Posted 12:06 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022

Shovel Testing at UFAH Annual Event

United Fund for the Arts and Humanities (UFAH) Annual Event – Shovel Test Results

MVAC demonstrated shovel testing at the United Fund for the Arts and Humanities (UFAH) Annual Campaign event on September 21, 2022. UFAH has been a partner and supporter of MVAC since 1986. This year’s UFAH Annual Campaign event at the new Capella Performing Arts Center in La Crosse provided a great opportunity for MVAC staff to show how archaeologists look for sites in urban areas, and to share information on archaeological finds and past cultures in La Crosse.

Our shovel test was in a raised area that we figured was historic fill, and it that's what it turned out to be-- it was dark as deep as the shovel could reach, with no natural soil profile. Most of what we found was expected for fill around an 1880s building:

2 pieces of brick
2 small pieces of charcoal
4 square nails
2 pieces of coal
2 small fragments of animal bone (one "calcined," or burned at high temperature so it turned white)

The one thing that was unexpected was an old live cartridge--not just a bullet or an empty casing. The bullet had turned to a gray/white lump of lead oxide, and the casing didn't have any imprint on the bottom. The bottom also didn't have a primer, meaning that it was a rimfire cartridge that would be set off when the edge was hit, rather than a centerfire cartridge. Measurements of the casing showed that the cartridge was a .44 Henry, used beginning in the Civil War era with Henry repeating rifles, then later for Winchester rifles as well as other guns such as Colt revolvers. So, like the other items, it was a find compatible with the age of the building. Since it was still full of powder (probably black powder), and we found it in fill that came from an unknown location rather than a good archaeological context, we won't keep it in our collections. Instead, we'll be disposing of it safely.

We never know what we're going to find!