Category Archives: Digital Archaeology

Discovering New Secrets Beneath Juneau Park In Downtown Milwaukee

Most people would never guess that Juneau Park, located along Lake Michigan in downtown Milwaukee, was once home to some of Milwaukee’s founding citizens.  While the former homes are no longer standing, over the past four seasons, Discovery World’s staff archaeologist and director of the Distant Mirror archaeology program, Kevin Cullen, has led an archaeological survey in the park to document and excavate the remains of these 19th century affluent residences.

 

Known as the “Lost Neighborhood” site, this elegant lakefront green space is slowly revealing its buried secrets through hands-on archaeological research and cutting-edge technology.  This years participants in the Lost Neighborhood survey included Milwaukee Area Technical College civil engineering instructor David Langhoff, two of his students, eight Bay View High School students who are part of a semester-long program with Discovery World called “The Art & Archaeology of Me”, several Milwaukee-area residents, a re-enactor and scholar (Rob Nurre) of the 19th century scientist Increase Lapham, as well as members of the Juneau Park Friends.

This years survey focused in former block 106, located in the north third of Juneau Park.  We began work in this section of the park last year, yet, because of the potential for intact buried features it was decided to refocus our attention this season in this area.  The survey began on a sunny Friday, May 20th, with the establishment of the former lot boundaries inside the park, from which we could then determine the location of the former houses inside these lots. Once these former lots were reestablished, three archaeological survey grids were overlaid inside these lots corresponding to the hypothesized house locations.  The intention for these grids were for the use of  ground penetrating radar (GPR) to map the buried remains inside these grids using Discovery Worlds’ Noggin 500 smart cart.

 

Saturday May 21st began as an overcast Spring morning with the threat of sustained rain.  Despite a subsequent soaking rain, we forged on and began collecting GPR data, soil coring, test excavations, as well as GPS and compass mapping.  Our first test excavation was placed on the western edge of former lot 20 in block 106.  Deed research revealed that this property was first purchased by Charles Church from James Kneeland in the 1860s, but it wasn’t until the early 1870s that Timothy and Mary Dore built a two story brick veneered house and a two story brick veneered carriage house in the rear of the property.  In December of 1876 the Dore’s sold the property to Hugh L. and Margret Johnston for $16,000.  The family owned the property until 1926 when the City purchased it for $68,000 in order to demolish it for the expansion of Juneau Park.

 

As we began excavating a 50 cm X 50 cm shovel test above the former carriage house / garden shed, we began finding 19th century ceramics, brick fragments, etc. in the first 20 centimeters below the surface.  Below this we encountered a strata of clay between 20-60 cm below the ground surface.  Then all of a sudden we hit a layer of earthenware flower pots, square nails and brick fragments.  This pottery “midden” persisted for another 25+ cm until we hit a limestone base at 85 cm below the surface, which then filled with water.  This halted our excavation, but in all we had uncovered a surprisingly immense amount of late 19th-early 20th century artifacts.  Several of the flower pots were still intact, some of which were nested inside one another.  In all we recovered about 18 earthenware flowerpots, some with visible finger prints of the potter on the exterior!   This was a very exciting find for the students and everyone involved.

 

We completed our survey on Sunday May 22nd with another interesting discovery.  In another shovel test excavation, we discovered an unassuming prehistoric artifact.  It was a chipped-stone “flake” that is the result of manufacturing a stone tool, likely a spear or arrow point.  While we cannot date this flake accurately, we do know it was made prior to European’s arrival in this area.  Soon we had completed our GPR survey and test excavations, packed up the site and headed back to Discovery World to process the GP data.  The image below is the resulting GPR map of the grid we collected over the pottery midden feature in former lot 20.  The middle depth slice clearly shows the presence of several dense concentrations of artifacts, likely more pottery and construction material.

Overall, everyone was very surprised with what we found and all deserve credit for contributing to the discovery of the Lost Neighborhood of Juneau Park. After all, communities that document and protect their own cultural histories are more conscientious about the importance of preserving the past, which results in a greater appreciation for one’s own sense of place in time and space, particularly in the ever-changing human-built environment.  A final report on the past four seasons of survey will be available following laboratory analysis of the artifacts and GPR data obtained this season.

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Making the History of a Milwaukee Neighborhood Come Alive Like Never Before

Art meets Archaeology in Bay View Wisconsin

In a world of increasing visual media, today’s high school students are having to  become more adept than ever at navigating through this age of hyper-information, while often being exposed to conventional modes of academic learning in the classroom.  These challenges have recently been addressed in a Milwaukee neighborhood by bringing the classroom into the community through a unique public art installation.  This impressive outdoor exhibit installation called the <a href="http://discoveryworld/bayview“>Bay View Observatory is the result of a collaborative effort between Discovery World and Bay View High School students.  The Observatory is the culmination of a semester-long program called “The Art and Archaeology of Me”, where students were exposed to elements of Archaeology, Digital Arts, History, Geography, Genetics and Social Studies, in order to produce a one-of-a-kind public art intervention.

Located on the lawn of the Beulah Brinton house, which is home to the Bay View Historical Society, the Bay View Observatory is a public art installation and educational experience that celebrates the rich history of the Bay View neighborhood.   Over three Saturdays in August, Bay Viewers were invited to the Observatory to participate in the preservation of history through audio interviews, artifact documentation and portrait photography.  These stations were staffed by five Bay View interns who orchestrated this data collection for future generations to learn about the unique history of this Milwaukee neighborhood.

The Observatory is based on the idea of a compass. Four 12-foot tall vertical banners represent both the cardinal points and the visual history of the community.  Meanwhile, thirty individual markers point to historically or archaeologically significant sites in and around the Bay View neighborhood. In the center of the Observatory is a Community Table where a map of the neighborhood indicates where each marker is pointing to.  The Community Table also functions as a platform from which visitors can share their Bay View stories, artifacts, historic photographs and documents.

Three 15-foot tall Personal Archaeology banner columns greet visitors to the Observatory.  These personal banners represent the unique individuality and creativity of several Bay View High School students that participated in the Art and Archaeology of Me program.  Several other banners are currently on display at Bay View High School, as well as on Discovery Worlds’ grounds at the corner of Lincoln Memorial Dr. and Michigan St.

This Observatory is well worth a visit and is a successful model of the kind of innovative educational opportunities high school students can get behind. For more information, log onto the Observatory website www.discoveryworld.org/bayview to learn about the many personalities that make this historic Milwaukee neighborhood unique.  The Observatory is slated for de-installation by Labor Day weekend of this year, so come and see for yourself if you happen to be in Bay View, Wisconsin in the next few weeks.

Tracking Trash in the Modern Archaeological Record

Artifact Deposition into the Modern Archaeological Record

Artifact Deposition into the Modern Archaeological Record

Have you ever wondered what happens to the styrofoam coffee cup that you recently tossed into the garbage bin? Once its liquid contents were consumed did you give any thought to the disposable container itself? Like most of us, the mass produced containers of our consumable society are taken for granted and quickly forgotten once they reach their designated garbage receptacles. It is precisely these disposed of pieces of our daily lives that the field of Archaeology studies, in order to understand material culture in the context of time and space. A broken piece of pottery from a 1,500 year old Woodland Period jar found along the Milwaukee River holds similar cultural meaning as an aluminum root beer can located in the same vicinity. Each elicits data pertaining to human rendered technology, cultural modes of consumption, environmental deposition, artifact preservation, etc. Yet, only a fraction of the cultural behaviors that were enacted to produce, consume and dispose of these disparately connected artifacts can ever be ascertained.

However, now with the aid of innovative technology developed by MIT’s SENSEable City Lab, modern artifacts are beginning to provide insightful information on the journey of a piece of trash through the “removal-chain.” TrashTrack uses hundreds of small, smart, location aware tags, which are part of a network of tiny locatable microeletromechanical systems currently under development. “These tags are attached to different types of trash so that these items can be followed through the city’s waste management system, revealing the final journey of our everyday objects in a series of real time visualizations.”

Data Collection Microchip

Data Collection Microchip

These kinds of data could have profound implications for how we think about the amount of waste we produce on a daily basis, as well as the distance and rate these objects travel over time. While this pilot program is designed for waste management purposes, the resulting data offer profound information for social scientists and certainly for future archaeologists. If someday all consumer products had similar microchips, one could locate the distribution and location of this garbage, which would be particularly important for environmentally degrading material culture, such as batteries, electronics, etc.

A Computer Midden from the Digital Age

A Computer Midden from the Digital Age

By cultivating a more informed population about the insights gained from this technology, perhaps our collective conscience will be more cognizant about our consumptive patterns of behavior. Perhaps now we will begin to confront the mounting question of where and when our trash is disposed of and how long it remains in the environment, before it is either destroyed or recycled. Nevertheless, a more informed public can only mean a more habitable future when we begin to address the impact we are leaving in the archaeological record.