Spring Archaeological Fieldwork at the Mount Hope Cemetery Site

The team works under canopies to get some relief from the rain.

The team works under canopies to get some relief from the rain.

Saturday April 28th was a cold and gloomy day, but the weather didn’t stop eight people from packing archaeology supplies and themselves into a WLC van and continuing the archaeological research at at Mount Hope Cemetery. The group included the project director Dr. Farley, Professor Walder, Professor Moll (Biology department), project assistant Jeremiah C. and his son Brandon, and WLC students Andrew, Chris, and Katie. They left WLC around 1:15 and arrived at Mount Hope at about 2:15 in the afternoon. The sky was completely clouded over and there was a wind blowing, chilling everyone down to their wool socks! The first thing they did was open up a 1 meter x 1 meter test pit that was covered in a tarp to protect it over the winter. Then they began to set up all of the equipment, which included rain canopies, soil sifters, tape measures and other measuring devices, and of course shovels. The goal of the dig was to “ground-truth” the anomalies found using Ground Penetrating Radar at the site in 2010.

Laying out the survey grid north of the cemetery fence-line.

Laying out the survey grid north of the cemetery fence-line.

The next step was to begin to plot out two more squares to expand the excavation, following the old fence-line of the cemetery. It took a lot of work to make sure the plots were exactly 1 meter by 1 meter square. Once the math was figured out, the team placed stakes in the places to plot out the corners of each square. Then they strung a string around each stake to be able to see the unit and know where to begin digging. Then Chris and Katie worked on taking off the sod layer. The sod was removed in large pieces. They did not remove the sod all the way up to the edges. Then their job was to go along the edge of the newly formed unit and clean up the edges and remove the sod layer. While they were doing that, with the help of Professor Walder, Professor Moll was working with the already established unit. She cleaned up the unit and removed the long grass that was around the unit. Her work would make digging in that unit much easier and neater.

Students dig deeper using sharpened shovels and trowels

Students dig deeper using sharpened shovels and trowels

Meanwhile, Dr. Farley, Jeremiah, Brandon, and Andrew conducted a pedestrian survey, walking through a field to find the possible location of a water spring located on a map from the mid 1800s. They carefully calculated the distance and direction of the spring from the cemetery. When they reached the point of the spring, they found an overgrown area that may or may not be the place found on the map. Excavation there could be difficult, because erosion could have buried the spring (and any cultural material) under up to 4 meters of soil! Andrew and Brandon also laid out a survey grid just north of the cemetery fence-line; future investigations will test a hypothesis that 18th century trash was dumped in this area.

Professor Moll (it's her; you'll just have to believe us) sifts the soil, looking for artifacts

Professor Moll (it's her; you'll just have to believe us) sifts the soil, looking for artifacts

Back at the cemetery site, once the two new units were cleaned up and ready, the entire team began helping with beginning to dig in them. One person, with a shovel, removed a layer of dirt one strip at a time. Another person was working to sift through the dirt to find artifacts. The goal was to find things that were human-made “material culture.” The artifacts that were found included barbed wire, 19th century square nails, and different lithic materials. The most challenging part of digging was to get the bottom of the unit to be completely flat. To create a level bottom took extra hard work from everyone. That day the two units were dug to about 10 centimeters below the ground surface. The team’s work got cut short due to the quickly approaching rain. The day was filled with lots of hard physical work, but they prepared the units for further excavation to later find even more cultural artifacts.

the 20 cm level of our Unit N1E64, showing two field-stones left in place during excavation

the 20 cm level of our Unit N1E64, showing two field-stones left in place during excavation

The next day, Dr. Farley, Professor Walder, Jeremiah, and WLC Archaeology student Rebekah returned for a full day of fieldwork. Excavations continued, and another 10 centimeters of soil was removed from each of the new units. The team consulted with landowners and the site caretaker to keep them updated on the progress of the project. Warmer weather and even some sunshine was certainly a blessing! The excavation units were sketch mapped and photographed, and artifacts and soil samples were taken back to the lab. The WLC Anthropology department is looking forward to continuing research at this site this summer and fall.


About The Author

Heather Walder is an adjunct instructor of anthropology at Wisconsin Lutheran College

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