Equinox at Aztalan

It is hard to believe that after such a miserably cold and snowy winter here in Wisconsin that spring is going to be around the corner.  It does not feel like it right now, since it is only 15 degrees outside, but maybe sometime soon it will warm up.

I always try to watch the sunrise at the spring and fall equinox at Aztalan.  Hopefully this year I will again enjoy it and capture the scene with may camera.  It is a beautiful scene to stand on top of the southwest mound, and watch the sunrise over the gravel knoll and the Crawfish River.

The equinox last fall was interesting.  The fog gave it a very surreal feel, with the fog moving back and forth across the scene.  I wish the fog had not thickened to the point of obscuring the gravel knoll, but do the best with what has been given to you.

">Click here to see the Fall 2013 Equinox sunrise at Aztalan

 

 

In Their Own Words: Archeologists Tell Their Story about Excavations at Aztalan

In 2013, students and professors from several Midwestern Universities (Michigan State, Northern Iowa University, and University of Wisconsin Madison) conducted two archeology field schools at the site of Aztalan, in south-central Wisconsin.

I had the pleasure of meeting many new budding archeologists, and renewing acquaintences with students and professors that I have known for some time.  I am especially grateful to Dr. Lynne Goldstein of Michigan State University and Dr. John Richards of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for providing me full access to photograph the excavations and excavators.

One of the results of my photography, is the creation of a series of multi-media presentations titled "In Their Own Words: Aztalan Archeologists Tell Their Story".  Combining still photos, video clips, and audio, each short vignette allows the archeologists and students to express their thoughts, expectations, and discussions of the findings from excavations at Aztalan.

The first in this series highlights UW-Milwaukee field school student Kristina Dineen-Grube.

I hope you enjoy the first in this series, and with future posts.

 

View the  Video

A new henge discovered near Lake Mills Wisconsin


England may have its famous Stonehenge, and the ancient site of Cahokia may have its own Woodhenge(s), but a newly discovered henge on the icy plains of Rock Lake, near the archeological site of Aztalan was certainly unexpected.


On the eastern shore of Rock Lake, a mysterious feature, referred to as Ice Henge was recently discovered.  Researchers readily noted the similarity of Ice Henge with the more famous Stonehenge site.  Archeo-astronomers are researching the possibility of astronomical alignments with solstice and equinox events.  Says one researcher  "The placement of the pine trees on the outer ring of Ice Henge is more than coincidence.  We think these mark the Winter and Summer Solstice sunrises.  We just hope that the long winter remains a bit longer so we can actually observe the sunrise/sunset here at Ice Henge."  Another scientist observing Ice Henge believes some of the ice columns point to the nearby archeological site of Aztalan.

It is unclear at this time if this Ice Henge is related to the mysterious underwater pyramids in Rock Lake.

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Wupatki, Bad Weather Conditions for Photo's turns out no so bad

Earlier in December of 2012 I had the opportunity to visit the Flagstaff Arizona area and had a single day to do some photography.  Continuing my work of photographing archeological sites, I made my plans to shoot the ruins at Wupatki National Monument about an hours drive away.

When I woke up early in the morning, the weather conditions were horrendous.  Lots of snow had fallen in Flagstaff, and road conditions were poor.  I knew that Wupatki was at a slightly lower elevation, and there was a chance there was little or no snow there.  So I  packed the camera gear, warm clothes and headed out.

On the way I was slowed by snowy roads and a multi-car slide off that closed the highway for a while.  But at last I made it to Wupatki.  As expected, there was no snow, but it was raining steadily.  Not the best weather I thought for photography.  But I was here, and decided to make the best of it.  I am glad I did.

Normally I shoot my pictures with the idea of creating black and white images.  In reviewing some of my initial shots, the lighting conditions were not producing the results I was hoping for.   However, the wet conditions were producing some very interesting, saturated colors on the rocks, vegetation, and sandstone masonry of the ruins. The overcast conditions hid some of the surrounding volcanic landscapes, but it allowed me to focus more on the ruins.  It made for some interesting shots, and not the typical dry weather landscapes that one typically sees of southwestern sites.


So, back in the warmth of the digital dark room I created the photographs that I posted to my southwestern gallery.  I look forward to going back to Wupatki under better weather conditions, but at least I was able to make some decent shots.  Plus I learned not to be afraid on photographing when weather conditions are less than optimal.

Wupatki National Monument, Arizona

Wupatki National Monument, Arizona


 

UW-Milwaukee Field School Begins at Aztalan.

Former MSU Excavation Units on Gravel Knoll.

Former MSU Excavation Units on Gravel Knoll.

The gravel knoll at Aztalan State Park is quiet now.  The Michigan State University Archeology Field School ended several weeks ago,and all the remains are the filled in excavation units.  The sounds of singing trowels and students sifting dirt through quarter  inch mesh screens has been replaced by the songs of the redwing blackbird, hawks, and the occasional visitor.  Many fond memories I am sure still linger with the Field School participants.  The tales of wet, stormy days, and sleepless nights due to the incessant noise from the nearby peacocks have undoubtedly reach near mythical proportions.

 

 

Dr. John Richards, UW-Milwaukee

Dr. John Richards, UW-Milwaukee

Aztalan will be coming alive once again with archeological activity.  Another field school, directed by Dr. John Richards of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has just begun.  Dr. Richards will be working along the river bank north  of the gravel knoll as well as the vicinity of the northeast platform mound.  The datum has been established, the excavation area flagged.  Weather permitting, Dr. Richards excavations will begin in earnest this coming week and continue work through the middle of August.

 

 

 

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As I did with the MSU field school, I will be photographing  the UW-Milwaukee archeologists progress at Aztalan, and will post updates and additional photos here.  

 

Aztalan Sunset Time Still Motion Video

Over the past several weeks, I have started shooting time lapse videos, or as they are more often referred to "Still Motion."  Right now, sunsets over the archeological site of Aztalan, Wisconsin have been my focus.  This video shows a still motion video of the sunset on July 2, 2013 at Aztalan State Park. 

 

 

MSU Group Shot

MSU Archeology Field School, Aztalan WI 2013

MSU Archeology Field School, Aztalan WI 2013

One of the traditions of a field school is the obligatory group shot of all the participants.  This year's field school was no different, and I was honored to be asked to take this picture.  Fortunately it was a overcast day with a bit of rain/mist, but that had become the norm for the MSU fieldschool at Aztalan, and actually made for good shooting. 

Finally, one of the tasks the students performed was the writing of a blog entry.  I found these to be very informative, and interesting in what everyones perspective on the whole experience was.  The blog posts can be found at:

 

Pottery, Backfill, and Backhoes

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The MSU field school at Aztalan State Park has concluded.  The tents are packed, the gear stowed in the trucks for the trip back to East Lansing, and the excavation units so meticulously dug by the archeologists over the past month were filled in by backhoes in a matter of hours.

I

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On the last day of excavations, profiling, drawing, and photographing, several interesting artifacts were recovered.  One of the more interesting items was a beautiful rim sherd from shell tempered vessel with a curvilinear design.

 

This will not be my final post on the MSU excavations.  More posts will be forthcoming as I process the remaining pictures from the last day of excavations at the site.

A Beautiful Sunrise After (another) Rainy Night

Much to the dismay and discomfort of the MSU Field School directors and students, the past couple weeks has seen a barrage of heavy rains and severe storms.  These same weather patterns, though, make for dramatic sunrises and sunsets.  On Sunday morning,  the sky conditions were right for attempting a time-lapse shot of Aztalan.  I set up shop on the southwest platform mound, looking east to the gravel knoll where the main MSU excavations are taking place.  The camera was set up for shots at 5 second intervals.  Once set up and underway, I enjoyed experiencing yet another dawn unfolding across the Crawfish River valley.

  Also, since this shot was taken only two days after the summer solstice, these time lapse shows pretty well where the sunrises at this time of the year.

Unfortunately, the clouds began to thicken shortly after the sunrise, so I was not able to get as lengthy a time lapse as I had hoped.  The result is in the following video.

 

What Truly Motivates an Archeologist in the Field

What is it that motivates archeologists and future archeologists to keep on digging?  There must be some motivation that allows them to endure working in all types of weather from cold biting winds one day, to searing heat and humidity the next.  What is it that keeps them going after a sleepless night caused by severe thunderstorms that flooded tents and gear with water, or worse, blew them over?  And what is it that allows them to endure the the incessant all night noise from a nearby residence’s screaming peacocks?

You might think it is the glorious moment of uncovering some feature or artifact that furthers our knowledge of past cultures.  Or maybe it is the camaraderie amongst your fellow excavators who are sharing in your good times and bad.  These are indeed important events in an archeologist's experience.  But there must be something more.

It has been a long, long time since I have participated in an archeological field school.  But after 30 plus years in the IT field, where change is the only constant, it is heartening to see that some things never change.

A joyous reaction to the announcement of cupcakes being delivered to MSU Field School Excavations at Aztalan. 

A joyous reaction to the announcement of cupcakes being delivered to MSU Field School Excavations at Aztalan. 

What truly excites an archeologist is the call from one of your fellow workers that someone has brought donuts or cupcakes to share with the crew!

Dr. Donald Gaff, Northern Iowa University Excavates at Site of Aztalan, Wisconsin

Students from the MIchigan State University Archeology Field School, led by Dr. Lynne Goldstein, continue excavations at Aztalan Wisconsin. In addition to Michigan State University students and staff,  a number students from the University of Northern Iowa, led by Dr. Donald Gaff, are also earning field school credit.  Dr. Gaff is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UNI.  Dr. Gaff received his Ph.D. from Michigan State University in 2005.  He specialized in Midwestern Archeology, Woodland and Mississippian Archeology, and Archeological Theory.

Dr. Donald Gaff describes excavations at Aztalan to former NIU student. 

Dr. Donald Gaff describes excavations at Aztalan to former NIU student. 

Dr. Gaff has been concentrating his work in the area west of the stockade behind the southwest platform mound.   To date, little is known about how tis part of the site was used.  The team hopes to better understand what this area was used for, and to trace more of the palisade that was identified by earlier investigations.

 
Excavations West of Stockade

Excavations West of Stockade

MSU Field School Continues at Aztalan

Students participating at the MSU Archeology Field School are continuing work at the site of Aztalan.  Overall the weather has been favorable.  A bit of rain, a little cool at times, but at least not the excruciating heat we experienced last summer. 

 

Excavations and mapping continues on the southeast gravel knoll, and west of the stockade behind the southwest platform mound. 

 

 

Mapping the site.

Mapping the site.

Excavations near the reconstructed stockade.

Excavations near the reconstructed stockade.

Completing the paper work at the end of a long day.

Completing the paper work at the end of a long day.

A Brief History of Archeologists who worked at Aztalan

The site of Aztalan has been the subject of numerous archeological investigations since it was first thoroughly mapped by Increase A Lapham in 1850.  The most extensive excavations were conducted by Samual Barrett of the Milwaukee Public Museum in 1919, 1920, and 1932.  His book, “Ancient Aztalan”, remains the most comprehensive published account of excavations at the site. It was Barrett’s work at Aztalan that led to the discovery of the extensive stockade system that protected the inhabitants during Aztalan’s peak around 1100 A.D.

In the years since Barrett’s excavations, research by a number of archeologists have taken place at Aztalan.  Between 1949 and 1968 archeologists from the Wisconsin Archeological Survey who conducted excavations at Aztalan read like a who’s who of famous Wisconsin archeologists.  These include Warren Witry, Dave Baerries, Chandler Rowe, Moreau Maxwell, Joan Freeman, and William Hurley.  More recently, excavations conducted by Lynne Goldstein and John Richards  in the 1980’s and 2011 have expanded our knowledge of Aztalan.

State Archeologist Mark Dudzik and Dr. Lynne Goldstein discuss plans for Aztalan excavations.

State Archeologist Mark Dudzik and Dr. Lynne Goldstein discuss plans for Aztalan excavations.

This year’s excavations by Dr. Goldstein and  Dr. Richards will undoubtedly add valuable information on the inhabitants of Wisconsin’s most famous archeological site.

Aztalan Archeologists 2013: Michigan State University

Yesterday, May 28, after a day of heavy rains, and and a foggy evening with nearby thunderstorms, students from Michigan State University arrived at Aztalan State Park to begin their field school.  Led by noted Aztalan archeologist Dr. Lynne Goldstein, the field school will concentrate their efforts on two separate areas within the ancient stockaded village.

Aztalan State Park.  Thunderstorm passing.

Over the course of this field school, and another field school conducted by Dr. John Richards of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, I will be documenting the work being done by these archeologists.  Please continue to check back often for new posts about all the activities going on at Aztalan State Park.