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Species needs to be humble

July 6, 2012
The Daily Mining Gazette

To the editor:

I guess I've always been a bit of a tree hugger, but my work this summer at the Cliff Mine archaeological site pretty much confirmed my reverence for trees. As we surveyed the town site of Clifton, I found myself fascinated by the different species on site, where they were growing, and how this present day growth relates to the past.

Industrial archaeologists learn to discern the stratigraphy of above ground structures (a very interesting concept) noting changes and modifications of these structures over time, but this can extend to landscapes as well.

A great deal of recent scholarship has led to a rethinking of the view of "nature" as something separate from culture, and this is borne out at Clifton, since many of the species on site are, most likely, remnants of human habitation.

I found a patch of basil next to a house foundation. There was peppermint-a-plenty for after-lunch mints and rose bushes scattered through the remains. One structure we nicknamed the "Lilac House" because of the fragrant bush growing next to it.

In the early days of our work at Clifton, there were many butterflies all around us. I began to think of a reverse "butterfly effect": What can the flight of a single butterfly tell us about the past? I wanted to find a way to connect the flight path of that butterfly to the poor child who died in the cold because his drunken father locked him out of the house, as recounted in (Clifton resident) Henry Hobart's "Copper Country Journal."

As unfashionable as it is, I cannot abandon the concept of nature as a world without people. After all, autonomous ecological principles do, in fact, exist, and it would be unwise to ignore this fact.

Nature is very dramatic: there is constant motion, change. A small group of archaeology students, we were definitely outnumbered; and countless insect bites reminded us of this every night. During the day, dragonflies were a welcome sight, for they dined on the mosquitoes hovering over us.

Perhaps my attentiveness to nature was a part of the development of a temporal and spatial context for the work we were doing, but it also reinforced my belief that our species needs to be humble in order to maintain a place on this planet.


Michigan Technological University student




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