It is hard to believe that this is the end to another successful field school! Last week, we began backfilling Units 4,5, 6, and 7. I had no idea how much work was involved with backfilling. Thankfully, the weather has been relatively warm and not too humid, otherwise it would have made the process more challenging.
Backfilling entails placing all the dirt which was excavated back into the ground. Since everything was recorded and screened during excavation, the walls were lined with plywood and landscape fabric (paper which lets water pass through) before throwing the dirt back into the block. We had to strategically plan which piles of dirt would be used first, since the rain during the week would make the sand very compact. I walked around the inside of the unit to make sure that the sandy dirt was being evenly redistributed around the edges and the center. At first when we started, it seemed as if the task would be impossible to complete. Every time dirt was placed inside of the unit, it appeared to never get any higher! Once we added in wheel barrows adding dirt inside of the unit became a lot easier than before!
Since it was the last day, we decided to have a cookout! Everybody was responsible for bringing an item. Kate went to Goodwill and bought a George Foreman grill to make hamburgers and grilled zucchini. We also had grapes, tomatoes, lettuce, pulled pork, and chips! The students of the Broad River Archaeology Field School did well organizing our last day.
Although the main part of field school is focused on learning archaeology, another important aspect is making connections and getting to know your professors and peers. I enjoy archaeology and attending field schools because of being able to meet new people while learning new techniques and information that I may not have known before. I learned how to set up a unit using an arbitrary north instead of magnetic north and learned how to piece plot artifacts in situ inside the unit. You never know when you may meet your cohort again, whether it be at a conference, a field school, or possibly co-directing research projects together! Anthropology and Archaeology are team-oriented fields where the project would not be successful without group participation.
Our last day! Also known as Backfill Day. We arrived on site at the usual 8:45 with a slightly smaller crew. As it is the end of the semester, one member was unable to come out and one couldn't stay for the whole day. Fortunately, we had wrapped up a little early the previous week and had already begun the process of backfilling the "upstairs" excavation block.
Last week we had finished our levels, learned to profile, and placed plywood reinforcements against the walls. After layering everything with landscaping fabric we spent the afternoon carting buckets of dirt back to the pit. It was a bit disheartening to put back what we had so carefully removed over several months as well as frustratingly slow. Every bucket load seemed agonizingly slow but we had actually left the pit half full so that on our final day we split teams upstairs and downstairs. I started upstairs and when the block was nearly full moved downstairs to help out.
The lower profile wall (Unit 9) had collapsed several weeks earlier after heavy rains so we were taking extra care to reinforce it and preserve the strata. After constructing several large wooden buttresses to support the dirt we moved the back dirt from previous downstairs units and the collapse against the base of the support to help it maintain position. We then carefully added buckets of dirt between the profile wall and the wooden reinforcements to further protect the profile from the elements. We took our Sharpies and wrote our names on the wall before we draped black plastic sheeting over the whole thing.
All of this took us roughly half our usual allotted time out there. We had come prepared, however. I set up a George Foreman grill (recently procured from the Goodwill for a bargain price of $4.95) and we had a long lunch of hamburgers and grilled zucchini, potato salad, chips, and pulled pork barbecue. We cleaned up the site and put all the tools away for the last time and aside from a massive treeless plot of sandy soil, it looked very much the way it did when we first arrived on site in January.
I’ll definitely miss the team we had, even for my first project I feel we had an easy going chemistry that made the more difficult tasks simple. Though I’m not able to join, a volunteer crew is going out in another month to continue work on the downstairs. I’m guessing volunteers won’t be writing regular blog posts but it will still be nice to be able to check progress on this website.
This past Friday was our last doing any actual plotting or excavating. Units 4 and 6 finished piece-plotting their last artifacts and began to work on profiling their walls. I had done this the previous week on the Unit 1/2 profile after we removed the plywood protecting it.
Profiling is done to display the stratigraphy of the soil and any features that may be within each level as well as their relationship to the site. After being recruited to help with Unit 4’s east wall, Sam and I set about making a level line to measure the depth of each zone in the wall. After we cleaned up the wall with trowels and dustpans to prepare it for final photographing, we drew our profile.
Landscape fabric had been placed down already to protect the floor of the units from any further trampling. The fabric will aid in the reopening process when they come back in the future to carry on where we left off.
Soon after it was time for lunch and we discussed the next step of backfilling. Honestly, I thought would be more complex a process but it pretty much means you just put some dirt along the edges to keep the fabric down and then go nuts and get all that dirt you took out over the past few weeks back into the pit. We couldn’t fill it up too far as to disturb the ongoing plotting process in Unit 5 so we had a good 20 cm in and had to be reassigned to other jobs. Some of us went to help Jim and DuVal cut back the wall of the collapsed Unit 9 to aid in shoring up that unit. Others helped Unit 5 profile.
Once we were done with Unit 9, plywood was laid on the floor and we spread some landscape fabric down from above the profile wall. We set about filling in the top of Units 1/2 that now had been resealed by DuVal with some extensive carpentry. Unfortunately, part of this wall collapsed as we were putting dirt in it from above and so we had to go about dumping it a bit more carefully down into the unit. But by the end of the day most of Units 1/2 was filled in and Unit 9 was covered to be filled next time on our last day.
Upstairs, Units 4, 5 and 6 were filled to about halfway up from where they were. Next week it won’t take very long at all to fill the rest back in. Hopefully enough people will be able to help Dr. White with his ongoing excavation but for now its pretty much all finished for the semester.
It’s been a busy week at the Broad River site! That’s to be expected, given that it’s the second to last day of field school.
Last week we finished digging to depth in Units 4 and 6, so all we had to do now was draw wall profiles. Because these units will be hopefully reopened in a few months, we took care to preserve the floor. I was tasked with unrolling and cutting landscaping fabric, which was stretched across the floor and covered with about an inch of dirt. This allowed for easy travel across the floor without disturbing it. With the floor secured, we got to work shaving and mapping the profile walls. We completely flattened any marks left on the vertical surfaces surrounding our hole, so we could get the most accurate possible picture of the site’s stratigraphy.
Dr. White then went through and marked the various stratigraphic zones with horizontal lines that we then drew on a sheet of graph paper. Kate and I finished drawing our wall and were able to take lunch early. After lunch, we set out to secure the walls in the same way we did the floor. We rolled more landscaping fabric around the edges and set boards of plywood against the walls so that they wouldn’t collapse while the site is deserted. The landscaping fabric allows for water to flow freely through the ground without actually moving any sediment. So the sand will stay in place, but won't become swampy and flooded.
Jake and I were sent downstairs to help DuVal and Jim Legg secure the profile wall before backfilling it as well. We helped straighten the wall left by the Unit 9 collapse so DuVal could set plywood walls along the profile, behind which dirt would be poured to keep everything intact. After the walls were in place protecting Units 1 and 2, Jake and I started pouring dirt into the crevice between the plywood and the dirt wall. Unfortunately, the fill dirt began pushing out the bottom of the plywood structure and backfilling was halted until the wall could be reinforced with additional lumber (and backdirt piled along the exterior base).
Jake and I returned to the upstairs unit to assist with backfilling there. The most heartbreaking part of the entire field school was piling dirt into a hole I'd spent all semester excavating. We began an assembly line with people scooping buckets of dirt and others lugging said buckets to the hole. We placed dirt around the edges first to keep the plywood secure throughout the backfilling process. We didn't quite finish filling the hole this week, but today was probably the most physically taxing of any day so far this semester. I would die happy if I never had to see another bucket of dirt. But alas, more buckets shall there be next week, on the last day of Spring '17 field school.
Here we are at Day 12 with only two more days left to work on the site. Because the last day will be backfill day, in which we fill in our holes to protect the site until Dr. White returns at a later date, and next week we will be mapping the walls in our units, however far we make it today will be where we stop.
I left last week still working down through level 8 in Unit 4 to 100 cm below datum (cmbd). We've been working through level 8 for a good bit now, but are finally just about to our 100 cmbd goal. We have continued to piece-plot everything that we find, and are using only trowels because there are just so many artifacts in the level. Mostly all of what we have found are flakes of green rock, and a few that are quartz. We have about five larger rocks in the floor of our unit that are resting on a level below 100 cmbd, so they will remain there until a later date
Once we had finally finished our piece-plots and reached our 100 cmbd goal, Dr. White came and took a look. He noticed that around the larger rocks, the soil was darker, and there was a good bit of charcoal present. He thinks that it is very possible that we are coming down on a feature. After we had closed out level 8, Nate and I began the task of putting all of our piece-plots on the grid we have on our forms for each level. After completing that, Dr. White had us begin a floor map that would map the areas on the floor that he had marked, as well as where our larger rocks, and a few flagged artifacts were marked.
The floor map with Unit 4 on top and one of our grids with piece plots.
Because we will be laying down what I believe is weed barrier to protect the floor of the unit and then filling in the block with backdirt, this floor map will help to show where we left off when Dr. White comes back later to continue the excavation. We are filling in the units to protect them from weathering and anything else that might effect them as it could be awhile before Dr. White gets back to them. The best way to do this is to put all the dirt back, and everything below will remain untouched. The first day of maybe another field school, or future archaeologists who come to work on the site later will be to take out all the backdirt down to the weed barrier where we are now.
Unit 6 (to the south of Unit 4) also finished off with level 8 today and are also at 100 cmbd. Their floor can be seen on the bottom half of the map. It looks like they are also coming down on a feature. This is where we ended the day, and is as far down as we will make it for our field school. Next week we will draw the walls of our units in profile before filling in the backdirt on the last day.
The days leading up to field school had been very stormy, and so I was expecting to find a great deal of water and debris in the units and at the site. However, it seems the location was spared, and there was very little water to be removed.
Field school is almost over, and this was to be our last day of excavation in our units. I was back in Unit 5 for the day, and we were instructed to end our level 6 at 80 centimeters below datum (cmbd), and piece-plot anything that would be removed at that depth but leave deeper items in the floor (any item firmly in the ground is lower than 80 cmbd, and therefore in the next level). Due to the meticulous piece-plotting in our unit, we had been working on level 6 since field day 8, and we were 10 centimeters short of the original goal of 90 cmbd.
There has been a great deal of material coming out of Unit 5, and the large rock is still firmly in the ground. Another large rock has shown up next to it, and much to my disappointment, it will be up to a new group of students to finish the excavation. Both rocks are firmly in the ground, and so belong to a deeper level than the one we have been working on. We were able to bring the floor to 80 cmbd by the end of the day, and so left the cleanup and photo taking for our next field day.
The large rocks, Sharpie shown for size.
Day 12 also seemed to be a day of collapse. The downstairs profile wall had caved in while we were gone. Jim thinks that the wall got too dry and that is what caused it. This makes some sense, as our 12 days of field school have been spread over three months. The stair that was created in Unit 3 continued to dry out and crumble along the edge of our unit. Unit 5 lost a bit of dirt to a collapse along the edge with Unit 6, the floor of which is 20 cm lower. This dirt was carefully removed and screened for any cultural material that may have been within it. All items found were given their own field specimen (FS) number.
The wall collapse.
We will draw the walls of our units and fill them in over our last two days, and then field school will be over. It has been a fantastic learning experience, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity. It has also been a lot of fun, and I’ll miss school days in the field.
At the beginning of Day 11 we arrived at the site an hour later than usual at around 9:35 because of the morning thunderstorm that didn’t clear up until 9:00 in the morning. After we finished removing water and the tarps from the units we began piece-plotting.
I was working in Unit 5. While the group as a whole has been piece-plotting for a few weeks now, this was my first day working on piece-plotting for the entire duration of the time at the site. Unit 5 was on level 6 and was aiming for 90 cmbd (centimeters below datum). When we opened the unit this week we were at an average of about 76 cmbd we managed to get down to an average of around 78 cmbd by the end of the day.
Piece-plotting tends to be slow work as it involves troweling the bottom of the unit gently and marking anything that you find with a piece of flagging tape. Once the floor of the unit is more or less even and you have marked everything that you found then it’s time to go back through the unit and measure the northing, easting, and the depth of all of the artifacts marked with the tape. The measurements are taken with the help of folding rulers set up along the edges of the unit and with a laser level to take the depth. Each artifact once measured is given its own bag marked with an FS number specific to the artifact and then put into the larger unit and level bag.
As the field school is rapidly drawing to a close, it was decided that Unit 5 would not be able to reach 90 cmbd before class ended and would therefore aim for 80 cmbd to level off at and close the level. Units 4 and 6, the other units above the profile, are at level 8 and are closing their units off at 100 cmbd.
Dr. White spent a portion of the days’ time clearing the space around a large rock in Unit 5 in order to see if it could be removed in the time that the field school has left. After removing several centimeters around the rock he concluded that it almost certainly could not be removed without digging deeper than the level of the unit and giving an uncertain provenience. The rock will have to be removed at another time with another field school.
Meanwhile, the unit below the "downstairs" profile, once Unit 7 and now Unit 10 due to unexpected flooding, collapsed again after the rain of the week since the sand below the profile is incredibly soft and doesn’t hold together. This time Dr. White has decided that reopening the unit in order to get a proper profile was probably going to be impossible at that it should therefore be backfilled and reopened at some point in the future when a week doesn’t elapse between days at the dig site.
The start to Day 11 was a little different than the other days. We usually meet at 8 o’clock at the designated building. However this day we met up an hour later at 9. We did this because of the rain that morning. This is actually the first time that the weather has delayed us from the site. So far we have been extremely lucky to not have rain on Fridays. Thanks to this delay I was able to eat a real breakfast. I usually just get things out of the vending machine for my breakfast and lunch, but this time I got three Chick-fil-A biscuits: one for breakfast, two for later. I am still convinced that this was the greatest decision of my life.
When we got to the site the rain had stopped. Like what always happens when we return after it rains, we had to drain the water that was trapped in the tarp that was covering the excavation unit.
After that we got back to work. On the previous day, Day 10, I had missed the field school for personal reasons. Also the two days before, I was working in a different unit away from everyone else. So while I was gone from the normal units I missed a few things. I took a look in all of the 2 x 2 units and was surprised that there was so much being dug up. One thing specifically caught my eye in someone else’s unit. To me it looked like some kind of point. I asked someone, who was older and was more knowledgeable, what it was. He simple said: “It’s interesting that’s what it is.”
Unfortunately there was nothing that interesting in the unit that I was working in this day. It is worth saying that this day was the first day that I piece-plotted with only a trowel. Piece-plotting is when we skim the surface of the unit and every time we hit/find something we stick it with a marker. The last times I piece plotted I always used a regular shovel. The reasons that we used trowels today were because there was so much stuff, that we wanted to get all the in-between places that are not accessible with a shovel. There might not have been anything overly interesting in the unit that day (although to my standards everything is interesting), but there was a lot of stuff. It was mostly flakes and cultural rock, possibly fire exposed. It only took about an hour and a half before so much was uncovered that we had to methodically bag the items. It was so much stuff that me and my partner couldn’t finish before we had to leave.
It has been five days and I am still feeling the effects of piece-potting with a trowel. Without a shovel I was forced to crouch to do my work. Now my thighs are sore. I have to say that it was a pretty good workout.
One very important aspect about archaeology is being able to connect and communicate your research with the community. Archaeologists do not just openly locate sites and begin digging holes! The first step in excavation is sharing your research methodologies with the community so that you can gather support and understanding for the excavation goals that are planned under the project. Ultimately before being able to place your trowel into the ground, all permissions have to be granted. To create these key connections and network, the archaeologist must effectively communicate their research plan and goals about how the project is important to anthropology and to the greater community.
Today the board of the Archaeological Research Trust (ART), the landowner and family, and other visitors came out to the field site to learn more about Dr. White’s research and more about the Broad River Archaeological Field School being conducted this Spring. Communicating with the community always makes me nervous because you must be on your P's and Q's. Everything communicated about archaeology must be perfect! One wrong or researched answer could lead towards disinterest within the project which would negatively affect Dr. White. I do not want that! The Board members would all be visiting along with the property owner’s family, which means that they will have a lot of questions about the field school and archaeology.
We arrived at the site around 9:00 am to prepare the site for further excavation. Our goals included using trowels only, working cautiously, and hopefully closing at Level 8. For Unit 6, the opening measurements averaged around 96 cmbd (centimeters below datum), which meant that Kate and I did not have too much farther down to go. As we continued excavating, every time we come across an artifact we must mark it with flagging tape. Recording the location through piece-plotting is very important so that the artifacts can be mapped in situ and then logged as an FS number. By continuously doing this process it allows for Dr. White to be able to make inferences and theories based off the spatial analysis of how the artifacts are discovered.
Our guests began arriving around 10:30 am and continued to arrive well after 11:00 am. It was very weird having more than 30 people observing our work because of the constant thought of how I did not want to mess up.
The ART board members were very fascinated in the types of artifacts that we were finding. Since we were answering questions and not used to a lot of people being around, I felt as if Unit 6 did not get as much done as we usually do because of all the excitement from the ART board.
As Unit 6 goes down farther, we're finding more fire-cracked rock (FCR). Another aspect to note is how the lithic flakes and FCR we're finding seem to be getting bigger. That makes me very excited to see what else may be found within the next couple of field days. I do hope that we can get enough completed before the end of the semester.
It was raining heavily all night and early morning, so Dr. White postponed meeting at the SCIAA building until 9 am rather than the usual 8 am. Giving back that one-hour of sleep to our Broad River crew was legendary. We arrived on site at 9:45, and I could see the amount of pep and readiness in everybody’s eyes just because we got to have a extra hour of sleep. Due to the rain, there was a good amount of water to bail out of the site on the upper deck, which drained some of the peppiness from my crew. But, by 10:30 Sam and I were taking our beginning depths for Unit 5, and everybody was getting into the archaeological groove.
We ended last week at around 78 cmbd (centimeters below datum), so our goal for today was to piece-plot any artifact that wouldn’t just slide through the ¼” screen and level off Level 6 at 80 cmbd. Initially, we had to go through our paperwork and compare our data with the FS log to make sure all of our material culture was recorded accurately. Thankfully, the Unit 5 team had everything together last week, so it was just easy sailing from there on out.
After we reached a decision on our goal, we started piece-plotting artifacts. Sam and I were moving a bit slow, and our entire class was being quite talkative, so Dr. White had to remind us why we were here and why it is important to get as much done as we can with the amount of time we have. With that in mind, we kept troweling downward, piece-by-piece. Compared to previous weeks, this day was coming up kind of short on material culture. We were only finding small flakes, tiny rocks, and occasionally a tiny pottery piece.
Lunch time arrived and we got to sit at this picnic table directly next to the beautiful Broad River. Although I thoroughly enjoy the archaeology responsibilities I have to uphold, socializing with my crew and eating a quick lunch is the best part of my day (mainly because it was a beautiful day, and there were a lot of turtles out).
Sam and I had plotted 35 artifacts, and when we finished eating we still had to record the northing and easting of each piece. Although that extra hour of sleep helped enhance the morning energy, the subtracted time made time fly by and we didn’t finish plotting our pieces. We ended up short of our goal of 80 cmbd by just a centimeter or two throughout the unit, but we've still got one more remaining day of excavation.