Friday, June 22, 2012

Michigan Tech archaeologists to host free tours at Cliff Mine site June 23-24

HOUGHTON -- This weekend is the second of the three open houses at the Cliff Mine Archaeology Dig. Michigan Tech professors and students are giving free tours of their excavations from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, June 23-24. Tour groups will leave from Cliff Drive, starting at the top of each hour.

Michigan Tech industrial archeology students excavate the wooden floor of the 1850-1869 washhouse building, part of the Cliff Mine Stamp Mill complex. (Photo courtesy Michigan Technological University)

Last weekend, 73 people took the tours, noted Tim Scarlett, project co-director and Michigan Tech associate professor of social sciences.

"They gave us great feedback that enabled us to tweak the tours for this coming weekend," Scarlett said.

This 2010 photo shows part of the Cliff Mine site at the time Michigan Tech researchers were beginning their archaeological project. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

Visitors can see many different parts of the Cliff Mine and Clifton town this year. Graduate student Sean Gohman and his team are showing off additional excavations in the Stamp Mill Complex, including the 1850-1869 mill and Warren’s Mill, which was built and operated in the early 20th century.

Three years of mapping have also been completed.

Sean Gohman, right, Michigan Tech graduate student leading the team of industrial archaeology students studying the Cliff Mine site, points out on a map some historic areas at the site to Gina Nicholas, second from left, of the Gratiot Lake Conservancy.  Nicholas was guiding a Reading the Landscape "Stamp Sand Remediation" tour of the Cliff Mine site in August 2010, when the researchers were in the beginning stages of their archaeological project. Stamp sand at the site is being stabilized to protect a branch of the Eagle River. At left is Rob Aho, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) project director for the stamp sand remediation. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

"We can now show people a foundation in the woods in the middle of the ghost-town of Clifton, point to an historic map, aerial photograph, historic photograph, or satellite image and say you are exactly here. 'This is that building,'" said project co-director Sam Sweitz, an assistant professor of social sciences at Michigan Tech.

After discovering indications of large, butchered animal bones buried deeply in one part of Clifton, another student team started excavating in an area between a group of houses.

"We think this may be a butchering area where cattle were slaughtered and cut up to feed the workers in the boarding houses," said Anna L. Sweitz, another project researcher.

Excavators should be uncovering a large deposit of those bones this weekend.

"We think this should be an exciting discovery, but with archaeology, you can never be sure!" said Scarlett. "If we knew what was there, we wouldn’t need to dig to discover things -- so as the saying goes, 'Don’t count your chickens!'"

Besides the open excavations in the Mill and in town, the teams will give visitors site maps with some freshly cut trails marked on them.

"We’ve cut new paths through the woods and placed historic photos and maps on them so people can walk through parts of Clifton on their own," said Scarlett. "We’ll also help them find the cemeteries so they can hike to see them if they wish."

The Keweenaw County Road Commission owns this National Register-listed site. They allow Michigan Tech’s Industrial Archaeology teams to conduct research and give tours to the public.

The project is sponsored by grants from the Keweenaw National Historical Park Advisory Commission, Michigan Tech’s Department of Social Sciences and private gifts to the Michigan Tech Fund.

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