other material (like basic first aid and wilderness emergency response).  More information soon!


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About Timothy James Scarlett

Associate Professor of Archaeology at Michigan Technological University.

One response to “Field School Week 1: Geology and Snow in the Woods!”

  1. Joe Dancy says :

    The lecture by Dr. Rose is very informative, I love his slides. Now I know about the Laki Eruption, the Laurentide ice sheet and how it impacted North American and the Keewenaw, the Cane Terrace and how the Tech campus is built on that feature, and why the fact we have no sulfur in our ores is such a good thing environmentally. Plus he gave me a bunch of places to hike to and visit.

    If I can remember his technical jargon I can explain that I am not a geologist, but I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night

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