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Archaeological Dig at Camp Union

From June 24 to July 19, SUNY Potsdam Professor Dr. Hadley Kruczek-Aaron led an archaeology field school for 12 of her students at Camp Union in Potsdam—a Civil War training ground once used by soldiers preparing for battle. Students spent four weeks unearthing layers of dirt, digging excavation units, using sifter screens and bagging artifacts. The Meadow East Apartment Complex property in Potsdam became the students’ outdoor classroom for a month as they searched for historic remnants from the Camp Union occupation.

Q & A with Kruczek-Aaron

Could you introduce yourself and discuss your goals for conducting the archaeological dig at Camp Union?

 My name is Hadley Kruczek-Aaron, and I have been teaching archaeology at SUNY Potsdam since 2005. I am currently the chair of the Department of Anthropology, and this is the sixth field school I have taught at Potsdam.

 For this field school, we collaborated with the Potsdam Public Museum, whose staff had recently discovered a map showing the location of Camp Union, a Civil War training ground that had been home to the 92nd Regiment. Written sources had indicated that approximately 1,000 men lived and trained there from October 1861 to February 1862, and that a handful of buildings (including barracks, a hospital, mess hall) had been built to serve them. In addition to teaching our students about how to do archaeology, our goal was to explore whether we could find any evidence of these buildings, reveal details about the soldiers’ experiences there, and more broadly to learn about the history of our project area.

 Could you paint a picture of your archaeology students’ day-to-day experiences?

 Each morning, the students would bring out equipment and open up the areas being tested, before getting their marching orders for the day. Students worked in teams depending on what was needed each day. Some dug small holes (known as shovel test pits), while others used metal detectors to help us more quickly identify areas of interest. A group was tasked to map in our project area using survey equipment, and others dug in larger excavation units where we wanted to learn more and where we expected to find more artifacts. And because our site was frequently visited by community members, each day at least one student was tasked with giving tours to visitors.

 Unless rain interrupted us, we worked at least an eight-hour day with lunch at midday and a much-appreciated cookie (or popsicle) break in the late afternoon to help us fuel up for the last few hours of the day. Our days ended when equipment was put back into storage, our units were covered up and fenced in for safety, and a few closing words on what we learned were offered. And finally, home to rest so that we had energy for the day to come.

 What were your findings after completing the field school?

 Though we are still analyzing our results, our finds suggest we have uncovered two areas of the site that date to the 19th century and likely can be associated with Camp Union. We identified one earthfast structure (a building built with posts in the ground instead of a stone foundation) that may have been a warehouse, and a second activity area likely inside or near a stable.

 What is the next step for your students after collecting and bagging artifacts found at the site?

 After leaving our field lab, our artifacts, soil samples and field records go to our on-campus archaeology research lab. In the spring, students enrolled in our ANTH 316 Archaeological Lab Techniques class will be tasked with cleaning, cataloging, and writing about the artifacts. Eventually, all of the objects will go to the Potsdam Public Museum, and hopefully, an exhibit on the archaeology of Camp Union will help us share our findings with the community.

 Why is the field school such an important part of the archaeological studies major at SUNY Potsdam?

 The field school allows students to see their textbook knowledge come to life in a real-world environment. They learn what tools are best to use and how best to use them when excavating, surveying, and mapping. They learn how to recognize artifacts and soil changes, which are key to showing us how people used our sites over time. And they learn what it takes to work as a team. All of this knowledge and experience prepares students for jobs with cultural resource management firms, state and federal agencies, educational institutions, museums and more.