We are now nine days into the field school, and our units are starting to get deep enough that we made ourselves a step. Unfortunately, said step collapsed the first day we had it. This just goes to show how soft the soil is that we are working in. The farther down we have gone, the looser it has gotten. At this point just stepping in it leaves a fairly deep imprint, like walking on the beach. The way we combat this is to try to move around in our units as little as possible. We simply pick a place to stand and do as much as we can from that point.
Because our step collapsed the first time around, DuVal started first thing today rigging together a support that would help to protect the part of the wall still intact and to prevent more soil from falling into Unit 4.
I am still going at Unit 4, and we are making slow but steady progress downwards. At the start of the day we cleaned up our floor and made it level where DuVal needed to work so that we would be out of his way while he put his contraption in place. For the past several days we have been working in level 8, which is the dirt between 90 and 100 cm below datum. We are getting close to that hundred mark, but the going is quite slow. In this level we have hit several large rocks which are going to remain in the floor as they are resting somewhere below our current level. We'll take them out when we reach that point, for now we are interested in what we are finding around them.
Imprints (because it's so soft) and flagged artifacts in the floor of the unit.
Once we started to hit lots of flakes in this level, Dr. White had us switch to just trowels. Gone are the days of shovel scrapping, and here are the days of meticulously marking every artifact we find so that we can piece plot it. Because the dirt is so soft, we have to trowel carefully, so as to not move the flakes from their in situ position when we hit them. This makes for slow going. Before today we had already piece-plotted at least a hundred flakes, and we would continue this process today. By the end of the day we had plotted close to a hundred more. Eventually this will allow future researchers on the site to see exactly where these pieces were sitting. Studies have made it possible to determine where someone was sitting when they made these flakes, based upon where they land. Dr. White has also alluded to the possibility of painstaking hours in the lab trying to put the pieces back together to see what is not there, which would be the tool that was being made. Because of this possibility, we are recording everything in as much detail as possible, and going through this process this way.
As the day continued we were also joined by the property owner and family, other people from the South Carolina Institute of Anthropology and Archaeology (SCIAA), members of the board of the Archaeological Research Trust (ART), and other guests. They came out for a tour of the site, and to see what we had found so far over our short time at the site.
By the end of the day, Nate (my partner in Unit 4) and I had finished piece-plotting all of our flagged artifacts and cleaned up the loose dirt on the floor for a fresh start of flagging and plotting next week.
Nine days in and things are only getting more interesting. Units 5, 6, and 7 are progressing further downward and we're piece-plotting so much so that we ran out of nails and flagging tape at one point. I was once again reassigned but this time to do some supplementary work crafting a step out of the eastern half of Unit 3, a previously untouched 2 x 2 unit in the northwest corner of the overall 4 x 4. That sounds like a lot but if you’ve seen the pictures of the site scattered throughout this blog its easy to understand.
In any case, DuVal and I set about bringing Unit 3 down another level. Unfortunately the dirt was so loose it was mostly sand at this depth and the eastern wall threatened to collapse with a dangerous fracture. After delicate removal of the fractured part we discussed what should be done next to salvage the step. DuVal set about cutting some plywood planks to shore up the walls of the unit and I made myself useful where I could. As no more digging was to occur in Unit 3 for the time being it freed up a screen to use for some buckets of dirt from Unit 6. It was at this point after screening that I realized I had done something in every unit at the site. Not totally important and not necessarily a goal of mine but a curious and happy coincidence nonetheless.
There were a couple more instances where a small portion of the wall between units 6 and 5 crumbled a bit without anyone even around to touch it. Side note: these wall collapses earned their own provenience bags for whatever artifact may be found in the loose dirt that came free. There was a surprising amount in each bag filled which is an encouraging sight as Unit 5 had further to come down and there had to be a wealth of information just sitting there if countless flakes and stones came out of a couple centimeters of crumbled wall.
Next week the people funding parts of this project will be visiting and Dr. White will have to do some entertaining while we set about on our usual routines. Of course I have no idea what I’ll be doing this week but whatever it is I’m sure I’ll learn something and that’s really why I signed up for the class in the first place.
The recent levels of climate fluctuation have really been affecting morale, or at least my morning attitude anyway. Every morning I wake up hoping it will be in the 60’s or 70’s, but the temperature always manages to be really low on Fridays—I dragged myself outside and instantly froze because it was 28 degrees outside. We got on site at 8:40, walked upstairs to remove the tarp off of our block, and there was ice covering almost the entirety of the floor. I looked around, everybody was staring, and deciding how to proceed while there were a couple of shocked grins that stood motionless in the face of ice. Eventually we got into gear, removed the sheets of tarp, shook the ice off, and by 9:10 the two Sams and I were finishing piece-plotting level 5 of Unit 5 with only 14 artifacts to document.
Once the sun graced us and the temperature began to rise, everybody was back in business, cracking jokes, and continuing to get through our designated levels.
A while back in level 4 in Unit 5, around 65 cmbd (centimeters below datum), Samantha and I noticed slight mottling throughout our unit. One comparatively large mottle struck us as out of the ordinary due to its size and roundness, so we kept an eye on it. Continuing into level 6, we noticed the same mottle continued to reveal itself, now 75 cmbd. Because it is so perfectly round, and has shown to be at least 10 centimeters deep, Dr. White decided that it could be a potential feature. We documented it as Feature 8, placed two spikes indicating the middle of the circle, leveled it to make sure the line was accurate, and started to bisect the feature. Upon further inspection, we realized that the depth of the feature continued to go down past 100 cmbd. We concluded that this 12 centimeter wide circle was in fact evidence of a historic-period post that could potentially be quite deep.
Because the feature excavation was getting to a point where we realized how far down it could actually go, we had to quit where we were because it could potentially be in our unit for a long way down. By the time we had finished our paperwork for Feature 8 it was 2:30, and it was time to clean everything up.
Coincidentally, Dr. White decided to bring his daughter to work that day so she could get a feel for real life archaeology, even though she is not really interested in pursing archaeology by any means. However, having her around, asking questions, and showing her the ins and outs of what we do on a daily basis really helped to piece together information that was previously slipping right past me.
Today our goal was to reach finish Level 7 at a depth of 90 cmbd (cm below datum). We arrived at the excavation site at 9:00 a.m. Last week the charcoal feature inside of our unit, Unit 6, was taken out for closer examination and to be processed as a float sample.
Our starting depths were between 75.5 cm and 78 cm, so we would have to work slowly and cautiously as we continued to dig deeper down towards 90 cmbd. Dr. White believes that we are entering an intact prehistoric layer because as we are digging, artifacts are popping up everywhere. Objects such as ceramics, lithic flakes, and fire crack rock are cautiously piece plotted so my group can map out where each and every artifact is found. One of our coolest finds today was a bifacial stone point which was cream-colored and appeared to have had percussion flaking along the edges.
Every time that we prepare the unit for a photo, we have to start from one edge of our 2 x 2 and carefully scrape towards the opposite side. This allows for a cleaner and better view for how the unit floor looks within the photo. I always feel nervous about scraping for photos because I do not want to accidentally scrape away too much soil from the floor, or have to start over from not moving slow enough. That is one thing that I have learned from archaeology, that it takes a lot of patience and an individual must work meticulously. Since everything that we do in the field school, is effectively destroying the original context of what's there, we have to record, map, and take photos of everything so that when a future archaeologist is pondering over data within the lab, they will be able to visualize and understand how everything was excavated. Keeping bad records will result in lost data and a lack of understanding when reviewing over site record. This is one of the reasons why methodology is key when participating within excavation and artifact data collection.
Until the next time!
Before catching the bus to campus this morning, I made sure to load up a small Tupperware with coffee grounds. Our site has a communal coffee service managed by Kate, and I decided this week I’d contribute to the pot. Our team is becoming progressively more chummy, and now the companionship is another thing to look forward to each week.
Once we arrived, Kate and I headed back to ye olde Unit 6 to finish cleaning up the bottom of Level 6. Last week we noticed a concentration of charcoal in the floor of Level 6. Upon scraping and cleaning to floor, Dr. White decided to mark, photograph, and separately excavate the charcoal pit as a feature. It was designated as Feature 6 in Level 6 of Unit 6.
We placed two nails along an east/west line and ran a string between them to bisect Feature 6 into north and south halves. Dr. White used one of the most technologically complex archaeological tools (a spoon) to scoop out the south half of the pit, preserving a clean wall along the east/west line. With the south half scooped and screened, Kate and I drew a profile of the feature, delineating two zones of high and low concentrations of charcoal.
With the profile drawn, the north half of the feature was scooped out and double bagged in trash bags to save all the dirt for a flotation sample. A float sample allows the entire dirt sample to be submerged in water, allowing any organic material to float to the top. The rest of the pit was scooped and screened so as to not contaminate the rest of Level 7.
Dr. White thinks the pit could be a smudge pit: a small hole filled with charcoal to create smoke and ward off mosquitoes. While Feature 6 may not have been as dramatic and interesting as the nickname we gave it (which Dr. White redacted from this blog post), it's still incredibly cool to witness and learn about these ancient locations. As we began digging Level 7, it was time to pack up and I was left to wonder what other ancient objects we would discover next week.
Day 8 was sunny, but a little chilly. It has been a mild South Carolina winter, and the arrival of the pollen tells me that is over. There was only a small amount of water in the units, and so removal this time was quick. I was assigned to Unit 5 again, and have been working in that unit since it was started. Professor White instructed us where to end the level and only to piece-plot larger artifacts. We had uncovered a large rock in Unit 5 on day 7, and it only continued to grow as we exposed it further. There are plow scars on the top of this rock, and we are unsure what it was for. We are carefully excavating around it, in case there are any artifacts near it.
The tarp follows the lines of the units to allow any rain water to settle naturally at the lowest point. The buckets prevent the tarps from moving while we are not at the site.
DuVal shows us how to work around the large rock while Elena removes loose soil.
Once we got to the floor of level 5, we started the next level. We were instructed to piece-plot everything, and continue slow excavation around the large rock. Professor White also noticed what could be a feature in the northern edge and wall, so we attempted to leave that undisturbed. If it turns out to be a feature, we will excavate it a different way than what we have been practicing. Piece-plotting with the goal of marking everything requires careful shovel work. After removing just a couple centimeters of soil, we had 39 artifacts flagged. These included the usual pottery fragments, rocks and flakes, but we also began to see burned clay.
A clean floor, but not for long. The light stripes are dry patches of soil.
The orange flags mark artifacts. Notice the increased size of the large rock.
The same rock from the other side of the unit. It is still firmly in the ground.
There were several items that we flagged that later turned out to be no bigger than a few millimeters. Only two of us were assigned to unit 5, and so the process of plotting was slow. One of us measured the northing, easting and elevation, while the second person recorded these measurements, placed artifacts in bags, and mapped the points on a grid. To map the large rock, we measured the corners of it, plotted those corners, and drew in the curves.
Once an artifact's provenience has been recorded, it is placed in a bag with the assigned number.
Elena measures artifacts for piece plotting.
Professor White examines unit 5 for signs of a feature.
Unit 3 had been left undisturbed until day 8. Our units are getting deep, and so Unit 3 is being cut to act as a stair for safer access. This unit also had a large stump that housed an anthill, and a couple of dung beetle larvae. I do not envy my classmates who are working on this unit, but I found the beetles to be an exciting addition to the fauna that are present at the site. I enjoy learning more about archaeology every week, but I also enjoy spending the day in nature and learning more about that as well.
End of day 8. Notice the different levels of the units, and the stair in unit 3.
The beautiful Broad River, a great place to spend the lunch break.
Being on an actual dig has surpassed all my expectations so far. It has been fun and enriching. The only downside that comes to mind is the weather we sometimes have to work in. I guess if you don’t want to be in the cold or heat, archaeology is the wrong field of choice. That being said, Day 7 was actually a very beautiful day. I was actually surprised with how fast the morning chill became warmth. All I had to do was blink.
Day 7 was probably the best day for learning that I had since Day 1 and 2. Ever since Day 2 I have been stuck in the same unit (Unit 5). Not to say that Unit 5 is boring -- it’s great. However eventually you have to do something different. I was moved to Unit 9.
At Unit 9 we found what is called FCR or fire-cracked rock, which is rock that has come into contact with fire and has burst. I had not yet seen FCR in my previous unit, so I asked questions and learned that sometimes in FCR you can see red, which is the iron that was heated up by the fire. I also learned how to distinguish it from normal rocks by its form. I thought it was great, but fire-cracked rock is not culturally dignostic, so if we would have found it out of context, it would have been almost useless. We also found a lot of quartz flakes. Fire-cracked rocks, regular rocks , and flakes was pretty much the extent of what we found.
One of the good things about me being moved to Unit 9 is that is let me get my hands more deep in the paper work, and organization. Which previously I had done little of.
The only other real eventful thing that happened that day was that we all saw a big black snake . This reminded us that we are not alone in the woods, and that this is in fact home to many things besides artifacts.
For the first morning in several weeks the weather was warmer than freezing when we got to the site at the beginning of the day. The road to the site has a concrete bridge with a stream running below it and for the past several weeks Dr. White has been waging war on the build-up of sticks and vegetation that keep making the stream run across the bridge. We finally decided this week that the dam was the work of beavers and that messing with it every week really wasn’t helping keep the road clear.
When we got to the site and started work for the day Jake and I were assigned to work on the unit below the profile (Unit 7), or downstairs, for the second week. The week before we had gotten the unit to level 2, or 30 cm below the datum and we started the day by opening up the paperwork and an artifact bag for level 3. Despite the rain during the week there wasn’t a great deal of water in the unit which made the tarp covering it pretty easy to remove and so it didn’t take us long to get started. We spent most of the time before lunch working on level 3, trying to take it to 50 cm below datum. In the 20 cm-worth of sand we removed there was exactly one very small pebble that might have been the gizzard-stone of a long ago bird. Though the soil was pretty much sterile it was easy to remove since at around 35 cm it became very sandy and only intermittently interrupted by the lenses of clay (lamellae) that characterize undisturbed soil. These lenses are the result of the smaller clay particles migrating downwards through the sandy sediment to form layers of clay within the sand.
By lunch time the temperature was probably in the mid-70’s or higher and we were glad to get into the shade to eat. During lunch someone was walking back from the river when suddenly a shriek rang through the trees and we all went to go investigate and found a black snake, I think it was a rat-snake, that must have been around four feet long. We scared the snake into fleeing and I was reminded of how fast they can move if they feel motivated enough.
After lunch we went back to finishing level 3 and then manually took our elevations using a string and a line level. For the downstairs levels we can’t use the laser sensor to take depths so we learned to do it manually. There is a stake beside our unit that is the same elevation as the datum point below the profile with a string tied to it at a certain height. In order to find the elevations of our unit floor we pass the string over the place where we need to take the measurement and use the line level to ensure that the string is even. We then use a ruler to find the distance between the unit floor and the string. When we finished taking our elevations for level 3 we were told to excavate down to 70 cm. for level 4.
Level 4 also consisted of mostly sterile soil with a few small pebbles that visually matched the pebbles from level 3. About halfway down in level 4 we started seeing patches of charcoal and soil that was greyish or burned looking. Despite excavating these areas carefully to look for features the charcoal never resolved itself or concentrated anywhere in particular. When we got down to the bottom of the level there were patches of blueish-gray soil ringed with orange in a few places which we found interesting but have no explanation for at the moment. By the time we were finished digging for the day the unit was too deep for me to get out of on my own and I had to be either helped or lifted to make it out. In the units above the profile they continued their work on piece-plotting and careful excavation to pinpoint the location of all of the artifacts that they find.