Working in the Trenches!

During 2012, we placed a set of test pits on a grid to sample around one of the buildings in Clifton that we thought was a likely boarding house. This was one of a group of buildings that were larger framed structures with clapboard siding, a nice contrast from the small log cabins.  There was a whole cluster of them built in an area that this crew has nicknamed “downtown” Clifton.

Let my orient you using the excellent panoramic photo that Sean set up in the header on the blog! The following are a series of blow up images from this undated panorama:

A Panoramic view of Cliff and Clifton

Sean Gohman edited three of the Copper Country Historical Collections’ photographs together to create this panorama of Cliff. (Originals from the MTU Archive and Copper Country Historical Collections: #ACC-06-016A-001, #ACC-06-016A-002, and #ACC-06-016A-003)

Detail of the panorama

A blow up of the segment of that panorama. Keep your eye on the long building in the upper right hand side. That is a warehouse.

Large blow up of the image, showing the side of the warehouse and two rows of framed buildings behind it, three buildings each, on opposite sides of a lane.  This is the area in which we are working.

Large blow up of the image, showing the side of the warehouse and two rows of framed buildings behind it, three buildings each, on opposite sides of a lane. This is the area in which we are working.

With that image in mind, these images are from Roger Gerke’s GIS overlay of the foundations we can see today (in color) with the blueprint of a map of Clifton made by C&H when they bought the mine and town in the early 20th century.

A map showing building locations.

Part of Roger Gerke’s overlay of the 1913 C&H blueprint with ruins we see today. This version shows house foundations (red), churches (purple), industrial buildings (blue), undetermined buildings (yellow), roads (green), and our 2013 excavation areas (black dots).

Hopefully readers can see the warehouse building (the large blue rectangle) as a way to orient themselves from the photos above.  One would be looking “upward” on the map.  The buildings marked by red blocks are just behind the warehouse in the picture, but they seem to be built the same as those across the lane.

We picked one of these buildings to test around.  The area of testing is marked with the yellow circle below.

Overlay map with detail.

Another version of the overlay map, showing the structure and area around which we surveyed with STPs in 2012.

We undertook testing there at the very end of May last year.  While working, the research team was trying to figure out which pits were in the front yard vs. the back yard or side yard of the building.  There were so many buildings in the area, it was really hard to formulate a guess.  They ended up calling the area the “interyard,” by which they meant a yard space between several related structures.  Last year, Alejandra Alverez wrote about the STP survey in her blog post (although not about this area specifically).

Among those test pits, two of them produced very interesting results.  Keep in mind that at the time of our testing, we didn’t have the GIS print out that you see above in this post. Two randomly selected shovel tests yielded different, but interesting material.  One produced many very fragmented mid-nineteenth century domestic artifacts, like chips of ceramic the size of a fingernail. Those pieces were sitting over a preserved wooden surface.  The other test pit was only five meters to the north (further away from the building in the direction of Cliff Drive).  That one revealed no architecture, but excavators found lots of big fragments of butchered animal bone- the remains of people’s dinners!  You can read Carol Griskavich’s 2012 blog post about bones and food here.

Now there are a few things that archaeologists do very, very well, and one of them is examining the bones of animals to reconstruct human diets. Archaeologists have developed very sophisticated intellectual and physical tools for this purpose. Those blog readers that visited us last year in the field met Lee Presley, who was leading the dig in Clifton in  while Sean Gohman was running more excavations at the 1850-1869 Stamp Mill. Ms. Presley is a zooarchaeologist, a specialist in the identification of bones from archaeological sites. Her interest at Cliff stems from her dissertation research, in which she has been examining the development of the networks of food systems that fed people and animals on this resource frontier.  She has been studying how the Cliff and other mines articulated with food systems through stores, local farms, shipping and industrial food developments.  Ms. Presley will write about her research in some future posts, when she returns from some conference travel this week.

Given Lee’s interest and background, nobody on the crew was shocked when she decided that the 2012 field team needed to open some larger excavations around the two shovel test pits I mentioned above. She wanted to know more about this spot in Clifton and why there was such a concentration of butchered bone in that spot.

That story is another blog post!


About Timothy James Scarlett

Associate Professor of Archaeology at Michigan Technological University.

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