Friday, June 26, 2009

Filling the units!


Mobile blog post

Backfilling and the Future

Today we will backfill all our units.

The research now transitions into the lab and the library. The blog won't end here. Over the summer, we'll make more entries about the other excavation units. Perhaps some of the students will finally write for the blog and post photographs. Jessica and I will keep updating the blog all next year during the analysis and write up, as we complete artifact analyses, lab tests, and experiments.

These are some of the overall site pictures that we took before sunrise yesterday, when the City of Parowan lent us a cherry-picker bucket truck.

This picture shows the relationship between the kiln, the cellar, and the northern workshop building.

Here is a detail shot of the kiln, showing the fully excavated firebox, flue, and outline:

Another overall shot that shows the relationship between the opening of the trench that leads to the firebox and the opening of the workshop basement door:

A great picture of this great crew on the last day, just before we broke up for our final jobs:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lines in the sand (and ash, bone, and pottery)

As Frank and myself opened up the new unit 26s 18w it was because of a promising shovel test pit between 26s 18w and 28s 18w.On the magnetometer reading there was an anomaly located there, which we thought might yield another kiln or industrial structure (having found one kiln we were anxious to locate another). At the bottom of the test pit we found pieces of brick and also some clay and ash. To the left is a closing picture of 28s 18w, with the shovel test pit to the north and what turned out to be Dr. Scarlett's shovel test pit from 2001. In the bottom right corner there was another ash pit, and by the end of both 28s and 26s Frank and myself would be buried under a myriad of forms relating to these puzzles. With an old shovel test pit and an ash pit found, we turned our attention to 26s 18w, north of the unit pictured in an attempted to locate a possible foundation.

During the course of our dig in the unit we found numerous ash pits, a pile of pottery and household waste, and some fence posts from the 20th century.To the left, you can see an ash pit in the top of the unit with the ash, bone, and pottery pit in the center and the shovel test pit towards the bottom. While a foundation failed to materialize we did uncover some very interesting stratigraphy, or layers of soil in the side walls. It looked as if pits has been dug, filled with ash and other debris and had nearby topsoil layered over it.

So as Frank and myself dug out the ash, bone, and pottery debris pit in the center of the unit we got about 20-25cm down. However, if we had stayed in the center of the unit we might have missed the bigger picture in 26s 18w. As this picture show, the side walls brought forth much more questions. The dark ash pit it the far wall and then towards the right the ash and clay that was at the bottom of the test pit. Also the debris at the bottom of the shovel test pit turned out to be a ash and clay pit dug into the surrounding reddish brown soil (which can be seen to the left of the picture). So what we had in this unit were four ash pits dug into the soil, maybe at different times; all of the pits were covered with the reddish brown soil. One possible answer is they were dug then covered over by nearby topsoil? Still the question remains, why dig a pit to throw ash, bone and pottery in when the ash and pottery could have been left on the surface.

In the end the soil came to the reddish brown layer with no remaining ash pits-and we had some great examples of stratigraphy.In the picture to the right you can see
e the dark ash pit suspended in the side wall, higher up than the bottom of the ash, bone and pottery pit that was in the center. Usually the older artifacts are buried deeper in the soil; however with the various heights of the deposits that basic idea is also called into question in this unit. We found some great pieces of local pottery in the central pit, two fence posts and some great differentiation in the soil of the side walls. Each day brings us a more complete understanding of the site, and even more questions regarding the uses and functions of simple features like ash pits.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

More Press

I just mentioned the nice piece written by Nur Kausar for the Cedar City Daily News ( A second story was in today's papers. Mark Havnes wrote a story for the Salt Lake Tribune. You can read the story here.

Mark's piece is interesting, but what draws my attention is the discussion and commentary that follows the article. These comments refer to the recent arrests, suicides, and protests in Blanding, Utah, following the indictment of about 20 people for looting archaeological sites on federal land. The arrests and deaths continue to make national news. In my opinion, the entire mess is unfortunate.

From the very first comment on Mr. Havnes's article, Tribune readers make assumptions about my interest in the Davenports and their pottery shop. One implies that I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which I'm not. The Tribune's readers comments, like the thousands of vitriolic comments written after the main articles about the arrests, show how high emotions have risen over the events in Blanding. The entire event has become a scene where people can act out the Mormon/Anti-Mormon/non-Mormon, inside/outside, majority/minority social politics of the state.

I hope people reading about my research will discover it on their own terms, instead of the stage as set in Blanding. I find so much potential in what we are going here. With this project, I have tried to show the exciting opportunities for community-based, public archaeology in Utah. There are about 45 sites in almost 30 different cities and towns where we could continue joining communities to study the potters and clay workers of the nineteenth century. Such research is powerful because it creates empathy in society. If the e-commentary and the blogosphere are any indication of the role of archaeology and preservation in Utah's cultures and communities, then the people in this state need to draw upon all the empathy they can muster.

Davenport Dig Review

Last night Jessica and I presented a summary of the summer's discoveries in Parowan. The city staff booked us into the historic Aladdin Theater, the old movie house that they converted into a community theater. About 100 people came out to see our presentation! Nur Kausar wrote a nice summary for this morning's Cedar City Daily News.

I gave an overview of the Utah Pottery Project and then Jessica took the audience through the site, explaining the different buildings and activity areas we had uncovered. After the overview, I spoke about the experimental research we undertook before this summer and what directions our research may take us in the future.

I undertook this entire research dig as a kind of public archaeology. We opened the site and welcomed visitors all day and every day. I operated the dig in this manner because I believe strongly in community-based public archaeology. Public archaeology showcases archaeological research as a collaborative process, like a journey of discovery. I invited people from Parowan's different communities to join us as partners in the research, instead of subjects or consultants. We have been building relationships with the community and I hope that our partnerships continue to flourish in the future as we consider future research and public programming, such as imagining the operating replica of the Davenport Pottery site for the Iron Mission State Park Museum.

Of course, as a public archaeology program, we are seeking partners who want to facilitate the research and community partnerships by providing scholarships and support for students to work it the lab and field studies. If you are interested, please click here for more information on how you can help as an individual, a foundation, or an corporation.

Last night's public lecture and presentation was an opportunity to give a more formal summary of what we have accomplished thus far. I was also able to extend our deep thanks to the members of the community who have prepared treats for the research team - from delivering burritos or cookies to the dig, hosting picnic dinners for us, and inviting us to swim in their pools. I don't think I've ever felt so welcomed by a community.

I am very grateful to the Utah Humanities Council for their financial support of the public programming elements of this field project. The UHC also supported my early attempts to get the project going, which resulted in the current programmatic agreement between Michigan Tech and Utah State Parks. As I said last night, the UHC asks that each event sponsored by their organization include this statement:
"This program has received funding from the Utah Humanities Council. The Utah Humanities Council promotes understanding of diverse traditions, values, and ideas through informed public discussion."

Final Week's Big Push

We have started our final week at the dig.  This week will be so busy that things will get frantic at times.  All the bustle is caused by the two main activities during this period. 

First, Jessica will lead the students to finish all their excavation record-keeping.  This includes all the steps that they don't show on CSI- drafting profile and plan drawings of excavation units, making final photographs of each unit, writing draft reports about the stratigraphic layers and features in each excavation area, and finishing initial artifact processing, cataloging, and inventory so the bags can be packed and transported back to Michigan Tech's Industrial Archaeology Lab.

During all the recording and processing, we'll also have lots of visitors to the site and several public programming activities.  This is the best time to visit a dig, since we are at the maximum extent of excavation for the season.  People can now see all the architecture and features that we've been able to expose.  We kicked off our public programming last night with a talk in Parowan. I'll write more about that talk in a post soon.  We have lectures and site tours all this week, including Michigan Tech Alumni today, a brown bag and lecture in Cedar City on Monday, then the Sons of the Utah Pioneers, the Boy Scouts, some type of event with visitors in town for the glider festival.

We will try to get more blog posts up
 this weekend, and I am going to send students to the library so they can write.  We have many interesting details to report.  In the meantime, here are some photos of people and scenes from the dig and around Parowan:

Mark at the screen.

Jessica and Frank talking things over.
Andy brushing off masonry.
Mike starting his last unit.
Renée is now fearless with the mattock.

Me at the screen, helping with somebody's unit.

The desert has been in bloom for weeks now.  This has been such a cool and moist summer, any plants that can flower have been blooming for weeks.  I've been saving pictures of flowers and will post an entire blog entry with those pics!

The weather has given us some sublime scenes.  Here is one looking north from Parowan toward Beaver.
Parowan is full of farms and ranches.  We have become used to having our morning commute delayed by cattle or sheep drives.  The ranchers are moving their herds to summer pastures in the mountains, passing our camp on their trip.



Thursday, June 11, 2009

Scholarships announced

The Register of Professional Archaeologists awarded two scholarships to students participating in the Utah Pottery Project/Michigan Technological University field school at the Davenport Pottery Site in Parowan, Utah.  Each of the sponsoring organizations makes an award and the Society for Historical Archaeology selected our field project among the other RPA certified field schools.  

Congratulations to Samantha Foss and Michael Estep!  The RPA announcement is here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Michigan Tech Alumni Event!

A Day in the Field with MTU’s Industrial Archaeologists!

The Department of Social Sciences is pleased to invite Michigan Tech alumni and friends to visit our archaeology dig in Parowan, Utah. On June 20th, please come to see the important discoveries, including the well-preserved remains of one of the first non-Native pottery shops in the southern expanse of the Utah Territory.  Alumni and friends could put these events at the center of a weekend trip through Utah's beautiful and historic Color and Canyon Country!

MTU faculty, students, and volunteers are excavating the site of the pottery shop established by Thomas and Sarah Davenport in 1852. These English factory workers spent nearly a decade struggling to solve technical problems, then operated their shop successfully over forty years. MTU excavation teams have unearthed several extraordinary features, including well-preserved building foundations, heaps of kiln failures, and the first English-style updraft kiln ever excavated west of the Mississippi river.

After touring the site and talking with project team members in Parowan, the group will meet at the Iron Mission State Park Museum in nearby Cedar City, Utah. At the museum, Dr. Scarlett will take the group through the exhibit, Potters of the Gathering: Clay Work in Early Utah. The exhibit includes more than 200 objects, both antique and archaeological, along with DVD video and audio programs that illustrate the successes and failures of the immigrant clay workers.

Following the pottery exhibit, the tour will consider the history of iron mining and smelting in Southern Utah. MTU industrial archaeologists and Utah State Parks staff will preview the museum’s new exhibits about residents’ efforts to make iron in the 1850s, including a full-scale replica of the blast furnace. Then the group will head west of Cedar City to Old Iron Town State Park, an industrial ruin where workers smelted iron in the 1860s. The furnace, casting house, charcoal ovens, and other industrial ruins are potential sites for archaeological fieldwork during the summer of 2010 (pictures here).

Schedule and Rendezvous:
9:00 AM – 12:00 PM: Open visits to excavations at the pottery site and local museum in Parowan, Utah.
Site location: 75 West 100 South, Parowan, Utah, 84761

1:00 PM – 2:00 PM: Guided tour of Potters of the Gathering at the Iron Mission State Park Museum in Cedar City, Utah.
Museum location: 585 North Main St., Cedar City, Utah 84720

2:30 PM: Overview of iron industry history, view of exhibits, caravan departs.

3:30 PM – 5:00 PM: Visit to Old Iron Town State Park.
From Cedar City head west on Hwy U-56 for approximately 20 miles. Turn south onto Old Iron Town Rd. Travel this gravel road for approximately five miles to the ruins located on the left hand side

Michigan Technological University Alumni and Friends can register here.

Monday, June 8, 2009

We're on TV!

KCSG ran their story tonight!  They did a great job editing.  It was so windy the day that Stephanie shot her film, I didn't think they would be able to use any audio at all.  The story is here.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Press Coverage

At the end of the week, we spent time with reporters from the regional newspaper and TV stations.  The first article has appeared in The Spectrum, the regional paper that covers St. George, Cedar City, and southwest Utah.  The Spectrum also published a story about opening of Potters of the Gathering: Clay Work in Early Utah at the Iron Mission State Park Museum.  Nur Kausar wrote both stories and I have received emails that remark on how much people enjoyed her writing.

A reporter/camerawoman also came from KCSG, the regional NBC affiliate.  We don't have a TV in our field camp, so we don't know if they broadcast the story yet.  Stephanie told us to watch the website, so I'm keeping an eye on things and will post the link if they story appears.  The NBC affiliate in Salt Lake City might run that story, so I'm also keeping an eye on

If you are just visiting this blog for the first time, you can read about the excavations at the Davenport Pottery by clicking here.  This research is a public archaeology project and is entirely funded by tax-deductible donations.  Even small donations will help our work-- $20 buys one sample of clay or ceramic isotope fingerprinting, for example.  Please give by clicking here.  If you would like to see a list of needs and a summary of how the fieldwork was sponsored, please click here.

The press exposure and spreading with word of mouth in town has meant that we've had many more people coming out to visit the dig and see our discoveries for themselves.  I think everyone who visits the dig leaves impressed-- the tremendous detail in what we have discovered impresses them.  We welcome people to come to the site whenever we are present.  If you are planning a trip to the area and would like to see our dig, I published the work schedule here.

Several people in town have adopted my students, bringing them occasional treats during visits.  In the picture below, the students are all enjoying cold sodas brought over by our neighbor Mr. Denhalter.  We appreciate all the cookies, muffins, and other treats.  This may be the first dig on which I've gained weight while working!
Everyone on the project wants our readers to know what a warm and wonderful town Parowan is and how much we are enjoying our time here.  Yesterday was the town's classic car show.  The entire community is getting ready for a huge glider festival during June and July.  We are starting to see gliders arrive on trailers and are excited to entice the people who love the sky with the allure of what we find underground!

Work, Other than the Kiln

The project team has moved a lot of dirt besides that over the kiln.  This is a general description of other work at the site.  In the coming days, students and volunteers will write about their work on the blog.  These pictures and maps should allow the blog's readers to orient themselves to the site's layout.  If this is your first visit to the blog, before reading further, you might check out the map discussion and my comments about Mrs. Carol Wright.

Below are a photo of the Davenport
's 1890s home and site on the adjoining lot (viewer's right). The second image is a plan of the site on which I have drawn a map of our discoveries over the geophysics data.  I drew symbols that represent brick and stone masonry and foundations.  The black lines represent the 2 meter square grid that we mapped over the entire site to control our excavation record keeping.

The maps shows three major sets of features.  Kiln A is drawn as a green circle with some bricks drawn to show orientation.  I have outlined the other buildings and features using black-shaded boxes.  Looking at our discoveries, consider the following passage from Emma Cynthia Nielson's The Development of Pioneer Pottery in Utah (1961: 101-104):

"On Nov. 18, 1961, Mrs. Luella Adams, the wife of 
Thomas Adams, described the pottery as she 
remembered it.  We went out on the back porch
 of the home and looked over the yard.  
There was one old tree left from pioneer time, 
but everything else had been taken down and removed 
from the place. Mrs. Adams said that the pottery 
consisted of three log buildings which stood back in the lot 
and southwest of the present home. 
The building on the south held the clay; 
the next one was the factory; it housed the wheel.  
The third room was used to store the pots for drying.  
There was a basement midway between the home and the 
factory where the potter had his kiln."

Mrs. Adams's description helps us to understand the remains we have discovered so far.  We have found one kiln, the light foundation of a twentieth century shed or barn, a stone foundation for a much heavier building, and the cellar pit mentioned by Mrs. Adams.

While kiln A was the first discovered by Samantha and Renée, I do not think it was the first kiln built by the Davenports.  It is made of quality firebrick, which would have been very hard to find in 1853.  If the Davenports used firebrick in the first kiln, I expect it would have been used to line the inside of a structure otherwise built of locally quarried stone.  We are still looking for the other two kilns described in family histories.

While investigating the strong magnetic anomaly south of kiln A, Samantha, Mark, and Mike uncovered heavy stone foundations.  These courses of stone may be part of a single structure, including a small piece of foundation wall that I discovered during my excavations back in 2000.  That bit of foundation inspired my theory that the entire site was well preserved and worthy of intensive study.  This is a very heavy foundation, nearly three feet deep.  These stones were built to support something much more substantial than a small log cabin!  We are still debating why the Davenports built this building.

Andy was examining the anomaly in 6W42S when he discovered a deep pit.  We all think this pit is probably the cellar mentioned by Mrs. Adams in 1961.  In this picture, you can see the pit as Andy first saw it-- the northern 1/2 is black sediment full of charcoal.  The southern 1/2 of the unit is the orange clayey loam that we think was the ground under the topsoil in 1852 when the Davenport's started building their pottery.
During excavation, Andy discovered that the charcoal deposit was just the first layer in a deep and stratified pit feature.  The Davenport's dug into the subsoil and built the cellar, then through time they filled it with layers of soil and rubbish.  You can see the profile after excavation in this picture:
While Andy patiently excavated each stratigraphic layer in the cellar, he realized that for a time, the Davenports used the cellar as a disposal area for pots that failed in the kiln.  Andy found busted fragments of pottery.  Lots and lots of fragments of pottery.  Nine five-gallon buckets filled with sherds the size of quarters, nickels, and dimes. Other fragments were larger, including the warped and cracked crock bottom in Andy's lap in this picture:
Andy's most interesting observation so far is about the nature of the deposit. While carefully removing the fragments, he noticed that many of the larger fragments were actually stacked as they had been in the kiln.  Spurs, a kind of kiln furniture like a stilt, separated each pot or pan from those above or below.  From this observation, Andy concluded that some of this deposit was from a catastrophic failure in the kiln.  The potters carried entire stacks of crocks that had failed in the kiln and threw them into the cellar hole.  Some of the spurs he recovered are in this picture:
We are not yet certain if all the broken pots, pans, jugs, and jars in the cellar feature are from a single catastrophic event or if the Davenports threw things into the cellar over the decades of operation.  We will try to figure that out during analysis.

Looking at buckets and buckets and buckets of tiny broken ceramic fragments is a constant reminder of how badly we need support for the upcoming lab work.  I will use your tax deductible donations to support students working in the lab and for the scientific tests for their research projects.  If you are interested in learning more about how we put this project together, click here.  To make a donation to the Michigan Tech Fund into an account for the Utah Pottery Project, please click here.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pictures and Holiday

Today marks just about half way through our field season!  We are in the middle of a break and the students are on holiday, driving among the beautiful landscapes of southern Utah.  We start excavation again on Friday.  I thought this was an opportune time to put up a few pictures of the site showing the total extent of our excavations.  

This picture is of the first kiln we discovered, showing the full extent of recent excavations. Frank and Brandon opened a second unit adjoining the south side of the square that Renée and Samantha have dug.  They have exposed more of the kiln's floor, but we are puzzled because they have not uncovered part of the exterior wall and flue system, and we haven't found the fireboxes or kiln door.  We have more digging to do before we fully understand this kiln!  

The next image looks south over the 6 meter long trench that we've dug north of the first kiln.  You can see a pair of stone foundations that Samantha, Mark, and Mike have exposed.  The foundations are substantial and the artifact preservation in the units is extraordinary.  I have a theory about the purpose of this building, but I'm withholding speculations until we have a little more evidence.  

The final photo shows an overall view looking south toward the mountains.  The wide angle lens distorts the image, making the mountains look small and the site narrow, but it captures the arrangements of the excavation units.

In my next post, I'll describe how the pieces of the puzzle are starting to fit together. Readers might notice that the students have been signing up as coauthors on the blog.  I hope some of them will start making posts next week, telling what they've learned about their discoveries and the process and practice of public archaeology.