Sunday, June 30, 2013

News Coverage

In addition to being filmed for a PBS special, the field season saw other media coverage.  Here are some links:

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Lake Mills Leader

Daily Union

Wisconsin Public Radio

Finally, we were visited several days by our friend and photographer, Dan Seurer, who maintains a blog at

Be sure to look through all the tabs on the side of his main page, as there are several different links featuring the field school. 

Crew Photo

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Relaxin' After Work

Last Week

Alanna:  It has come to the last week of field school, sadly, and I have learned more than I ever expected.  I found gravel is difficult to shovel (but sand is way too easy).  I learned about bone identification a little as well.  The newest thing I have learned is that exiting and entering the square is an art form.  Especially with sand, you have to carefully "leap" in, but exiting needs more of a running start.  Besides our

My partner and I removed the soil between two of the squares recently.  It was a little intense since we got part of a prehistoric pot out of the wall while it poured down rain and caked me in mud.  The other students had tarped their units earlier, but our square was partially covered by an Easy-Up Tent.  So, the professors and students were watching as we protected the pottery with our cold, wet, muddy bodies.  I have to say that has to be one of my favorite experiences at field school.

Alanna (bottom right corner) watches her partner work in their unit.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Gravel Knows

Jacque:  For the past week, I have been excavating a feature in my unit on the Gravel Knoll.  A feature is a human-made structure that can't be removed, such as a house or a fire pit.  A suspicious circle of gravel appeared in the floor of my unit, so we decided to cross-section it to determine exactly what it was.  While digging out half of the the gravel circle, we were able to follow the color changes in the soil to determine the shape of the feature, which ended up being shaped like a pit.  After mapping and profiling the feature, we dug out the other half of the gravel pit.  Based on the artifacts discovered within this feature, such as charcoal and animal bones, we were able to conclude this feature may have been used as a cooking pit.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Pop it (the dirt), lock it (the screen), bag it ( the artifacts), tag it (the bags)

Hi all, I'm stepping up to the plate for round two, and quite a bit has happened in the intervening time. Since we last saw each other I've completed my forty years wandering in the clay desert of the Western Palisades, and arrived in the land of milk and honey known as the Gravel Knoll. Not to say that the time spent on the Western Palisades pit was wasted, far from it. Still, the change from clay to soft, easily screened
soil is a welcome change of pace. On top of that, my gravel knoll pit has shown remarkably better results almost immediatly. My first level turned up a comparable quantity of items to the entirety of my Palisade pit, and of a better quality. The pottery sherds at minimum match and frequently exceed by several times the size of Western Palisade sherds. The introduction of shell was a development I hadn't anticipated, but having a new category to bench mark is exciting. Interestingly, flakes are less frequent on the Knoll in our pit, though we found a few flakes and excitingly a pair of chert cores. Our biggest find to date was a Late Woodland projectile point I found in my pit's first level. Apart from artifacts the variations in soil texture, color,and consistency have been interesting ( If at times aggravating) to observe. I never thought I'd encounter white soil. If not exactly archaeology, digging this far in the ground has given me a new appreciation of the natural world. These are the chronicals of the test pit Gravel Knoll Unit 5. It's mission to discover new soil feature and uncover new artifacts. Captain Neill Goltz signing out.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Working After Work

Aaron (UNI), Ian (MSU), Neill (UNI), Lynne Goldstein (MSU), Claudia (UNI), and Ashley (MSU) working on notes, checking phones, reading, and playing mandolin after a hard day.

Lemonade After A Hot Day

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Crew Gets Filmed

 TV Host Monty Dobson and Lynne Goldstein (MSU)


Today was quite an exciting day (not that every day at Aztalan ISN'T, but today was especially memorable). A small production crew came by to film us excavating at the gravel knoll. The crew is working on  a documentary series for PBS entitled "America From the Ground Up". The four part documentary series follows host Monty Dobson exploring archaeological sites and using these sites as touch points to tell a frontier history of North America. The crew arrived around 9:30 and was all very interested in what we were doing and spent a good portion of the day filming and interviewing professors and students. Be sure to tune in to PBS Spring 2014 to see us and all our hard work in action!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Braving the Wind and the Rain

The day started like any other day. It was cloudy and little sunny;  then we got the warning. We were in a tornado watch. We packed up 30 minutes earlier than we usually do and went back to Tent City and made sure that everyone’s tents were secure for the upcoming wind and rain. We proceeded to go to the showers and to dinner. While at dinner the sky started to turn black, we left early to go back to camp to brave the oncoming storm.
The rain and wind started immediately after we arrived. Neill’s (a student at UNI) tent broke down and a couple of us attempted to him bring his things inside the pole barn as it down-poured. As we took shelter inside the pole barn, it started to flood. Five of us started to create a barrier of gravel between the water and our equipment.

Overall the aftermath of the storm wasn’t too bad, besides Neill’s tent. Some of the grass in our area had been flattened so perfectly it was like aliens did it.
Our pits did have to be bailed out but the pits themselves were fine. We had all survived the short-lived apocalypse.
Full crew on the Gravel Knoll.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Good, The Bad, and The Dirty


To Anyone Who Doesn't Understand:

Archaeology is NOT what you see in the movies.  It can be at once frustrating, exhausting, and just plain difficult.  For example, the unit I am working at (otherwise known as the Pit of Despair), is unfruitful.  The soil is composed of mostly clay particles which dry out into a hard crust on the pit floor, and turn into clumps that turn into gravel in the sun.  Attempting to screen  said soil creates blisters, and wears holes through gloves, all while you're sliding down a mound of soil with your screen, trying not to fall into your own pit.  Also, not every excavation yields results.  So far, my partner, Megan, and I have recovered little more than burnt bits of who knows what and some questionable flakes (the waste material from making stone tools).

And yet with all of this said, it is definitely worthwhile.  First, what you don't find can be just as important as what you do.  For example, the location of our unit is in an area west of the palisades and while we haven't recovered much, it may tell us valuable information:  the site may have been disturbed, unoccupied, or a walkway where nothing would have been left anyway.  Second, the physical labor is hard, but builds both muscle and character.  Third, archaeology provides you with the opportunity to work with wonderful people with a similar interest and discover mysteries about ancient peoples who helped shaped humanity as a whole.

To Anyone Who Doesn't Understand:

Archaeology is GREAT.

Do it.

Laura (UNI), Megan (MSU), Sarah (MSU), Hannah (MSU), and Ariel (UNI) team up to screen the baked clay at the Pit of Despair.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Day in the Life of an Archaeologist

Jacque:  If you think Archaeology is all wild and daring adventure full of intricate booby traps and golden idols, then you have another thing coming.  Our typical day starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends around 4:00 p.m..  My 2 x 2 meter unit is located on the Gravel Knoll.  Unlike Indiana Jones, we can't just walk into a temple and find artifacts, we actually have to dig holes.  We start by removing the sod zone of the unit.  Each level below the sod zone is 10 centimeters thick.  For each level we dig five 9 centimeter deep guide holes that are used as a reference for how deep we need to dig.  Next, we'll shovel skim the rest of the level down to 9 centimeters and then use our trowels to take off the last remaining centimeter.  All of the dirt that's dug up is thrown into a screen and sifted through to look for artifacts.  After each level is complete, you must map the unit, complete paperwork, and turn in your artifacts.  Even though Archaeology isn't very accurately portrayed by Hollywood, it is still a very exciting and rewarding field.

Unlike Indiana Jones, Jacque (UNI) and Emily (MSU) consult on paperwork.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Stockade Sunset

Sunset through the reconstructed stockade line as seen from the Gravel Knoll (Photo from Laura).

Canoe Trip

Dr. Gaff takes students to see Effigy Mounds.

Dr. Gaff standing in the Crawfish River pulling the canoe over low spots.

Ariel (UNI), Neill (UNI), Emily (MSU), and Ian (MSU), wondering if the canoe will ever return.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Chipping Away

Neill:  People often say, "You start at the bottom and work your way up." Based on the first 10 days I've spent at Aztalan I've come to the conclusion that people are wrong.  I will say that Aztalan likes to play its cards close to the chest, at least as far as the area west of the palisade goes. Try this on for size, wake up, dress for (A.blazing sun, B.unseasonable cold, C.rain,) transport the necessary equipment to your dig site and begin digging in (A. a tangle of roots in clay, B. rocks in clay C. some terrible combination of A. and B. in clay). Is your top soil (A. baked out or B. packed from rain)? Better sharpen your trowel. Rinse, wash, repeat. My pit has yet to turn up anything of major interest, at times it gets to be a bit disheartening, especially with some of the other pits turning up exciting pieces and possibilities. I suppose that in a way the uncertainty of finding anything at all is what makes the whole endeavor worthwhile in the long run. My partner and I still get excited over questionable flake or pottery sherds.  Truly if there was a guarantee of finding something big every time, everyone or no one would dig in the first place. So while hearing the phrase "Even an empty pit has data." kind of frustrates me, knowing that I might have had an empty pit at all makes each tiny sherd or flake my pit turns up all the more worthwhile, at least on a personal level. Outside of the digging I'm finding my fellow students to be kind and entertaining and the nearby towns and their residents have been warm and inviting. Thus far I'm glad to have come along.


Sarah (MSU) and Laura (UNI) prepare peanut butter sandwiches for a crew of twenty.

UNI Field School Celebrates National Doughnut Day!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Ashy Days

Alanna:  Camping is something that I have not done before, but I enjoy.  The rainy days showed me that camping is quite different than expected.  I really love having the chance to socialize with others since it makes us a closer group.  One of my favorite things is to play card games with everyone.  A group of us are pretty great artists with chalk as well and our artistic abilities have really bonded us in the first week.

We are serenaded about every day by Aaron and his mandolin.  And that is very relaxing.  Of course we cannot be camping without s'mores and a campfire.  So beyond our wonderful camp life I have been excavating on the gravel knoll.  We found the usual artifacts of our square such as pottery sherds, shells, and animal bone.  I also found a possible post hole feature in the corner.

With this it is safe to conclude that the square is not back fill from old excavations and it places our artifacts of fire-cracked rock, burnt shells, burnt bone, and burnt pottery sherds in a fire theme.  While shovel skimming we destroyed an animal home inside the square.  Inside the hole we found an old lemon Starburst wrapper and a broken plastic cup.  We also found a pile of ash which has a very different texture and is an exciting thing to observe.  Now that we have been digging a few days, we understand how to identify a rock from an artifact.  And the supervisors have done a great job teaching us.  All together, I really enjoy getting hands-on experience and learning about identification of artifacts and rocks as well as methods utilized while excavating. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The First Few Days . . .

Laura:  After getting started the first thing that was done was surveying the areas of which we were to dig. You’re probably thinking that it mostly involved surveying equipment and that it is relatively an easy thing to do. It’s a bit opposite, for at least the students.  Most of the first day was spent with us crawling on our hands and knees searching for artifacts on the surface. Then we continued to use the surveying equipment to set some points in to where we were going to dig. After the flags were in place, we created precise 2x2 meter square units to start digging in. The second day consisted of taking off the sod level with our shovels and trowels. Even just under the grass some units started to find artifacts. The excitement is just beginning!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

And We're off!

Aaron:  We finally left Iowa and have arrived in Wisconsin. Being the last university group at Aztalan, we were soon greeted by the very friendly Michigan State and Wisconsin students. They were all eager to help us unpack, settle in, and make us feel right at home. We took a short tour around the site, which is absolutely gorgeous!  We continued the evening by getting into the swing of routine; showers at  a trail head in Lake Mills, and dinner at the local restaurant Carps Landing. We're all very eager to begin and look forward to becoming more familiar with the park and our fellow archaeologists / new friends.