how do you know where to start a dig? what types of geographical hints do you look for?
Good question! It really depends on what you are trying to learn. If you already know where the site is, there are several ways to decide where to dig. I’ll give you one example. In Red Wing, we have worked with geophysicists who have used ground penetrating radar to “see” what’s beneath the surface of a site. A pulse is sent into the ground and a device measures the amount of resistance in the soil beneath the surface. This is done across the site and allows us to essentially map potential underground archaeological features. Low resistance areas might indicate storage or refuse pits; high resistance areas might indicate compacted floors of houses or other activity areas.
what's the oldest thing you ever found ?
The oldest site I have worked at is a basalt quarry and stone-tool workshop that is about 3,000 to 5,000 years old. The site is located in the St. Croix valley on the Science Museum’s St. Croix Watershed Research Station property. 3,000 to 5,000 years old is actually not all that old in the grand scheme of people in Minnesota. People have been living in Minnesota since the glaciers receded about 10,000 years ago.
What is the hardest part of your job?
I love my job and most of it is really fun. I suppose the hardest part of my job is juggling the many parts of being a curator – working in the lab, working in the field, working on exhibits, caring for our collections, writing, plus all of the more mundane administrative parts of the job. However, this constant variety at work is also one of my favorite things about the work I do! It is very rarely boring.
How did you come to work and the Science Museum and why did you choose this as a career? What did you study to get this job?
I started working in the Science Division at the Museum in 1999 as we were moving the 1.75 million objects in the collection to the new building. My job was to move and organize the archaeology collections in storage. I chose archaeology as a career because I have always been fascinated with the past and the material remains that we use to understand it. I also love archaeology because we draw on many different scientific disciplines to learn about past cultures - knowledge of geology, biology, chemistry, anthropology and others are all useful to archaeologists. The majority of my college coursework was in the four fields of anthropology (archaeology, cultural anthropology, physical anthropology, and linguistics), geology, and art history.
how can I become a person who digs at sites like yours?
Hi Patrick! If you want to be an archaeologist when you grow up, the best thing you can do right now is to learn lots about science, different cultures, and history, read a lot, and ask lots of questions.
If you want to get your hands dirty, local organizations like the Minnesota Archaeological Society can give your parents and teachers information about opportunities to get involved. Events such as Minnesota Archaeology Week in May, or Archaeology Days at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park in September, provide opportunities for kids to get involved in archaeology. When you get a little bit older, there are many more opportunities for kids like you to volunteer on archaeological digs. Organizations like Earthwatch and the National Forest Service’s Passport in Time invite volunteers to work on excavations, for example.
What evidence have you found that leads you to believe that Redwing was such a central gathering point for trade?
Well, we don't know for sure that Red Wing was a hub of trade, where material goods were brought in and redistributed. We do know that there were extensive trading networks throughout North America and it does appear that the area around Red Wing was a central gathering point, though. One line of evidence is the exotic materials - things that have come from far away. We have found obsidian (volcanic glass) that is from western Wyoming, conch and other sea shells that came either from the Gulf or Atlantic coast, pottery of styles that were made on the Great Plains, and tools made out of stone that comes from hundreds of miles away, to name a few.
What is your favorite thing about your job?
I love the variety of things I get to do, from research and field work, to work with exhibits, to being a good steward of our collections. Each day is different and mentally stimulating. I will never be bored in this job.
A really great thing about working in a museum is that the work we do can easily reach the public through exhibitions, programs, and even this Science Buzz website.
Where would your dream "dig" be?
Wow, I don't know. It's fun and interesting to work in "exotic" places and to be immersed in different cultures. Right now I am very happy to be able to work on piecing together the pasts of the Native cultures of Minnesota and Wisconsin and the landscapes we all live in.
Hello Ed!! My name is Annalea and I'll be a freshman next year at the University of New Hampshire. I've been really interested in archeology my whole life, but I'm not sure exactly what I would be getting myself into if I majored in it. What are the chances that I would actually be involved in a dig someday? Do the majority of archeologist majors travel for digs and stuff like that? Would you encourage me to look more into this line of work? Thanks for your in put!!
If you have been interested in archaeology your whole life, I would definitely encourage you to take some classes through either the anthropology department or the classics department at your school. If you choose archaeology as a career, the chances are very high that you will be involved in a dig at some point. Many programs require a field school.
Many archaeologists do have to travel for their research. Whether you travel or not depends on what you are interested in and what opportunities your school offers. I'm sure there are very interesting local archaeological projects going on in New Hampshire.
Do you ever find someting interesting that you weren't looking for? If so, what?
To me, it’s all interesting. Everything we find adds to what we can learn about the past. Usually we have a pretty good general idea of the types of artifacts we will find. It’s the specific details of the objects that are always a surprise.
What is the hottest topics archaeologests are talking about right now?
There are always many hot debates and new discoveries in archaeology, which is why it's such an exciting field! I recommend you check some of the news websites listed below to see what some of the latest are:
And, of course, this website (www.smm.org/buzz) often contains news and information about current archaeology.
What is the oldest settlement discovered in Minnesota and where is it located?
Kevin, the oldest dated archaeological site in Minnesota is the Browns Valley site in Traverse County. Radiocarbon dates obtained from human bone indicate that the site is about 8,000 years old. Now, that doesn’t mean people were not living in the area before this. A mastodon was found in association with a spear point in southwestern Wisconsin, for example. Since mastodons are believed to have been extinct by 9,000 years ago, this indicates that people were in the area at this time and earlier.
Earlier this year you might have heard the news about the possible early site near Walker, Minnesota. The archaeologists studying the site are trying to determine whether the fractured stones they found are stone tools or naturally broken. If they are tools, they could be as old as 14,000 to 15,000 years old. More scientific inquiry is needed to settle this debate.
What types of evidence are there that people lived here 10,000 years ago
The main line of evidence that people lived here 8,000 to 10,000 years ago is stone tools. Spear points and other stone tools have been found in Minnesota that are similar to others found elsewhere, which were dated to this time period.
Also, as I state above, radiocarbon dating of human bone has also provided information about ancient people in Minnesota 8,000 years ago.
What was the most fasinating piece of archaelogy that you have found?
While there are many artifacts that are fascinating, there isn't really a single piece that fascinates me the most. All of the artifacts fit together to tell the story of the people who made and used them. For example, I am studying lots and lots of pottery and other artifacts from the Red Wing villages to understand both when people were living in the villages, what their relationship was to other villages in the area and in the greater Midwest, and how this changed over time.
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