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Research: Archeological Survey

Dates Conducted: Fall 2009
Lead Researcher: Dr. Bert de Vries, Professor Emeritus, History and Archeology Director, Archeology minor
Student Researchers: Members of the Introduction to Archaeology & Field Work in Archaeology courses (IDIS 240 & 340)


An archaeological assessment of the Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve was conducted using available data and non-invasive field observations. The desire was to map cultural remains in the preserve’s landscape, find evidences of human and natural alterations of the landscape, document environmental conditions, and create a chronological presentation of the use history of the site.

The Study

Available data was used as a resource, including satellite images, and legal and other records of the property history. Existing preserve GIS data (topography and site features) was adapted, and archival information kept by the preserve staff (Biology Department and Bunker Interpretive Center) was gathered. Knowledgable persons with memories of land-use and the preserve landscape were interviewed. A walking surface survey was conducted using predetermined transects, and verbal, graphic, and photographic documentation of material remains (mostly cultural, some natural) was carried out. This process did not involve excavation.


In the 1850's, the land that is now the nature preserve was used for logging. Because wood was harvested from the woodlot through 1968, there are currently many young trees in the preserve. Since 1938, much of the land was used for farming. Judge Joe Kelly owned and sharecropped the property until 1985. Kelly used the wetlands for pasture, as they were not tillable. There are many metal remnants in the woodlots and near the old fence lines that divided land owned by different people. In 1986, surrounding neighbors voted to sell Calvin College the Kelly property, after both Calvin and Clark Memorial Homes made offers to purchase his 134 acres. Just prior, in 1984, Calvin purchased the acres surrounding Whiskey Pond . At that time, the land where the Bunker Interpretive Center now stands was used as a landfill for Calvin. But at the urging of Professor Van Dragt, that area was repurposed for the preserve. In an effort to let the land recover to its original state, Calvin also decided not to maintain the 8in – 1ft culvert used to drain the swamp area around Whiskey Pond (so the land would be farmable). It was with these two purchases, in combination with acreage previously owned by Calvin, that "A classroom without walls" was born. Other cultural remains of note are a ditch along the swamp area that farmers used as a dump (in which many large metal artifacts were found, including washers, refrigerators, and even an old Volkswagon), and an AT&T long distance phone line that was in use up until the 1990's. Otherwise, the preserve has maintained much of its old appearance with the exception of constant growing vegetation. Calvin has let the land regenerate itself largely without interference.

Archeological Discoveries





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