This year, the University of Winnipeg has once again partnered with the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum for their archaeological field school. The 2012 field school is a six week course in which students from the University of Winnipeg, as well as the University of Manitoba, are developing their practical archaeological skills by getting out into the field and excavating and are learning about it really entails. This week marks our first full week of excavations. Last week we spent two days at the University of Winnipeg learning about Mennonite culture, the background of the site, and how to prepare for an excavation before we headed out to the site on Wednesday, June 13th to begin excavations.
- The students digging in their units (front) and screening soil for missed artifacts (back).
Our excavation site is a Mennonite homestead that once belonged to the Unger family. The Unger’s were a family of modest means who lived in the village of Blumenhof from 1875 to around 1889. Previous excavations have been held in Blumenhof by the museum and the university, which were focused primarily on the Plett homestead. One of our research goals is to see if there are any differences in the material culture, or the objects left behind, between the two homesteads and what these differences might mean.
There are fourteen students who are attending the field school this year, all of whom will be contributing to this site and will be sharing their insights and their experiences over the next six weeks. The first day on site we mapped in eighteen 1mx1m squares in and around the area in which we believe the Unger homestead to be. From there we sharpened our trowels, picked a unit, and began excavating. We’re excavating in a series of 10cm levels, mapping out locations of artifacts and soil types as we go in order to gain a better sense of what the site may have once looked like. We’ve encountered all kinds of soil so far; some students got lucky and are troweling through soft, rich soils, while others have had nothing but sticky clay. Whatever the case, each unit can tell us something about the site.
We have already found quite a few artifacts including pieces of broken ceramics, metals such as nails, and animal bones, as well as what appear to be wooden beams and other organic materials. In addition to the soil, the artifacts can help us to determine where exactly we are digging and where we can dig next. We have to look for the subtle clues and develop our “archaeologist eye” so that we can learn as much from the site as it can teach us.
We are all looking forward to sharing our adventure with you, and hope that you will enjoy learning about archaeology and Mennonite heritage as much as we are!