St. Paul weather at 3:53 PM (Overcast 37 °F / 3 °C)
Today’s cold weather was well timed. No one in the class seemed disappointed to finish the excavations on a day when the blustery north winds made it feel almost like winter. Personally I like working outside when November turns stormy. It makes coming into a warm house (or a warm lab) feel so good.
I’m very pleased with our accomplishments. Although we didn’t find the church’s organ, we did discover a few new things about Hamline village history. Our lab phase will bring these discoveries into focus, but the stained glass and other architectural details are the most obvious of our finds. The project was also a success as a community archaeology dig and, at least so far, as an educational opportunity. Its great to see how far my students have progressed as field archaeologists in such a short time.
A collapse of our trench wall created the greatest challenge to our research goals. I almost gave up on trying to reach the church basement.
We were down about 140 cm (4.5 feet) in our easternmost unit (farthest inside the church) and just starting to remove brick and mortar rubble last Thursday when the north trench wall collapsed. The sandy soil used to fill the church site after the demolition is so loose that its almost like trying to dig in a sandbox. Although a discouraging setback, we returned on Sunday and in couple hours opened a smaller unit (about 75 cm square) and punched through to the basement floor (200 cm below the ground surface). We found a layer of burned wood about 20 cm thick immediately on top of the concrete floor. Mixed in this burned layer we recovered some wood molding, lots of nails and other metal, a little glass, one ceramic sherd, and a small curved sheet of wall paper. This last find has a paisley print of muted earth-tone colors. We are storing it in the lab refrigerator until we have time to bring it to the conservation lab at the Minnesota Historical Society.
So what should we infer from the sparse finds inside the church (excluding architectural remains)? My guess is that we can say very little. The general absence of church artifacts in the small area of the basement we exposed does not necessarily mean the rest of the church interior would be equally unproductive to dig. As I pointed out to my students, we could “dig” a dozen small squares in our lab and not hit any “artifacts” even though our lab is overwhelmed with equipment and collections. What we are left with, after all our digging, is an inadequate sample from the church interior. The burned layer underneath the demolition rubble suggests an undisturbed fire scene. I think we need to come back to this site for another dig. We now know the stratigraphy and the foundation location. We know where to dig and how deep to go. We could dig a really big hole and I’m sure we’d find that church organ.