My 2013 archaeology field school has begun. We spent our first week in southwestern Minnesota where we are working with Tom Sanders and Chuck Broste on the Jeffers archaeology project.
Our Monday morning start was slowed by the missing Hamline van. It was off for maintenance and no one knew when it would be ready. Fortunately we were only delayed a few hours, leaving us enough to time to get to Jeffers by early evening. I like this time of day best because the low angle of the sun makes the petroglyphs really pop. We were lucky to be able to see the site with Tom Sanders as our tour guide. He always gives the students a great introduction to our project.
Our week was spent at the Gruenig site – a large habitation site located across the creek from the rock art site. We excavated a trench to investigate an enigmatic surface feature, but ‘discovered’ what so many archaeologists find - that archaeological sites can often be slow to reveal their stories. The stratigraphy of our trench provided evidence of a shallow depression that had been ‘recently’ filled with soil, soil most likely scraped from the adjacent plowed field. We are guessing this source because the fill contained the same mix of stone flakes, iron nails, and glass sherds as the adjacent plowed field. Tom Sanders believes the depression was probably filled by a farmer who wanted to level this hay field. Below the fill was undisturbed soil with perhaps two distinct cultural horizons where we found fire cracked rock, a few lithic tools and small assemblage of flakes. We searched without luck for post holes or other evidence that would help us understand the enigmatic feature. We still don’t know what we have, but the cultural finds will give us something to analyze.
Weather for the first week covered the wide range of a Minnesota summer. We boiled in Tuesday’s windless, humid heat. Wednesday was cold, windy and rainy. We worked under a tent awning but still were a muddy mess when thunder finally drove us off the site. We were so muddy, in fact, that I made all my students take off their boots and rain gear before getting into the Hamline van. Thursday and Friday were windy and sunny – more typical weather for Jeffer’s prairie edge location.
While we didn’t find as many artifacts as we have recovered from other areas of the site, the week was still a real success. My students gained skills in excavating, screening, note-taking, and bag-labeling. They also developed into an efficient team. It was fun to watch them as they evolved from novice to competent field archaeologists. It was a good week.