Friday is our scheduled lab day, where we wash and catalogue the artifacts collected during the rest of the week.
While the first thing that most people associate with archaeology is digging up artifacts, this is only one part of archaeological research. Once artifacts are removed from the ground, they aren’t very informative until we analyse them, and that happens in the lab. For some students, they quickly discover that the lab side of things is their true passion. For every day of fieldwork, it is a good rule of thumb that there are at least two days of labwork to deal with the artifacts recovered.
In this part of the world, our weather and seasonality means it is common to ‘make hay while the sun shines’, and thus excavate as much as one can during the window of ground workability and visibility. The winter then becomes lab time, where the artifacts amassed during the spring-fall field season are carefully analysed, documented, and reports are written based on the results from the analysis.
For the field school, however, we try to schedule in lab time each week, and also rotate students through various activities according to their interests and aptitude.
Today the students worked on washing the artifacts we recovered yesterday, and setting them out on trays to dry. The next scheduled lab day (or rain day if we get rained out), the dry artifacts are separated by material type and analysed. We had a backlog of stuff from earlier fieldwork, so the students also documented that material and applied some of the information that they had learned in their intensive workshop on historical artifacts.
Here’s a sneak peek at a small sample of the artifacts we recovered yesterday. These tray layouts reminded me of I-Spy games, so let’s play a game, and I’ll post the answers Monday.
The rain has really been putting a crimp in our excavation schedule! Yesterday the students were split into two groups, and spent half the day at each activity. One activity was going out to the site with Dr James Conolly and learning about how to map and plan architectural features like walls using tapes and fixed reference points. The other purpose of this exercise was to familiarize everyone with the site and to start thinking about the excavation strategy.
The other activity was located at our wet lab in the Archaeology Centre, where the students got a crash course in identifying and understanding historical artifacts by Dr Marit Munson, who teaches the Historic and Ceramics Lab Methods course (ANTH 3152H) for the Anthropology Department. The students got to see the artifacts recovered from our initial identification and sampling of the site last summer in order to better prepare them for the start of excavation.
This morning we loaded up the trailer and arrived on site (fondly known as “The Corral”) for 9am. Today’s job was to clear back the surface of the site and begin excavating in the first structure we identified. We are excavating by context, instead of the more familiar 1-metre-square units. That means we are peeling back the layers of the site in the reverse order of how they were formed instead of punching a 1-metre-square hole through part of the site and seeing what is contained in that small window.
We accomplished a lot by 3pm, and found many interesting artifacts, including the Artifact of the Day.
Tomorrow the rain is supposed to return, but that is fine as Fridays are scheduled lab days in the Archaeology Centre. Tomorrow we will be washing and beginning analysis of the artifacts we recovered today. All in all, today was a very good day!
Each day on site we decide upon the Artifact of the Day, which is voted on by the students. Other notable finds that didn’t make the cut were a carved bone knife handle, a porcelain doll’s leg, and a pocket watch case.
Today’s artifact was a bit of a surprise, to say the least. It is what is known as a ‘tinnie’, which is a general term for a commemorative medal, badge, or pin made from a non-precious metal such as tin, aluminum, zinc, or even plastic.
These articles were meant to be worn on clothing, and were commonly given away or sold at public events to build and reinforce group cohesiveness. The “golden age” of the tinnie was around the Second World War, and USSR and the Nazi party in particular were the most prolific producers of these items.
This particular example is made from aluminum, and is to commemorate the Tag der Deutschen Seefahrt [Day of German Seafaring], a nautical event which occurred in Hamburg, Germany on May 25-26, 1935.
To contextualise this artifact, and what the symbolism means, we can break it down into elements:
The design features the national emblem of Nazi Germany, the Reichsadler [Imperial Eagle], an eagle holding a wreath with a swastika in the center.
The motto SEEFAHRT IST NOT is really interesting. This concept was first attributed by Plutarch to the Roman military leader Pompey (Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus). As Plutarch relates, Pompey was in charge of organizing Rome’s supply of grain from other parts of the Empire. During a severe storm, the sailors coming from Africa did not want to set out due to the danger. Pompey then told them “navigare necesse est, vivere non est necesse” [to sail is necessary; to live is not necessary].
Johann Kinau published a novel under the pseudonym Gorch Fock in 1913 called “Seefahrt ist Not!”, which can be both translated as “seafaring is necessary” but also ambiguously as “seafaring is hardship”. This novel describes the life of the deep sea fishermen of his home island. Fock died on the cruiser SMS Wiesbaden in the Battle of Jutland in 1916. This motto was then taken by the Nazi party and heavily featured as a propaganda concept.
Johann Kinau was born in the fishing village of Finkenwerder, which is now part of Hamburg, Germany.
The ship depicted is likely the Gorch Fock class Nazi tall ship the Horst Wessel, launched 1936. The eponymous ship for the class, the Gorch Fock was launched 3 May 1933, and was the main training vessel for the German Reichsmarine. It is argued that the ship depicted on the badge can’t be the Gorch Fock, because there is an eagle decoration on the prow that the Horst Wessel had but the Gorch Fock did not.
Although I was able to uncover a bit of information about this day badge, these questions now remain: who owned this piece; how did it arrive in Nassau Mills from Germany; and how does it relate to the structure we are excavating?
During the course of the field season, we will be featuring contributions from the crew. Today we have a post from one of our Advanced Field Methods students, Shannon, who would like to share her impressions and photographs of a field trip we took today to visit the Hope Mill, a historic sawmill on the Indian River.
Upon exiting my classmate’s car at the Hope Mill, my first thought was “man, this weather sucks”. I then turned and looked at the ‘open’ work space and said “holy cow, these mill workers are hardcore”. As I stood there freezing, in my thermal pants in the month of May, it hit me; “imagine this work space in a 19th century winter”. Again, I’m tempted to think that this mill and its workers are hardcore.
Truth is, those currently running and maintaining the Hope Mill have it easy. They have sections of the mill upgraded with electricity and lights, and they even have a tiled floor in their ‘out house’. All in all, the history of Hope Mill, although somewhat restored; bleeds through every aspect of this structure, and its founding families are honored in a variety of ways.
Nearly two hours go by, and I can no longer feel my left hand or my feet.
Literally frozen in my spot, the saw blade starts spinning and the entire mill starts to tremble. The crew of workers take their places and saw dust starts flying. Several minutes later, a wooden plank is sent up a roller belt and is ready for use.
This simple field trip changed my entire view of 2×4’s and I now hold a new appreciation for every picnic table I see. I have gained a new understanding of the historic value of such open workshops and the amount of work put into such structures to ensure production, and safety.
I can’t wait to see what will be uncovered and excavated during the Nassau Mills Project this year.
Today was the first day of the 2017 field school. After a meet and greet at the Archaeology Centre, we were going to go walk around and point out the hidden world that exists on campus. We didn’t get very far—although archaeologists don’t melt in the rain, it helps to have proper rain gear and we were lacking some of that, so the tour will be tomorrow.
Instead, we spent some time looking at some amazing old photographs that show some of the past history of what is now Trent University’s campus. We’ll be featuring some of these in upcoming posts, so stay tuned.
So who is Charles Perry and why is he important?
Charles Perry was born December 7, 1818 in Cobourg to Ebenezer Perry, who was a meat-packer, merchant, and miller. Ebenezer Perry built a mill on the Douro side of the Otonabee River in 1847, and this launched Charles into the lumber business in Peterborough. He had great success in marketing square timber and sawn lumber.
Where this becomes directly relevant to us is because by 1851, Charles began buying up land in Smith Township, including a parcel that is now part of Trent University. In 1853 he was elected Mayor of Peterborough. In 1854 he completed construction of his sawmill at Nassau, directly across the river from Ebenezer’s mill. Charles’s mill was pretty distinctive in its heyday. Charles painted all his buildings red, so the big mill at Nassau is often referred to as the Red Mill. It had 130 saws, including two Yankee Gangs, a Slabber, Stock Gang, and an English Gate. Gang saws were saw blades used together in parallel to make the initial cuts to a log when cutting it into planks.
The Red Mill was ravenous for timber, and is recorded as able to cut 90,000 feet of lumber in twelve hours. Unfortunately, Charles Perry’s reach exceeded his grasp, and in 1860, he lost the Red Mill at Nassau as it was seized and sold at a Sherriff’s Auction to cover tax arrears.
At this point, Charles Perry drops out of his connection to our field site, but he lived a pretty interesting life after his crash. The forefeiture of his mill property didn’t seem to really affect his reputation too much as he was again elected Mayor of Peterborough in 1861, a position he held until 1864.
Following his stint as Mayor, he also was elected to the first Canadian Parliament in 1867 as a Conservative MP representing Peterborough West. He served until 1872. After that, he appears to have been a customs collector for Peterborough from 1873 until his death in 1876.
He lived at the French-Second-Empire-style house at 168 Brock St., Peterborough from its construction in 1870 until his death. His widow sold the property in 1892.
While we can’t truly know what is beneath the surface until we begin excavations, we are anticipating learning something about the Euro-Canadian settlers who came to this region. Probably we will also intersect with the industrial boom that the lumber trade and the arrival of the railroad brought. Finally, we might learn something about how use of this landscape changed after the sawmills fell silent.
Historical archaeology is when we have written records and oral traditions that we can use together with artifacts to gain a more nuanced view of what happened at a site. Sometimes the information complements our picture of a site gained from the excavation—and sometimes documentary evidence conflicts with what we glean from the archaeological record!
Some argue that the documentary record means we don’t need to spend much time excavating historical sites. Surely we already know much about Nassau Mills, we have accounts from contemporary visitors that tell us of dramatic events and the prominent personalities of the day.
While these documents are an important tool that we can use to learn about the past, they do not tell us everything we would like to know. Documents are often incomplete and biased towards particular points of view. Often documents are based on imperfect recall or events are recast to portray actions or thoughts in an idealised fashion. More commonly, they are simply dry lists and accountings that don’t really have much personality–they are often sparse in detail about the daily lives, thoughts, and activities of people, and they neglect or overlook certain segments of society.
The information we can derive from material culture is a way to shed light on those unrecorded behaviours and under-represented members of a culture. The structures that made up the Nassau Mills complex, the mills, outbuildings, worker houses, farmhouses, railway platform, etc., and the refuse people discarded will reveal information about the everyday lives of the community at Nassau Mills.
By combining the historical record with the archaeological record, we explore a number of questions about the lived experience of people that we can’t otherwise address. We can move from the smallest to ever larger scales of social interaction. We can see how small scale material (e.g. the remains of a single house) fits into and is transformed by its relationship to larger cultural systems (Nassau Mills, Peterborough, Canada West, etc.).
Beginning May 1st, we will start to investigate around Nassau Mills with the Trent Archaeology Field School. We’ll be posting updates about our work, and the students will also be contributing to the site and relaying their experiences. We hope you enjoy following along with us.