Courtesy Scott AnfinsonHey there! Do you know that we have a State Archaeologist here in Minnesota? Meet Scott Anfinson the 3rd State Archaeologist of Minnesota. Scott came to visit us and while talking to him, we’ve learned some interesting things about the burial mounds in Minnesota. We’ve learned about the Lidars (shots of lasers that are use to scan the ground from above, used to detect mounds) that are used to detect the mounds and the importance of his job of protecting them. We’ve interviewed him with some questions and will like to share some of his answers to you about his job experiences.
What inspired you to become an archaeologist?
When I was 8 years old, I received a book for Christmas, that was all about dinosaurs. It showed mainly these guys who were digging in China in the Gobi Desert… That sparked my interest in digging and archaeology… However, at that time I didn’t know that paleontology and archaeology are different.
What is exactly a State Archaeologist? What is the significance of the job you do?
One of the jobs that I do for the state is, I’m in charge of all ancient burials that were made 100 or 12,000 years ago in Minnesota...
Some people would probably say to me “Why do we need an state archaeologist?.
First of all, I’ll say to them is, “Well who do you want to be in charge of all those 3,000 pioneer cemeteries and 12,000 Indian burial mounds? Who would be in charge if they asked,
“Can I disturb them?”, “Where are they?”
“What are the disturbance?”. I can help them find a solution.
I also help state agencies... It’s against the law to disturb any archaeological site on public property. So they need my help to figure out how to build their road, their trail, or their new visitor center by reducing the harm to the site.
How long have you’ve been the state archaeologist?
Started in 2006. So it’s been 7 years now.
What places you excavated?
I’ve never done archaeology in another country. I do almost all of my archeology right in the Midwest.
Have you ever misidentified anything or changed your mind about something you found?
Happens all the time... When you create a hypothesis, basically it is saying is “I think this what happened”. But you can never prove for sure if that’s what exactly what happened, but you can prove something that didn’t happen... What you do is, you can start eliminating the possibilities until you are left with possibly what probably caused it… Science proves the truth, it is just getting closer to some kind of truth, and that truth can change. For an example, one time when I was working on a site in western Minnesota and I found some burnt bones, which looked very much like hand bones from a human. I thought I had found a cremation burial, but then I noticed that the bone that I found must be a very big guy. I went over to the Bell Museum in the University of Minnesota and took the bones with me to look at them a little more carefully. And they were are actually a paw of a black bear… So I was wrong on my first conclusion.
As you can see the job of the an State Archaeologist is very important to the state. Meeting him, was a great opportunity because just learning what he does, really draws you closer to the importance of archaeology. It’s more than digging, it’s science!
With the announcement of the Ultimate Dinosaurs: Giants of Gondwana exhibit comming to the Science Museum of Minnesota, I was thinking back to all the questions I have had regarding dinosaurs.
Courtesy Mark Ryan
Questions like: "Who gets to name Dinosaurs?" "What is this dinosaur named after?" and "What does this name mean?". I thought that I'd take some time here to answer these questions.
Courtesy Mark RyanBirds seem to be a big part of my recent experience, so I thought I'd put together a little post of events featuring our fine, feathered friends.
Here at the Science Museum of Minnesota, an antique model of Archaeopteryx originally created by modelmaker Gustaf Sundstrom in 1934 is on display once again as Object of the Month for October.
Courtesy Mark RyanArchaeopteryx has long been considered the earliest bird - it lived around 150 million years ago during the Late Jurassic - sharing the world with giant sauropods and vicious therapods such as Apatosaurus and Allosaurus, respectively. Even though Archaeopteryx has been recently re-categorized from being a "dinosaur-like bird" to being a "bird-like dinosaur" (I'm not sure what the difference is but I suspect it has do do with percentages) - anyway, it still ranks as one of the great transitional fossils. You can see the Object of the Month display in the Collections Gallery on the 4th floor of the Science Museum of Minnesota all this month.
Another bird-related story deals with naturalist and artist John James Audubon and his artistic masterpiece Birds of America, both which I've covered before here.
Courtesy Mark RyanBack in the early 19th century Audubon, tramped around the American frontier seeking just about every kind of bird he could find, shoot, and paint for his masterpiece natural history tome, Birds of America. The original edition featured 435 exquisite plates of birds drawn in natural size, were etched in copperplates (along with some engraving and aquatint), then printed in black and white and printed on large double-elephant folio-sized (30 x 40) handmade paper. Each of the large black and white prints were hand-painted in watercolors by a team of skilled colorists and bound into two volumes. Long considered one of the greatest collections of natural history illustration, only some 200 sets were completed in the mid-19th century. Of those only about 100 remain in existence. The rest were either destroyed or disassembled and sold off as individual prints. Because they were hand-colored, these large first editions are considered "originals" and are quite valuable. Smaller, more inexpensive prints and editions were later created and sold.
Courtesy Mark RyanLucky for us one of the original Double Elephant Folio sets is held by the Bell Museum of Natural History in Minneapolis. Even luckier for us, the Bell has just opened a brand new exhibit, called Audubon and the Art of Birds, which is centered around some of these beautiful originals of Audubon's wonderful illustrations. I attended the preview a couple weeks back and let me tell you, it is a chance in a lifetime to see these rare and beautiful natural history illustration masterpieces. The exhibition opened on October 5th and runs in two sections. Right now, 33 of Audubon's mammoth prints grace the walls of the exhibit (along with illustrations by other bird artists) then other restored mammoth prints of Audubon illustrations will be rotated in during a two week shutdown in January, and the exhibit's second half reopens on February 1st. Find more information about the exhibition here.
Courtesy Mark RyanLast week, my wife and I took a day-trip to Duluth and stopped at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, located on Skyline Parkway overlooking the east end of the city. The site is a favorite autumn destination for bird-watchers of all kinds.
Courtesy Mark RyanOfficial bird-counters were still there tabulating hawks, eagles and other raptors migrating south for the winter. The count will continue through October.
Courtesy Mark RyanThe birds don't like crossing the wide expanse of Lake Superior on their way south, so they funnel into Duluth to cross there. We only saw a couple birds in the air while we were there (some 680 had been counted earlier in the day), but a couple of hawks snared just down the road were brought up to the ridge overlook for banding and release. Volunteers tagged and recorded the hawks (a goshawk - Accipiter gentilis - and a sharp-shinned hawk - Accipiter striatus), then enlisted the help of a couple of lucky onlookers to release them back into the wild. It was a beautiful afternoon on the Ridge.
Courtesy SMMOn August 20th and 27th, Heritage Crew is going on a overnight at the St.Croix Watershed where they are going to join the Sheffield Site excavation with SMM and U of M Archaeologists.
Everyone is going to have a chance to do shovel skimming, screening, mapping, photographing, and record observations in our journals.
This is the second time we're going to see a excavation, but it's the first time we're going to help out. This is very exciting because we are going to have everything we learned put into action and have fun.
On July 22nd we went over to Bremer site in Hastings. We observed the University students of Minnesota and asked them many questions such as, "Why is there pink flags sticking up the ground?" They're for the excavation spots and to mark the test pits.
While we were at Bremer we learned how Bremer was found by a young boy in 50s who just walking alone the bay.
Now we have the opportunity to work at Bremer and dig up cool thing like Pottery.
Courtesy SMMOn Youth Science Day, the KAYSC Heritage Crew joined the Archaeology Lab's open house, located behind the Dinosaur exhibit on the 3rd floor. There, archaeologists presented unique Oneota artifacts that were digged up in the 1959-1960 Sheffield Site excavation.
One of the interesting things that we learned is about the two garden hoes that were found on different two sites, St. Croix (Sheffield) and Red wing. Both are made from a animal shoulder blade and are used for the same purpose, but are not from the same local resources. One was made from a white-tailed deer at St. Croix (Sheffield) and the other was made from a bison at Red Wing. Does the Oneota have a connection with another tribe? Is this a sign of trade or technology exchange?
Courtesy ArniEinOne legend connected to the Nordic Vikings got a strong jolt of reality with the discovery of a possible "sunstone" on a shipwreck off of Great Britain. Viking lore claimed that the sailors used such a stone to determine the position of the sun, even on cloudy days or when the sun had dropped below the horizon.
The stone is an Icelandic spar about the size of a pack of cigarettes that has a crystal appearance. Due to its shape and material, the sunstone can diffract light into two distinct rays which can be used to determine the position of the sun. This particular stone was found on a ship that sank in 1592 and was found close to other navigational equipment. The theory is that the stone would have been used as a back-up to a conventional compass on the more modern ship.
Why have no Viking sunstones been found? The strongest theory is that the stones were shattered in the cremation rituals given to dead Vikings. Researchers will now be able to tinker with the newly found sunstone to learn more about how Vikings possibly used them.
Courtesy University of LeicesterToday, many of our former leaders get dropped into the dust bin of cable news commentators and talk radio hosts. But 500 years ago, the options appeared to be a little more drastic.
Researchers yesterday announced that they've confirmed that the bones they found last fall buried under a parking lot in Greyfriars, England, are that of infamous King Richard III.
Further investigation of his full skeleton shows that King Richard suffered traumatic, and fatal, injuries in the course of fighting the Battle of Bosworth. But further analysis also shows that he very likely suffered "humiliation injuries" after his death, signs of displeasure from those who did not agree with his politics or leadership. Click here to learn more about the scientific techniques being used to glean this forensic information from the king. Included is a graphic description of the humiliation injuries King Richard sustained.
Courtesy University of LeicesterAuthorities are also saying that finding the remains of King Richard will reopen the thinking of the young monarch's short reign. Popular depiction since his death was that King Richard was an evil, ruthless killer. Following his demise, a different branch of monarchy came into power and very well could have had an agenda of discrediting his legacy. Already, the discovery of the bones show that Richard III did suffer from severe scoliosis, but probably didn't have the hunchback that legend claims. Could this be the first of several King Richard III myths to be debunked?
After the research is completed, the plan is to entomb King Richard's remains at Leicester Cathedral and to have an interpretive center across the street to tell the details of king's newly discovered story.
Courtesy National ArchivesSomeone contact Mulder and Scully. Recently declassified documents show that the US Air Force was actually working on building flying saucers in the 1950s. Known as Project 1794, the four digitized documents available on the National Archives website, indicate the program involved development of a disk-shaped aircraft capable of achieving air speeds between Mach 3 and Mach 4 (2,300-3,000 mph) and a height of 100,000 feet! Propulsion was based on the Coandă effect, created by high-speed rotation of the saucer's outer rim. Jet turbines supplied the power. Avro Canada, a Canadian aircraft manufacturer, was also in on this very secret project. The truth might out there, but we might have to wait until the remainder of the two full boxes of documents is digitized and posted online.
Courtesy Mark Ryan
The long spell of unusually hot weather (see Thor's post) may have you looking for some relief, so let me suggest you head for northern Minnesota. No, I’m not talking about Duluth or the North Shore of Lake Superior (it’s been hot there, too), but way up north to the Soudan Underground Mine State Park on the southeast shore of Lake Vermilion (Map). The Soudan Mine is one of several underground mines that once operated in the Ely area, and was the oldest and deepest mine in Minnesota. It’s the perfect place to bring the whole family to learn about Minnesota’s iron mining past and descend a half mile into the earth where you can experience for yourself what it was like to work in an underground mine. An added perk during these steamy summer days is the fact temperature in the mine year-round is a cool 51°F.
In June, my brother Pat and I made one of our frequent geo-tours north, and this time our primary goal was to visit the Soudan mine. After some time exploring Manitou Falls near Superior, Wisconsin, and the eerily fog-shrouded Palisades on the North Shore, we made a beeline up to Ely where we spent the night. The next morning we drove the twenty miles west to Soudan, arriving just after 9am. As we neared our destination, the headframe of Shaft #8 could be seen looming above the ridge-line, making it fairly easy to find the park. Shaft #8 is the operational shaft that takes you underground.
Courtesy Mark RyanThere are two tours into the mine available to the public: the High Energy Physics Lab tour and the Mine History tour. These are separate tours and can't be taken together, and since our time was somewhat limited, Pat and I opted for the history tour. It was slightly longer (about 90 minutes) , included some geology, and seemed like the way to go. So we bought our tickets and while waiting for the tour to start, we checked out the grounds and buildings where the implements and artifacts once used for mining can still be seen. These included the crushing house, the dry house, and drill shop.
Courtesy Mark RyanThe machinery in all these buildings stand idle today, but not so with the engine house. The equipment there still drives the cables and hoist that delivers visitors to and from the mine. Beneath the headframe, Pat sighted several bats fluttering up from the shaft. Three bat species inhabit the mine: the little brown, Eastern pipistrelle, and Northern myotis. But don’t worry, they weren’t any bother at all during the tour.
Across the road from the headframe is a deep, long gash in the ground overgrown with vegetation that was once one of the original open pit mines. Staring down into the hole, it’s not hard to imagine the difficulty the miners faced extracting ore from its steep walls. Pat and I didn’t have time to take the hiking trail far enough to see the much-photographed Soudan Iron Formation outcrop – something I regret - but we did see a couple other open pit mines on the property.
Courtesy Mark RyanThe first iron ore mined in Minnesota was taken from an open pit in Soudan, and shipped by train to Two Harbors at Lake Superior in the early 1880s. The promise of gold had attracted a lot of prospectors to the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota, including George Stuntz, a Duluth civil engineer who established the Vermilion Trail into the area. But instead of gold, he found iron ore. The Vermilion Range, with its rich iron ore, would be the first of several major iron ranges discovered across northern Minnesota. In nearly 80 year of operation, Soudan produced nearly16 million tons of rich iron ore that were shipped across the Great Lakes to steel mills in the East or in later years, sent by train down to the steel mill in Duluth. (I worked at the US Steel mill in Duluth for a year. My first job was on the high-line tracks where iron ore and other steel-making materials were delivered by train to the open hearth furnaces. During lunch, I’d watch my co-workers tap the furnaces. When the molten steel was ready to go, alarms and sirens would sound as a small bomb was sent into the furnace that would blow out the plug, forcing the molten steel to pour out into giant multi-ton ladles. Very impressive and extremely noisy!).
At 10am sharp we gathered with other visitors for the tour. After a quick video explaining an overview of the mine and its history, everyone grabbed a hardhat and loaded into the shaft’s elevator or “man cage” as the miners called it. A dozen of us crammed into the cage for the ride down. It wasn't too bad but it bordered on stuffy, especially in the heat. Our tour guide, a very pleasant young woman, eagerly imparted her knowledge of the mine’s history and the safety issues involved with the tour. She informed us that back when the mine was operational eighteen miners usually wedged into the cage for each transport.
Courtesy Minnesota Geological SurveyThe ride down to Level 27 took under three minutes. The shaft is angled about 78 degrees so besides traveling half a mile underground we also moved 500 feet north of the headframe and underneath the nearby old open pit mine. During our rattling, rapid descent, our guide held her flashlight against the scuffed window so we could see something - the occasional reflection of dim light as we shot past levels - otherwise it would've been a pretty dark ride. Two levels (#12 and #22) were lighted because they’re still used to pump out the relatively little water seeping into the mine.
Courtesy Mark RyanLevel 27, the deepest level in the shaft, was lighted, too, at least where the elevator stopped. The physics lab is located on the same level and we could see its entrance as we exited the elevator. We were joined by a couple more guides who herded us into small rail cars for the last leg of the trip, this time horizontally through a dimly-lit 3/4 mile passageway called a drift. The mineshaft and drift were dug out through Ely greenstone. As promised the temperature in the mine was a cool 51°F and a refreshing break from the surface heat. At least I thought so. Some folks were wearing sweatshirts or light jackets, but I was comfortable in just a t-shirt and shorts.
Courtesy Mark RyanAt the end of the tunnel we detrained and were led up a metal spiral staircase (the miners used ladders) to reach the stope, a large, cavernous space carved into of the ore layer. Our guide pointed out some of the geological features including adjacent greenstone layers, mineral veins of copper, and of course, hematite. She explained how holes were drilled into the walls of the ore body, and explosives placed inside for blasting. After the controlled explosion, and before any miners were allowed in, a barman was sent in to knock down any loose rock from the ceiling. Barring was one of the higher paying jobs in the mine but probably the most dangerous.
The miners used the “cut and fill” method to mine the ore from the ceiling. Waste rock was let drop and used to create an ever-rising artificial floor that remained pretty much the same distance from the ceiling being mined. This eliminated waste rock disposal to the surface. The dense ore, which weighed as much as 325 pounds per cubic foot, was sent down chutes into granby cars on the level below them for transportation back to the skip that carried it up to the top. The granby cars and skip each held 6 tons of ore and miners were paid according to the amount of ore they sent up to the surface. There, the ore was dumped into larry cars and transported to the crusher house for crushing, then either loaded into waiting train cars or stockpiled for later shipping.
Courtesy Jvstin via FlickrThe iron deposits found at Soudan precipitated out of an ancient sea during the Early Precambrian period about 2.7 billion years ago. The iron was deposited on pillow basalts extruded during earlier volcanic activity. Pillow basalts form when molten rock comes in contact with water. The iron, which also originated from volcanic activity, interbedded with deposits of mud and sand forming what’s called a banded iron formation or BIF. Unlike the large and extensive single bed of iron ore occurring in the Mesabi Range, the iron ore at Soudan was laid out in small lenses. More pillow basalt flowed atop the iron layers. Later, probably through hydrologic processes, the iron content was enriched and the entire sequence tightly folded and deformed by tectonic forces from regional mountain-building episodes (orogenies) and later baked by the underground upwelling of magma during intrusion of the Duluth Complex gabbro. The heat and pressure metamorphosed the sequence, transforming the basalt into Ely greenstone (shist). The entire sequence eventually ended up nearly vertical in an anticline with layers of hematite, jasper, and chert sandwiched between layers of greenstone (also known as chlorite).
Miners working the underground mine at Soudan often referred to it as the “The Cadillac of Mines”. Compared with other underground mines near Ely, it was relatively dry, the temperature was a comfortable 51 degrees year round, and fresh air permeated all the levels. But to show that it wasn’t all rosy, our guide demonstrated what it must have been like for the miners before electricity. The mine chamber was well lighted for us tourists but to give us an idea what the early miners experienced she extinguished all the lights and held a single burning candle near her face. It wasn’t very bright at all and kind of spooky.
Courtesy Mark RyanLater, when electricity was put in, lighting improved, and power drills were used in the mining process. After a sufficient warning, our guide played for us a recording of the sound made by a single drill at work just to give us an idea of the noise level produced. The decibel level I remember from working in the steel mill was nothing compared to what the miners must have endured when several drills were going at once. It’s no wonder many of them suffered hearing loss after years working the mine.
As steelmaking processes were refined, the need for Soudan’s rich ore diminished. Using low-grade iron taconite became more economical for use with new oxygen-fed furnaces. Soudan shut down operations in 1962. The next year, after all the stockpiled ore had been shipped, US Steel Corporation gave the mine and an additional 1100 acres of land to the state of Minnesota for $1. The stipulation was that the site be used for educational purposes. Minnesota turned the site into a state park in 1965.
Courtesy Mark RyanI found the Soudan Underground Mine State Park well worth the trip. Where else can you travel a half-mile underground into 2.7 billion year-old rock formations and cool off at the same time? (The temperature at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is much hotter than at the top). Soudan's a great place to learn about Minnesota mining history, see area wildlife and check out some of the unique geology in the Lake Vermilion region that helped make Minnesota a leading iron ore producer.
Entry to the park is free and requires no state park sticker. The mine tours, however, require a fee. Pat and I paid $12 each. Kids are cheaper. The tours begin on the hour from 10am to 4pm daily. Tours for the High Energy Physics Lab occur only twice each day, the first at 10am and the second at 4pm. As I mentioned before, you can't combine tours so you have to pick either the historic one or the physics one. Mine tours are available from late May until the end of September. Follow this link for additional information.
On our way home, Pat and I agreed we'd come back sometime soon for the High Energy Physics Lab tour where physicists investigate things like the particle mass of neutrinos, and detect other dark matter particles. The lab is run by the University of Minnesota. However, I recently learned there’s a third mine tour available at Soudan, one offered only to organized groups. This one is more geology-focused and instead of riding the train through the 3/4 mile of Ely greenstone to the ore body, participants walk through the drift and are given a detailed lesson in geology along the way. I definitely have to join me up with one of those groups. Maybe next summer.
Did I mention it’s 51°F in the mine?
Short video of Soudan Underground Mine tour
Minnesota mining history
More DNR Soudan info
Gigapan of Soudan Mine site
Soudan at Wikipedia
DNR Soudan Mine site
MN Conservation Volunteer article on Soudan Mine