Summer Research at Darrah Creek
By: Justin Cramb
Anthropological archaeology first sparked my interest as a means through which I could study human ingenuity. Humans have spread across the globe exploiting nearly every type of environment and creating unique solutions to life in these differing landscapes. They have created tools, settlements, social orders, art, and nearly limitless expressions of culture. The archaeological record gives us an unbiased view of this boundless ingenuity. By revealing the patterns hidden within this record, archaeologists can reconstruct the past and gain insight into the present. In the summer of 2011 I was fortunate enough to add to this record and examine some of these patterns through my McNair Scholar summer research project.
The project would focus on a seventy-nine acre plot of land in Mecosta County, Michigan. This land would become known as the Darrah Creek Site. With the help of Dr. Dan Pugh and a dedicated team of volunteers I was able to complete a project that would add to the archaeological record of Michigan and shed light on to the origins of a privately owned collection of artifacts. The project contained two main components, field work and laboratory work. Field work was funded in part through a Central Michigan University Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors Grant. This aspect of the project consisted of traveling to the site and performing archaeological survey and subsequent small scale excavations. Laboratory work was performed in addition to the field work and consisted of classifying the two-hundred and thirty-five stone artifacts into known types that could be compared to those of other excavations.
Through this field and lab research we could put forth evidence that would support two hypotheses. First, the field work yielded little evidence that would place the collection origin at Darrah Creek. Next, the results of the laboratory work supported the notion that the collection was local and represented the whole of Michigan prehistory. In short, we deemed the collection to be from western Michigan but not necessarily from the Darrah Creek Site. Furthermore, we were able to show that the collection was a good representation of the technological trends of Michigan prehistory.
While this research will never make headlines, it is important in its own right. First, it is important that we as archaeologists see as much of the big picture as possible. By completing research of this nature we are able to add small pieces to a global puzzle and reveal the all important patterns that drive the discipline of anthropology. Secondly, this research serves to give closure to both the Darrah Creek land owner and the collection owner. They now have information that can help put to rest the mysteries of how the property was utilized in prehistoric times and where the collection might have originated. Finally, on a personal level this research has changed my life. The entire research experience has shown me that developing a research plan, organizing volunteers, obtaining funding, and the numerous other difficulties that come with the research process need not be so daunting. When I started this process I was a sophomore anthropology student with little field experience and no knowledge of how to complete a research project of this scale. With the help of dedicated faculty and the McNair Scholars Program I was able to complete this project with confidence and contribute to the field of archaeology.
The months that followed the completion of this research project taught me that the research process has other benefits including those that will help me in my future endeavors. Through the act of presenting my work at the 2011 Midwest Archaeological Conference in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, I was able to meet influential professors from a number of graduate institutions and make contacts with other student researchers. As I prepare to apply to graduate school I know that I have put my name out there and proven that I can be a dedicated and capable researcher. The research paper that was generated this summer also has the potential for publication and I have already used it as a writing sample to gain acceptance into a study abroad field school opportunity.
If I have learned one thing from the past year it is that the academic world is full of possibilities. Help, advice, funding, data, all of these things are attainable if you are willing to work for them. Professors want to help those that have shown their dedication. Grants and scholarships are there for those that go after them. There is always a way to pursue research interests as long as you are willing to put forth the effort. This experience helped me become a researcher and strengthened my drive toward graduate school and my PhD. Furthermore, it has changed the way that I view the academic sphere. Going to class is only a small part of the educational experience. Once you realize that they are out there, the possibilities for research become nearly endless.