The Day We Found Projectile Points


Aztalan State Park, Site: Gravel Knoll

The day started as a chilly morning, with rain in the forecast. It had rained the night before and the grass had my shoes soaked within minutes. It wasn’t the type of day one typically wants to get up to start digging in wet grass and dirt at 7:30 in the morning, but we can’t always have good weather. So there was nothing to do but suck it up and pray that it didn’t rain too heavily. Little did I know that this gray day would turn out to be one of our most exciting ones yet!

The first three hours were pretty typical: dig, screen, sift through the objects left on the screen, repeat. But around 11, as Ian (my pit partner for this unit) and I were trading jobs I happened to look down on the ground and saw what I thought was a rock sticking out of the dirt. I mindlessly picked it up, ready to toss it into the grass, until I noticed that it ended in a point. Initially, my interest was piqued merely because I thought we might have a larger flake or perhaps our first scraper. But as I rubbed the dirt off it became evident that this was no flake, but an actual projectile point! Not only was this the first projectile point I had ever found, but this was the first one our entire group had found since our field school began!


As the T.A.’s passed it around so everyone would have the chance to see it, my professor informed us that this point is called a durst point, which means it is either late archaic or early woodland. This type of point was most likely used on a spear, seeing as it would’ve been too heavy for an arrow. Regardless of what type of point it was, I was just glad to have picked the pit that contained it to dig in. We recorded where the point was found in our pit, traced it into our field notebooks, then bagged it and put it into the bag which contained the rest of the artifacts we had found within our pit (mostly small pieces of pottery, some animal bones, shell pieces, and a few flakes and pieces of cultural shatter).

This alone brightened my mood despite the continuation of gray skies and on and off rain. As the day progressed however, we had another surprise. We were finishing shovel scraping a final 2 centimeters from the level we were working on, and as I was screening through the dirt, my finger was poked by a rock that was in the middle of a ball of dirt. As I rubbed the dirt off the rock, I saw that I had another projectile point in my hand!


This point was much smaller than the durst point, and much more finely crafted. It was clearly side-notched and had a concave base. It was also significantly thinner than the durst point. My professor took a look at it and proceeded to tell us that it was a Mississippian point, and that this type of point was used as an arrowhead.

It’s hard to express how lucky I feel to not only find these things, but to be able to partake in a program that allows me to find these things. And even though sometimes it’s hard to get up at 6:30 in the morning so I can eat and prepare for the day before our physical labor begins at 7:30, a day like today reminds me why it’s all worth it.

-Kyla Cools

The Art of Patience

Sarah Skoropa

I wake up May 31st ready for my first day of digging in the field.  I put on my field clothes and a red bandana tied like Rosie the Riveter and emerge from my tent, my mind racing with thoughts of what the day entail.  Images of myself failing to meet  expectations flood my mind.  I take a deep breath and enter the poll barn where all the food and supplies are held, ready to face the day ahead.


I eat my cereal and await instructions.  Dr. Goldstein calls all of us together and starts announcing where we will be digging (the gravel knoll or west of the palisade).  I’m in the second group called up, I’m assigned to the west palisade and my partner is a girl from Northern Iowa who I have not yet met, her name is Laura.  The half of the group assigned to the western palisade start heading to the site.  I start to get excited, we spent all of yesterday crawling through the grass surveying.  We were looking for any artifacts found on the surface.  Out of a whole work day of about 15 people doing this all we found was a small pot sherd.  That’s it.  It was not what I expected for my first day in the field.  But here it was, I was walking towards my first site, ready to be knee deep in dirt and artifacts.  Boy did I have a glamorized idea of archaeology.  We get there and I find out, none of the pits have been placed yet so we have you use survey equipment to plot them out.  It takes until lunch time.

So now I’m really excited, finally I will actually get to dig!  I was wrong again.  Before you can start really getting into the ground, you have to take off all the grass which is called the sod zone.  It took the rest of the day.  The next day we finally get to start level 1, the first 10 cm of our unit.  I’m thinking this is it, this is when we are going to really start! All day we are digging and screening and digging and screening, we are not finding anything but I’m thinking its fine, no one else is.  Then I hear about the groups on the gravel knoll.  They are finding animal bone and pot sherds and post molds and rolled copper.  All we have found are rocks.  I keep going, if I am not going to find anything at least I will learn the technique.  The TA’s keep saying “This is the layer to find things!” and we get different soil colorations and they get excited about that, but it all turns out to be nothing.  Finally at the point when I assume there is nothing here and that the data we will gather is that there is nothing at the pit, almost 30 cm down, we find a pot sherd. I’m ecstatic, I take a picture and put it on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.  Then we just keep finding more and more, and after two weeks since we started digging, we find a rim pottery sherd from a collared pot.  Its amazing, two weeks of digging and we have something! Every day of those two weeks had been an exercise in patience.  When I came out of my tent that first day I expected the biggest lessons to be the techniques, little did I know it would be patience.


MSU Archaeology Field School at Aztalan


Welcome to the website for the MSU Anthropology Archaeology Field School at Aztalan. Aztalan is a large Middle Mississippian site (ca AD 1000-1200) that is located between the modern cities of Milwaukee and Madison. Aztalan is the most famous archaeological site in Wisconsin, and it is considered to be the northernmost palisaded Mississippian village.

Professor Goldstein has been working at and around the Aztalan site for about 35 years. This summer’s field school may be her last one at the site. We will be exploring two separate areas within the main palisade – a gravel knoll that was likely used as a mound or sculpted surface, and an extension of the palisade whose function is unknown. This work should allow us to get a better picture of the overall site structure and function.