Results of Season 1, Part 3

Haven’t read the previous two parts? You can find Part 1 here, and Part 2 here!

In addition to surveying, Hollis and I set up a grid for surface collection up at the northeastern-most surface scatter. Surface collection is a tried-and-true method of identifying archaeological sites and areas-of-interest in historical archaeology. Very often–particularly here, where the site isn’t very old and there is probably not a lot of dirt being deposited on the ground over time–much of what we are interested it is on, near, or predicted by what is on the surface.

Scan of our field forms showing an idealized grid.

Figure 1: Scan of our field forms showing an idealized grid.

Our surface collection strategy involved setting up a 2-meter grid in a 20m by 20m area. This gives us 100 quadrats, or grid squares, to investigate (Figures 1 and 2). Each square is given a unique identifier, so we can make sure to keep all artifacts we find in it together. There are two reasons for picking this method. First, it means we don’t have to decide what to point plot. One way of collecting surface material is to take a GPS or total station and record either every artifact you find, or centerpoints for collections of artifacts. Recording every artifact is time consuming, given that most are going to be small fragments. It also means you either have to use a total station or a really good GPS unit, as most GPS units will not have enough precision for what you want. Recording clusters of artifacts is easier, but more arbitrary (how do you define a cluster?) and is difficult to visualize and analyze in a GIS. By collecting everything within a quadrat, we avoid dealing with some of these issues.

Corner of the surface collection with plants cleared.

Figure 1: Corner of the surface collection with plants cleared.

Second, it lets us systematically clear the surface. For each square, we scraped the surface with trowels and 1/8″ screened the surface debris. We scraped the surface to clear away mold, tree and root debris, and loose material. Once we could see dirt (or humus), we stopped (Figure 3). The reason for this is that much of the site is covered not only in living plants, but in not-yet-decayed plant remains. So even if you clear all plant growth (which we also did), your surface artifacts may still be obscured by recent plant matter. Setting up grid squares allowed us to systematically clear each square in its entirety, revealing a great deal more material than we would have found otherwise and giving us a better estimate of the below-surface distribution of artifacts. It also meant that when we screened the material we cleared (to find any small artifacts caught up in it), we knew where in space the screened material came from and had control over how we collected it.

Hollis Miller, Sam Hordesk, and Joyce LeCompte-Mastenbrook helping to clear a quadrat.

Figure 3: Hollis Miller, Sam Hordesk, and Joyce LeCompte-Mastenbrook helping to clear a quadrat.

The Results

It’s a truism in research that everything takes longer than you think it will, and that’s no less the case here. The surface collection is still ongoing, but I hope to have some preliminary results and pictures up soon!

Results of Season 1, Part 2

If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, you can do so here!

So, here are the results of our survey in map form. The basemap used, which has the historic buildings and areas, is from a 1911 R.H. Thompson map made during a King County assessment of the town. This map is on file at the Cedar River Watershed Education Center. These are preliminary maps. Some of these features have been identified, but not fully mapped in (this is one of my goals in the next few weeks).

Survey Transects shows the survey transects that were cut. Surface artifacts are the material culture that were recovered, and roughly where they were found. Surface features are all surface features we identified. Something was considered a feature if (a) it was found in association with artifacts, and/or (b) it had a very geometric design, plan, or look to it, which is usually indicative of human modification. Most of the features either had material culture associated with them, or we very obviously created by humans (e.g. deep square pits). Probable/Possible Surface Features are pits, ditches, and other phenomena that might be features, but did not quite meet our working definition (they were not very clearly geometric, and/or had no artifacts associated with them).

To help preserve the archaeological record and the integrity of the watershed, specific geographical information has been omitted (e.g. geographical location, lat/long, projection information). Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of pictures of the individual features at the immediate moment, but I will have some by next week.

There are a couple of interesting things to note. Bear in mind that all of this is preliminary!

  1. The scatters of artifacts appear, so far, to be on or near the periphery of the site. The two largest scatters are the northeastern and eastern-most ones, and both are outside of the bounds of what we currently know as the settlement’s extent. Of course, it’s likely that there were more houses than depicted here. This is from a 1911 map, and Barneston did not close until 1924. Also, the Issei population increased between 1910 and 1920, based on federal census data, so they probably build more houses. If they did so, though, it would have been to the north and south; the eastern area is dominated by the edge of a large and moderately steep depression!
  2. Several of the features appear associated with important locations. The brick features almost perfectly overlaps part of where a historic household “should be”. The rock formation on the eastern side of the camp is at the southern edge of a garden. Many of these rock formations are anthropogenic (human-made or modified) rock piles, some of which have trash associated with them. I strongly suspect that these are from clearing ground for gardens, and if so, their association with gardens makes sense and makes them an ideal candidate for further investigation. Sampling plant and animal remains in and around gardens may tell us more about the diversity of foods that people ate, and the rock formations may help confirm the gardens’ presence!
  3. In addition, one of the larger pit features almost perfectly overlaps where the historic map says an outhouse should be. Granted, the map was written by someone who did not speak Japanese, and so we should take the labels with a grain of salt. Still, there’s clearly something interesting going on at that location!

In addition to the survey work, we started a surface collection on the northeastern-most scatter. This was the largest visible one, and seemed like it would be a good candidate to evaluate the quantity, quality, and integrity of artifacts on the site. I’ll talk more about this in the next post!

Results of Season 1, Part 1

So the first five weeks of our fieldwork are complete, and we’ve made quite a bit of progress! Despite a few minor technical and methodological speed-bumps, the project is proceeding as I had hoped. We’ll be starting a three-week fieldwork session this coming week, but in the meantime I wanted to update this site with some news!

This first season (Summer 2016) of fieldwork has a few goals. First, we want to characterize the site. What this means is that we want to understand what is here, and in what condition. What features are present? What artifacts are present? What are the working conditions and terrain like? Can we connect any surface finds to historic maps, photos, and testimonies? Gathering this kind of basic information will help me plan where I want to do more intensive excavation in future field seasons.

Second, and more specifically, I want to identify household remains. As you can see from the maps below (Figure 1), there were several “households” identified from a historic map on the site. Some held bachelors, others families; most probably held both, depending on when you look. What’s important about them archaeologically is that they may give us clues to variation within the community. Even if we cannot always know exactly who occupied a given household, being able to associate different artifacts with different habitation areas gives us a better idea of what went on in those areas, how the community space was used, and ultimately what kinds of variation there was in terms of how the community responded to the inequalities it faced.

Figure 1. Households

The Survey

To find the answers I needed, I set about doing an archaeological survey. Archaeological surveys involve trying to identify the geographical presence and extent of archaeological material. Generally, we do this with minimally invasive techniques. By minimally invasive, I mean that they involve relatively little (and low intensity) digging. In a nutshell, our goal is really just knowing where things are on the site!

Initially, the plan was to conduct a coarse geophysical survey (Figure 2). This type of archaeological surveying involves using sensitive instruments to measure various physical properties of the soil, such as electrical resistance or magnetism. However, the density of undergrowth, uneven terrain, and frequency of felled trees meant that this was far, far too prohibitive in terms of labor (which is the primary limiting factor in my research). Fortunately, in the course of cutting paths in preparation for this survey, we found a number of cultural and potentially culturally features. Inspired by this, I changed the strategy to a more basic pedestrian survey.


Figure 2. Quick quiz: Is this a gradiometer, or a dorky Ghostbuster get-up? Answer: Gradiometer, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’m in a bad Halloween costume!

Pedestrian surveys, in a nutshell, amount to walking across the landscape and looking at the ground, albeit in a slower and more systematic manner than walking, say, to the grocery store! Given the degree of ground cover, doing any sort of pedestrian survey involved cutting lines through the forest, so we still had some visibility issues. But as you will see from the results section, we managed to identify a number of important features!

Survey Logic

The survey I decided upon was a systematic pedestrian survey, with magnetic North-South transects cut into the forest every 25m East-West. “Systematic” means that, once the start point was chosen, we calculate the location of each additional place I will survey based on a regular interval. You already know what pedestrian survey means. “Transects” are survey lines; one or more individuals walks across them, looking left, right, and down, trying to find surface features or artifacts. Once found, these are mapped in with a total station (Figure 3). Due to the overgrowth, I looked primarily for surface features; many of the artifacts we have found were found in association with them, and as I will explain later, even without that overgrowth, many artifacts are hidden under a thin layer of plant remains and humic material.

Hollis Miller and Sam Hordeski assisting on the total station!

Figure 3. Hollis Miller and Sam Hordeski assisting on the total station!

Each transect was cut from north to south for 50 or so meters, at which point we moved 25 meters east to the next transect. Every 10 meters, we took a topographic point with the total station and hammered in a 5-ft stake. The stakes are used both as guides and as local datums for any features we find (Figure 4). Any features or artifacts found were also mapped in, albeit without stakes.

Datum stakes. These are actually less than 10m apart, but they illustrate the general idea.

Figure 4: Datum stakes. These are actually less than 10m apart, but they illustrate the general idea.

Interested in the results? You can find them on the next post!

Key Archaeological Terms

I realized that, while I will try to make this blog as accessible as possible, there are still some key terms that need to be defined. So, here they are! I will update this post as time goes on.

Artifact: Artifacts are generally defined as portable archaeological evidence, objects that were made, modified, or used by people. They include everything from projectile points to wire nails. Artifacts are often broadly grouped into categories, such as metals, ceramics (e.g. pot fragments), glass, lithics (stone), faunal remains (animal bones), floral remains (plant remains). Those latter two are sometimes referred to as ecofacts, but that’s not a term I commonly use.

Feature: Features are non-portable archaeological evidence, such as hearths or architectural remains. “Non-portable” here means that they cannot be removed from the archaeological record without fundamentally altering their form. A ceramic fragment removed from the record still retains its form as a ceramic; a hearth, when excavated, loses its shape and integrity by virtue of the excavation.

Site: How you define an archaeological site is something that is often contested in archaeology. Sites can be collections of artifacts and features, areas defined by oral or written histories, or simply ‘the area the archaeologist was able to survey’. When we refer to the Barneston site, we are referring to the town and its “immediate vicinity” (itself an ill-defined term). The Japanese American Community is a site within Barneston that is similarly defined, and similarly vague.

Provenance: The 3-dimensional location of any artifact, feature, or other object-of-interest on an archaeological site. Maintaining control of provenance is key to archaeological research, as the associations and contexts associated with material culture helps us determine its function.

Association: The spatial relationship between any two or more artifacts, features, or other objects-of-interest. Often we express this by saying that “X is associated with Y”, which means that X appears to have some spatial relationship with Y. X and Y might be in the same pit together, or in the same stratum, or household. “Scatters”, for example, are clusters of artifacts that are associated with one another by virtue of the fact that they are found grouped close together relative to other artifacts on the site.

Context: Oh boy, this is a complicated concept. It can refer to a lot of different things. Instead of giving one definition, I’m going to give a few that matter for this project:

  • Context can refer to relevant details about the surroundings of an artifact, feature, or object-of-interest. For example, let us say you find some modern trash on your archaeology site. Next to you is a large plateau, on top of which currently live people. The context of your surroundings suggests that that modern trash may be from people throwing their refuse off of the side of the plateau. This helps you understand how your site may have been contaminated with modern material. This requires that you pay attention to your surroundings, to the local social and natural environment. It requires that you understand the context surrounding your finds.
  • Context can refer to a kind of action, a means of developing interpretations about the past. Here we use context as a verb, to contextualize.

Survey: An archaeological survey is, at its simplest, any attempt to geographically locate archaeological material. Archaeologically surveys are usually concerned with the amount, concentration, and extent of archaeological material, as well as their integrity. Integrity here refers to the extent to which archaeological material has been disturbed since it was originally deposited in the ground. Since we are often interested in what happened before and when the material was deposited, anything that modifies the material afterwards is potentially biasing. Archaeological surveys are usually low- or minimally-intensive, which means we try to minimize (even more so than normal) how much we disturb the archaeological record.

Excavation: Excavation involves more detailed sub-surface investigation of an archaeological feature, site, or area of interest. In excavations, we remove dirt in a systematic and careful manner and screen whatever we remove through shaker screens to collect artifacts or other archaeological material.

About the Project!

Welcome to the Issei at Barneston Project! Here’s a quick blurb on what we are about. I will be posting more information as we get closer to our field season!

This project, which comprises my dissertation project for the Department of Anthropology at the University of Washington, seeks to reconstruct the daily lives and struggles of early 20th century first-generation Japanese American (Issei) sawmill workers at the company town of Barneston, Washington (1898-1924). Arriving at America’s shores in search of social and economic opportunity, the Issei found themselves confronting not only a new and unfamiliar social environment, but one heavily structured by a system of racial hierarchy which relegated the Issei to a position of subordinate status and social and civil alienation. Drawing on archaeological evidence, archival material, oral testimonies, and secondary literature from history, sociology, and Japanese American studies, my project seeks to understand both the ways in which these social forces impacted sawmill town Issei’s day-to-day activities and choices, and the strategies they used to survive and endure in response.

The project is anticipated to run over two field seasons, Summer 2016 and Summer 2017. The goal in Season 1 is to (1) ground truth maps recovered through archival research, and (2) identify and test areas of Barneston that have high potential for in-tact archaeological deposits related to daily life within Issei households and the bathhouse. We will also (time permitting) survey non-Issei areas, such as the Euro-American worker barracks and mill pond, both for comparative purposes and for the sake of thoroughness. We will make use of multiple different and complementary field methods, including topographic survey, metal detection and geophysical survey, and limited subsurface investigation. Through these techniques, we hope to evaluate the integrity of the site and the quality of archival maps while minimizing our impact on the archaeological record.

Season 2 will take place in Summer 2017, and will focus on excavating areas identified in Season 1 as having a high probability of archaeological deposits. More details on that will become available as we approach that field season!