Continuing Investigations in the Butternut–Franklin Lakes Archaeological District
Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Wisconsin, 2003
By Deb Derickson, FS Employee and First-Time PIT Volunteer
This past summer I had the privilege of being selected to work as a volunteer with the Heritage Program of the Chequamegon-Nicolet NF on the Butternut Lake archaeological site in Eagle River, Wisconsin.
I have been a mystery buff all of my life and have great curiosity about our ancestors. Who were they? Where did they live? What did they eat? What tools did they have? How technologically advanced were they? I have read many books over the years on various archaeological discoveries and have envied the people who were there when the discoveries were made. My family never quite shared my enthusiasm about going on a dig, so I waited until my children were grown, and as soon as the last one left the nest, I applied to be a volunteer with the PIT program. I have traveled extensively over the years, but when I received notice I was selected to work on the project, I anticipated the start date more than I had any vacation in my life.
I arrived the first day so excited I could hardly contain myself. I wanted to fly out of the truck and just begin digging for buried treasures. Fortunately the FS staff were waiting for us and explained a slightly more disciplined approach. I listened to the briefing on what had taken place the week before and then was assigned to a crew to begin excavation. The area had been carefully measured and marked off, and we began digging in the dirt with our trowels. It was a slow process, one layer of dirt at a time. As we dug, I listened to stories of more-seasoned veterans regarding their previous digs, triumphs, and failures. I was beginning to have a major backache by noon, the bugs were eating me alive, I had to go to the bathroom (which was a great distance from where we were digging), and I was disheartened by stories of people digging for years and never finding anything. I thought maybe I had made a bad choice for a vacation when suddenly the man digging next to me found a quartzite flake. It was only a flake, but it was real! I was once again entranced by the mystery.
We all rushed through our lunch, anxious to get back to work. Our little area was actually quite full of quartzite and quartz, so the afternoon was flying by when suddenly I found it . . . the most beautiful piece of quartzite I had seen all day. I held it in my hand, examining it thoroughly, my mind racing 90 miles an hour—did someone from the past use this as a tool? The possibilities in my mind were endless. On day three, after many, many flakes, a fellow volunteer unearthed a perfectly defined arrowhead! We all nearly screamed our lungs out with excitement. I held it in my hand, totally mystified by it and wondering who it had belonged to. Were they going to kill game with it? Eat with it? Fight an enemy? I have never experienced such a rush of emotions all at once in my entire life! This truly was the most rewarding and fulfilling vacation I have ever taken and look forward to doing it again many times in the future!