I’ve decided to move my blogging over to WordPress. My decision to move is partly because of the advertisement that (occasionally) appears on Edublogs. Also it looks like I’ve nearly used up all the storage space that Edublogs provide for their free blogs.
I’m keeping the “Old Dirt – New Thoughts” name. I have not decided what to do with this old blog. Possibly I’ll leave it up so I can reference the posts discussing my research.
I do plan on blogging on a regular basis again. So check out my new blog. The url is simply ‘olddirt.wordpress.com‘.
Stacy and Tamara identifying shellfish.
The students in my lab class are pushing hard to finish their projects. They’re all working on materials from Aniakchak – mostly the 2007 collections. They’re producing the first real data from these materials. I have students analyzing shellfish, mammal bones, chipped stone waste flakes, chipped stone tools, and bone tools. Other students are working on the catalog data and illustrations. It’s my favorite part of the class. I have 16 research assistants – all generating data and addressing questions. It’s a blast.
Art is one of the more exciting finds in archaeology and one of the more challenging materials to interpret. Our excavations at Aniakchak have produced a small, but intriguing assemblage of artwork and decorated objects.
One of my favorite artifacts from our last field season is this small face. It is obviously broken in half, but the face still resonates a kind of quiet presence. I’m not sure whether this object served a utilitarian purpose. It appears to have been a hollow tube made from cancellous sea mammal bone. Pronounced polish on the bottom edge of this artifact is suggestive of use-wear.
I apologize for the long delay in posting to this blog. I had a very overdue report I needed to write for the BIA. The good news is that the report is now in their hands, so I’m back to blogging.
Over the next week I plan to post on Aniakchak art, research being done by my lab class, and new developments with the Hamline Village History project. Check back soon for this new stuff.
For now, I’ll just add some photographs of modern pectroglyphs and Inuksuit I took while walking along Artist’s Point in Grand Marais this last summer.
The field phase of our Methodist church excavation is officially done. Yesterday, Hamline’s Grounds Services hauled back all our excavated dirt and filled in our trench. No backfilling by hand for us. My students will never truly appreciate their luck in missing this traditional part of archaeology.
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.
Stained glass shards found along the church foundation.
We’re finding a lot of small shards of colored glass. We believe these are from the rose windows. The interesting aspect is the diversity of colors – mostly greens and yellows, but also blue and amber colors. I just held them up to the sunlight a few minutes ago as I photographed some of them for this blog. While snapping this picture I realized the symbolism. After 80 years of darkness, sunlight is again shining through the church’s stained glass windows.
Slowly, very slowly, the church ruin is coming into focus. After six weeks of digging (well, really we’ve worked about 45 hours on site) we are starting to see the scene of what remained in 1926 after the demolition work. We see sections of wall pushed over and bricks strewn about. Everywhere we’re finding limestone fragments.
Wow, what a beautiful fall day! Plenty of sunshine and plenty of wind. The leaves were swirling around us and filling the pits as we dug. It felt really good to be outside doing archaeology on a day like today.
We continue to uncover more of the foundation. It has emerged as a substantial wall, over 50 cm (2 feet) thick. We’re also starting to hit rubble inside the building including small fragments of wood and lots of nails. I view these finds as a positive sign – that we’re closing in on the church interior and hopefully a glimpse of what might have survived the fire and demolition.
One of last week’s highlights was being joined in our excavation by some fifty 6th graders from Hancock Elementary school. It was a great experience to work side by side with such enthusiastic kids. As expected, we found some nails, ceramics, clinker, bricks, and lots of worms.
The only glitch in the entire day was when we lost Rayna. I never did get the entire story, but apparently one of the teacher’s aides thought Rayna was a 6th grader and made her go back to Hancock with the rest of the class. We eventually straightened out the mix-up and had Rayna returned to us. To avoid similar problems in the future, we’re asking Rayna to carry some form of ID whenever we have young kids on the site.
Rayna happy to return to our class
Our Homecoming open dig was a lot of fun. Our timing was fortunate, with one of the nicest days we’ve seen this week. I was impressed by our returning volunteers – they knew what to do and started working as soon as they arrived. I had it easy. I just went around talking to people and everyone else did all the hard work. Public archaeology certainly has its advantages.
Maya had the find of the day – a metal enamel cup, slightly crushed but otherwise intact. She found it in a thin lens of ash and coal. The lens appears to be a trash dump, presumably from a coal burning stove. Stratigraphically it post-dates the church, but it indicates some refuse disposal was incorporated into the fill over the church.
It was a great day for Hamline area historians. We had a lot of conversations about the early church history, local architecture, and future sites to dig. All the possibilities are intriguing, I just need to convince Hamline that I should start offering Excavating Hamline History every semester instead of every other year.
We’re expanding our excavations. At the church site we have added a “T” extension on the west end of our trench that will expose a longer section of the church’s foundation. We want to better document the building’s location and construction. We also are hoping to find more artifacts – especially anything with architectural details. We’ve started to on-cover a mass of fragmented red brick, mortar, and wood. It’s all in a jumble as if it was thrown up against the outer wall during demolition. This pile of debris is important because it indicates we are close to the original ground surface. Everything we find in this strata are likely to be objects from the time of the church.
We’re also expanding the locus of our excavations to include the red brick house across the street. This colonial-style house was built in 1884 and is amongst the earliest houses still remaining in the Hamline neighborhood. Assuming the house occupants were home in December 1925, they would have been some of our best witnesses to the fire at the Methodist church. We’ll be digging in the backyard and hoping to find features and artifacts from the early days of this house’s existence. This dig will be our first exploration of a domestic site. The contrast of this excavation with our digs at institutional sites (the church and the university) should provide a broader understanding of life in Hamline village 100 years ago.
We found the church! At least we found a possible foundation located where the west wall of the church should be. It’s not as substantial a construction as we expected – so we have a lot of questions to answer and more digging to do. Archaeology almost always works this way. You may or may not find what you are looking for, but you always end up with more questions than when you started.
Natalie documenting the wall. It doesn’t look like much in this picture, but it is the linear mass in the foreground with a limestone block on top of it.
We had a very nice turnout for our first open dig. About 30 people showed up – including some enthusiastic kids. The sun made for a gorgeous autumn day – perfect for digging, especially for drying our muddy soils. The gravel fill in the second level (10-20 cm below surface), however, made the digging tough. I didn’t hear any complaints. Possibly the cookies and apple cider helped compensate for the sore trowel hands.
Our finds today were pretty sparse. Among the most interesting to me is the scatter of ash and coal, probably the refuse from a coal burning stove or furnace. We need to find out when people in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood stopped using coal, but this material suggests our fill comes from a site area dating to the mid-20th century or earlier.
The biggest question in my mind right now is if we should switch to shoveling out the fill. We could dig faster and get to the church foundation quicker. It’s a tempting thought.
BAG #001 – The first bag of excavated artifacts from our 2007 dig.
We excavated the first level at the Hamline Methodist Church site today. We’re digging through a layer of rocky fill with a light scatter of 20th century artifacts. Some nails, slate shingle fragments, a limestone suggest we have building demolition debris, but are these from the church or some other structure? We need to keep digging to find our answer.
Ryan made the find of the day – a white ceramic sherd with a prominent maker’s mark. It’ll be interesting to see if we can identify the mark.
This Saturday is our first open dig. Stop by between 9 AM and 3 PM if you want to check out what’s happening.
Ryan’s find of the day
Dave McMahan, an archaeologist with the Alaska SHPO office, and I are completing the final touches to a paper we have written on the Japanese coins recovered from our excavations (Unimak for me, Castle Hill, Sitka for him). We think it’s remarkable that both sites produced Japanese, but not Chinese coins. In looking at other archaeological and historical data we argue that
[T]he regional distribution of coins suggest two distinct patterns for the Russian-American period. In the north and west, coins are relatively rare and generally of either Japanese or Russian mint. The more abundant coins in the south and east are predominately of Chinese mint, but include the occasional Japanese specimen (Beals 1977). This archaeological distribution is in accordance with what we know regarding the economic history of Russia-America. During the early period (1741-1785), most trade goods arrived in the north Pacific after an arduous and expensive transport from Russian controlled territory. Currency of any type was difficult to obtain, and probably of less utility than beads and bullets. With the entry of British and American traders after 1785, the greater availability of all trade goods, but especially Chinese copper coins, is reflected in the Northwest Coast’s relative abundance of archaeological finds.
So the reason Chinese coins were relatively abundant (at least as documented historically) was because British and American merchants could sail their vessels to the port of Canton, load up on inexpensive manufactured goods, including trinkets like copper coins, then cross the Pacific to trade with the Northwest Coast natives for highly profitable sea otter pelts. The Russians were never allowed such easy access to Chinese manufactured goods. Instead they were required to trade with the Chinese at the isolated town of Kiakhta located in the middle of nowhere on the Siberian-Mongolian frontier. You can image that the Russian traders never wanted to carry much weight in Chinese copper coins when returning to their north Pacific trade.
We think our Japanese coins made their way to Alaska through some poorly documented, but historically fascinating mechanism – possibly a disabled Japanese fishing vessel drifted ashore near our sites, or some illegal trading between the Russian and Japanese started the coins on their journey. In any case, we are looking for more archaeological finds of coins in 18th and 19th century north Pacific sites. I especially think there must be more sites in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia that we need to add to our analysis. I pasted at the bottom of this post the citations we already have. Any one know of sites we can add?
Chinese coins from the Yakutat site of New Russia. The upper coin dates to the Ching Dynasty (1723-1735). Dave recently “discovered” the lower coin when he was reexamining this collection for our paper. We have not positively identified the damaged coin, but we believe it is of Chinese origin.
Today we started the Hamline Methodist Church excavation. We managed to strip the sod from our first trench in between rain showers this afternoon.
There’s a lot of gravel and rock immediately below the sod layer. We also noted a few shards of bottle glass and a lot of worms. The weather report for Thursday looks decent – so with a little luck we should make good progress.
Saturday (Sept. 22nd) from 9 AM until 3 PM is our open dig for the Hamline neighborhood. Everyone is encouraged to stop by to see what we’re finding. You can even help dig or screen if you don’t mind getting muddy.
In this 2004 photo my students are uncovering the outer wall of Hamline’s original Hall of Science. I wonder will we find an intact wall during our church excavation?
Fall semester began last week, so we are about to start our excavation of the Hamline Methodist Church site. We plan to lay out our excavation grid on Tuesday, then start the actual dig on Thursday. I admit I’m a tiny bit worried. Usually I would have tested a site before starting a major dig. That way I’d know something about the soil stratigraphy and the site’s preservation. I’d have some clue as to what is below the sod.
Historic distribution of southwest Alaskan native groups (from Dumond 2005)
Aniakchak is very near to the historic boundary between Unangan (Aleut) and Supiaq or Alutiiq (Pacific Eskimo) peoples. One of our research goals is to determine in what ways this boundary may have changed in the past. What we want to know is who lived in Aniakchak Bay? Were they more closely related to the people of the Aleutian Islands or the Kodiak Archipelago, or was their culture an amalgamation of regional traditions. In what ways did they interact with their neighbors to the east and west? Was there a sharp boundary between peoples or was there a lot of trade and contact? Did these borderlands change throughout the occupation of the site, or did they remain relatively stable and permanent? To answer these questions we look at everything from houses and harpoons to carved ivory and even quartz crystals.
Quartz crystal from Koniag house