Hello hello! While the field school part with the students is now over, there is still a lot of work to be done. We need to finish cataloguing and then we need to photograph representative artifacts and write the report.
But it won’t end there, as students this fall in Dr Marit Munson’s Advanced Lab Methods course will be developing original research based on this material. I’ll post updates on this process as I am sure it will be fascinating!
Eventually we would like to publish a book on our work exploring sites related to Nassau Mills.
In this post, Joel takes you through one of the student exercises of digging a Stage 3 test unit. — Kate
On May 14th, 2018 I started my first archaeological stage 3 test unit at Trent University’s Archaeology site (Nassau Mills research site BcGn-23). This first test unit was strategically located through the use of a ground penetrating radar whereas through the GPR we located a area where there high possibility of archaeological significance. In this area we, as a team, dug roughly 9 test units among this area. Specifically this stage 3 test unit of mine and my partners proved to be quite the challenge, as it turned into a 1mx1mx1m cube of a unit without ever excavating deep enough to find the natural soil. The test unit started off like any basic test unit where it was simple matter of digging, context detection, and recording of context changes. This all changed when we began to hit a fill layer from early Trent university construction.
Early on in Trent University history the faculty bulldozed and landscaped the area around the corner of Nassau Mills Rd and Water St intersection and continued inwards towards what is now the Blackburn building. This bulldozing and landscaping resulted in a mixmash of cultural material from the 1960’s which included a very dense layer of solid asphalt from the previous road that linked earlier residences along the Trent bank to Water St. Upon finding this layer of asphalt myself and my partner Anthony began to struggle with the digging as it required extensive use of the mattock/pickaxe to remove this dense 60s fill from the contexts. This dense gravel and asphalt fill took the majority of a day to excavate properly, and throughout this dense context there wasn’t a single artifact found. Once we made it through this dense context we were sadly at the end of day.
Two days later May 16th we came back with high hopes of completing this test unit within a matter of a few of hours, sadly we were proven wrong. We were proven wrong because our unit proved to be a seemingly never ending jumble of contexts and transitions which made it much more complicated then your average test unit. Towards the end of the day we continually were tricked into the idea that we had hit natural soil, but we would make it down and find a small chunk of brick or terracotta and have to go another 10cm deeper, this happened until we made it down to 103cm deep. At this point we ended up stopping due to lack of materiel evidence and lack of time to continue excavation of the whole depth of the unit.
In order to finish the site we then had to draw the stratigraphic layers accurately to describe the contexts which we had removed, this was in my perspective the most enjoyable part of my first test as it as it involved a rest from all of the digging. Overall my first test unit was a great learning experience on how to properly excavate test units and accurately record contexts, and I am sure that I will remember that asphalt layer for years to come.
Caedda has some great observations about teamwork and how fieldwork is a collective practice. — Kate
With the field school coming to a close, I have been thinking about some of the things that we have learned over this month. Out of the many practical skills we have learned and the knowledge we have gained, realizing just how important simply working well together is on a dig, was one of the coolest things I learned through the field school.
Most work places try to promote the idea of teamwork. They run seminars and host office events to try to create some resemblance of a community. And getting along in a workplace is important regardless of the job, but I have never worked in a place where these elements are so vital as they are during a dig.
This became evident right at the beginning. Our first day in the field we were learning the skill of traverse mapping. Personally, I was as nervous as I could have been. But after instructions were given out, we were left to figure it all out. This was the first time I realized that none of us would have figured it out as quickly as we did if we hadn’t done it as a team. Some people understood the math (not me J), some people understood the whole concept, some were natural leaders, and others helped along the way. These maps were a headache, but we managed after we began building on the strengths of the people around us.
Once we began digging, we fell into a rhythm, digging together, learning to screen and looking for artifacts together, getting excited when someone found something, and most importantly- sweating together. Seriously, nothing bonds people more that digging in the dirt in unbearable heat together.
It was really cool to look around the site and see everything working like a machine. People would help each other seamlessly, we would share tools, share ideas, and work around each other like a dance (cheesy yes, but with all the stumps and rocks it really was a dance to move around the site). James and Kate made sure that we rotated work stations and groups so that we all learned to work with each other and so by the end we all had the same experiences that we could share.
Another major stepping stone in our path to community, was our daily log routines. Every day we filled out a daily log which detailed everything we worked on and notes for tomorrow. But Kate also informed us that we should have details of what others were doing that day. Our breaks would begin with everyone asking and discussing what they were working on, what cool things they had found, or how frustrated they were with their context. This was wonderful because it helped us all to have a full picture of what each of us were working on and to stay connected and informed.
Without the community and teamwork that we had, our site would not have functioned as smooth or efficiently as it did.
On a more personal level, teamwork and community was vital as well. Digging alongside someone for hours on end would be hellish if you weren’t able to get along in some way. When you are digging, or cleaning artifacts together, there is really nothing else you can do but talk. And after a while, being able to reach a point where simply working alongside each other in companionable silence was great. We didn’t all have to be best friends, but learning to work together, to be cordial and considerate, was so important.
While thinking about how great the community was on our site, I remembered a story one of my first year TA’s told us, about a dig she worked on for a few years. She said that one year, a person was working on the dig and could not work well with the rest of the crew. She wasn’t unskilled or bad at the job, but she was simply not a team player and for that reason she was not hired again the next season. Even Kate, when asked, told us about having to work alongside people who were less than agreeable and how hard that can make archaeological field work.
Honestly this work is hard, physically and mentally, and trekking across an island, moving giant rocks, or setting up confusing equipment would be brutal without the camaraderie and support from a team that functions smoothly. Or as Sarah is fond of saying, “Teamwork makes the dream work!”
Here’s Anthony’s impressions of our visit to Big Island. — Kate
On May 23 and May 24 the Field School undertook an out-trip to Big Island. Big Island, also known as Boyd Island or Chiminis. The first day was quite chaotic. The group was split between two different marinas creating a logistical issue for ferrying everyone to the island. James patiently took us all in three trips meaning we started later then usual. Once we all arrived on the island and gathered ourselves we began preparations for a full-group transect survey. We intended to walk in straight lines across the entire 3km expanse of the island. This quickly became difficult due to differences in instruments, dense terrain and overall confusion. Quickly the group became fragmented and the survey was compromised. After much confusion, and a long time waiting in the centre of the island for stragglers, we decided to call it a day and head back to the boat landing.
Day two was much more productive and fulfilling. After only two ferry trips to Big Island instead of three, we hiked up to the centre of the island with mapping equipment such as total stations and theodolites. These were used to map out the positions of the many cairns (rock piles) and white pine stumps in the central island alvar area. About two thirds of our group stayed in this area for the day, mapping out the multiple features. My group consisted of myself, Emma, Raine, Danny and Nick. We completed the transect survey where Kate had left off, on the 900 easting, at 10 metre intervals. The five of us hiked through some extremely dense brush. I cannot begin to describe the types of plants and foliage we managed to get through but it was thick, sharp and a strange dusty pollen was constantly in the air. While staying as straight as possible in our transects we would record any cultural materials, namely large pine stumps.
These stumps are the remains of massive trees that were logged over 100 years ago and thus culturally significant. It was fascinating how the current forest on the island is actually quite new as most of the island was previously logged and then used for ranch land. The stumps were a glimpse into the historic landscape. It was fascinating to me how much an area can change in a relatively short time. The island is now protected by the Kawartha Land Trust and thus has been left to become wild again. Our small group finally reached the northern end of the island and after lunch and a refreshing dip we began to search for the rumoured remains of an old house. We did not have much time however, and had to abandon our search to complete our transect survey. We once again hiked through incredibly thick forest finding virtually nothing except stumps and cairns. Some of these cairns were located in such thick parts of forest that it was hard to believe they were put their by some rancher a century earlier. They seemed much older then that, which led us to believe that Ancient Aliens had to be responsible. All joking aside, it was actually mind-boggling to try and imagine the original landscape of the island. All that remains of the prior island industry are a few stumps, multiple rock piles and some clearings, where its assumed cattle grazing took place.
We eventually managed to bushwhack our way back to the rest of the group. They had a successful day mapping out the cairns in their area. However, countless other cairns exist on the island, and it could take weeks to properly map out each individual cairn, let alone find them all.
Overall, Big Island was a ton of fun and super interesting. I’ve never taken a boat to school for any other class I’ve had so that was thrilling in itself. It was also a great experience to get out in nature and apply skills we’ve learned on site or in the classroom.
Being outdoors and exploring new areas is one of the reasons I’m interested in pursuing archaeology, so needless to say I really enjoyed myself on the island. Especially on day two where we actually managed to document a fair amount of information. I would love to one day return to Big Island and simply enjoy its tranquility and relative isolation. As the Field School winds down I find myself reflecting on the time we’ve had together. No doubt the Big Island out-trip will definitely be one of the most memorable aspects of a very memorable month! As a non-Trent student I can say I’ve more then enjoyed my time at Trent University and hope to return one day very soon.
— Anthony Miller