Clock is ticking for archaeological dig in Two Harbors
What a casual observer might find exciting and what an archaeologist finds exciting are worlds apart. Seth Button is at the Isackson homestead site in Two Harbors' Agate Bay this spring, sifting through history and making the small finds that get...
What a casual observer might find exciting and what an archaeologist finds exciting are worlds apart.
Seth Button is at the Isackson homestead site in Two Harbors' Agate Bay this spring, sifting through history and making the small finds that get his colleagues amped up.
"The preservation here is better than any (other) site in Minnesota," he said.
Because of the water that permeates most of what was once known as Whiskey Row, items have been preserved that aren't normally found at digs. That includes cloth and leather, the textiles that tell a story that is often held only in theory.
"It's pretty incredible," Button said.
The dig is vital because much of the Whiskey Row site will be blasted away
to open the bay and make a safe harbor marina.
In the past, crews have found boots and hats, the markings of everyday life in the past. You don't find many nails or other common metal items uncovered at other historical digs. They disintegrate in the water here.
The crews plan to work with the Lake County Historical Society to publically display some of the items found at the site.
"It's a slow and painstaking process," Button said. "But it's a valuable addition to what we think we know" about the area's past.
Button is the crew chief of one of two teams hired by the state to wrap up the archaeological dig that began in 2007. They want to finish by October to clear the way for a Two Harbors marina that in one incarnation or another has been in the works for 50 years.
Work on a redesigned boat launch is expected to begin next spring, with Burlington Bay being used as an interim launch site. Marina construction, with plans and funding requests continuing this year through the Minnesota DNR and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, could follow in 2012.
For now, Button and his team slowly go through the Isackson site in closely documented squares of earth.
He notes the lilacs and lily of the valley growing next to the exposed poured foundation of the former wood home. He suspects the plants are original to the settlers who occupied what some suggest is proof of a degree of civility in the shanty boomtown.
The team is finding lots of rubble, likely from the demolition of the home, Button said. There is some plate glass and bottles -- nothing spectacular but all interesting, Button said. "It builds a picture," he said. "We look at items, like shotgun shell cases, and we can find out where stuff came from, who these people were."
The crew goes through each definable layer of soil and makes meticulous notes on where everything is found. It's work that doesn't lend itself well to the public digs that marked the opening of the site four years ago.
Team members note different "events" signaled by the soil, such as fires or added construction. Button said it's key to understand how much of the findings are "original destruction" and what can be classified as post-destruction, items accumulated in what became a highly industrial site.
Button is confident the dig will be done by the fall. That obligation to the overall plans for the site has been a long time in coming. The dig began with plenty of promise in 2007, but wet conditions at the site slowed things down. Then staffing went thin. There was hardly any work on the site last year as a state bid proposal was prepared to bring more workers to the dig.
"Once we get fully rolling," overall project manager Tim Tumberg said, "we will have two five-person crews working rotating schedules of eight 10-hour days on and six days off."