North Woods 1996 - Passport in Time

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Mining Pioneers of the North Woods

Ottawa National Forest, Michigan, 1996
by Mark Hill, Forest Archaeologist

The second Ottawa National Forest project in 1996 involved a return to the Norwich Mine site on the Bergland District. This site, actually four separate mines and two towns, is one of the premier historical-period sites on the forest. PIT projects have been conducted here since 1991, and Michigan Technological University (MTU) has been a partner in this work since 1993. To date, work at this site has led to improved management strategies for mining-related sites forestwide, on-site interpretive plans, and pioneering research into mining archaeology that has received worldwide attention.

No funds were available for the MTU partnership in 1996, yet faculty and students returned to work with Ottawa heritage personnel and PIT volunteers. Work was essentially a follow-up of 1995’s project, with the very limited goal of understanding the relationship of two preserved “buddles” at the 1851–1858 stamp mill on the Ohio Trap Rock component of the site. These buddles are large circular features with sloping wooden floors that used gravity to help separate copper from sand after the ore was crushed in the stamp mill. These are the only two circular buddles known in North America, and they represent the importation of state-of-the-art ore-processing technology from Cornwall, England, during the 1850s.

A truly international crew and some exciting environmental research added to the 1996 experience. We had people from the U.S., Canada, Denmark, Wales, and England all working together during the one-week project. Dr. Timothy Mighall of Coventry University in England decided to vacation in the U.S. this year so he could visit the site to collect a series of sediment cores and analyze the environmental effects of mining. He has been conducting research into the effects of Bronze age, Roman- and Medieval-period, and later mining on the environment in the England, Wales, and Ireland. For example, he has found indications that Bronze Age miners of 3,500 years ago managed their timber resources to ensure a steady supply of lumber and fuel, while post-Medieval and later miners essentially clear-cut their environment and depleted the resources.

We collected sediment cores from ponds that were constructed on site in the 1850s as well as from a nearby peat bog. Dr. Mighall will use these to study pollen, charcoal, and heavy-metal deposition and will provide a detailed record of species composition over perhaps as many as a few thousand years. We will be able to see the immediate and long-term effect of mining and settlement in the depositional records represented in these cores.

These worthwhile projects would not have been possible without the support and assistance of district personnel. We want to thank the people at Kenton and Bergland for their support, participation, interest, and tolerance! They helped to provide our volunteers a rewarding experience and supported two projects that will have a lasting influence on our management of heritage resources on the Ottawa National Forest.
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