(Flint-knapping with deer antler)
Archaeology Field School in Trempealeau — The North Star Reports, sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal. By Lee Bongey
Hello, my name is Lee and I am an Anthropology and Linguistics double major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and I have just begun my third week of an archaeology field school in Trempealeau, Wisconsin. We have been excavating a Native American platform mound to learn about a group of people that archaeologists call Middle Mississippians. Middle Mississippian culture flourished in their home city of Cahokia (located by modern-day St. Louis, Missouri) from 1050-1250 C.E. Middle Mississippians traveled from Cahokia almost 530 miles up the Mississippi River to Trempealeau, so what we’re hoping to find out through the excavations in Trempealeau is why the Middle Mississippians came and why they left.
I have never been on an archaeology dig before, so it’s fascinating to see the procedures involved when excavating. We dig in a very systematic manner, squaring off areas to dig in and removing centimeters of soil at a time with a shovel or trowel. We then sift the dirt through sifting screens, so we can look for artifacts as the dirt passes through the wire mesh. While we often find more recent artifacts such as nails, glass, or animal bone, it’s always very rewarding to find a Native American artifact that is over one thousand years old. The kinds of artifacts we find are usually flakes that result from flint-knapping, which is a tool-making technique where you hit a rock in a certain way to break it to create the tool. We also find pottery sherds, tools, and burnt rock (which indicate that a hearth was there). We don’t find any human remains when we dig because the platform mound was not created for the purposes of burying the dead; rather it probably served as an elevated foundation for a temple or perhaps an elite ruler’s house. The platform mounds are created by dumping thousands of basketfuls of soil on top of each other.
(Digging & Sifting)
Beyond the artifacts, a good deal of archaeology is based off of stratigraphy, or looking at soil layers, colors, and textures. By analyzing the soil’s coloration, you can see where a wall or house post used to be. I have had no formal experiences with archaeology prior to this field school, so I found all of this to be very interesting. It’s also different from my initial ideas as to what archaeology would be like. While I previously had notions of digging in a remote location unattached from society, in actuality our dig site is the middle of the town of Trempealeau in someone’s front yard. It often seems as though archaeology and ancient history are very detached from people today, so it’s fascinating to me that we could be living right on top of what used to be someone’s home.
I learn something new every day when we dig. So far, the excavations have been tiring, but incredible! I’m looking forward to more!
Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to contribute to The North Star Reports — HLIANG@CSS.EDU
For all of the North Star Reports, see http://NorthStarReports.org
The North Star Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also welcome Duluth East High School, Duluth Denfeld High School, and other schools around the world to the North Star Project. The North Star Project has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:
The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Student interns have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star Project students and teachers.
Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA
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