There is nothing better for a crippling hangover than cold winter air and the fresh earthy musk of a young archaeological site.
This was our third trip to the site this semester and by now most of us had figured out what we were supposed to be doing and how to go about doing it. Priority was disposing of the gallons of rainwater that had accumulated on the tarps we had proactively laid down over our block units. After this painstaking and frigid process everyone set about finishing up their group's unit to reduce them to the (mostly) 40 cm below datum arbitrary level that was already established. Now working with the entire excavated plots the units were then dug down to the second level of 50 cm below datum but this time over the entire 2m x 2m unit instead of just one 1m x 1m at a time.
Sifting soon became a coveted job as stones, pot sherds, and even a bit of bone were unearthed. What was once buckets filled mostly with poison ivy roots and loose dirt gave way to full buckets of sandy soil.
I, however, was placed with Jim Legg and another student named Scott. We had the task of first clearing the top of the profile wall from all the plant and tree debris so that we could get a better look at the corner of the unit that Jim would be working on. The unit (Unit 9) he had laid out did not have a SE corner pin but instead was just assumed to be below the wall because of the angle at which he was working. We were working with essentially a small corner by the NW and NE pins along the 1000E line.
After clearing the area of the unit from above Jim set about digging into it with the intention of digging through the entire natural level indicated by discoloration against the face of the wall. As he dug it didn’t take long for Scott and I, perched on the top of the wall collecting loose dirt in buckets and sifting it, to uncover several significantly sized sherds of varying thickness.
Eventually plow scars became evident at the bottom of the natural level about a foot down. The discoloration and clear plow lines indicated a tilling of this area at some point in history. Dr. White then wanted a picture which evidently is where archaeologists exhibit their true prowess with the trowel as Jim explained to me while gingerly scraping away at the base of the level. What he was going for was a flat even surface with little to no sign that a trowel had even been used -- much like doing flooring in a house it had to be neat and even. And while only a small corner was dug from this unit it yielded a surprising number of artifacts to the point that my curiosity has been piqued enough to hope that the next level down holds even more surprises.
My third day on the site. By this time everyone had gotten acquainted with the work that we are doing. We are all in groups of three. Each group of three works on a quarter of the excavation unit that we all are working on. I have come to call my group “Team S.S.S.” because we all have names that start with the letter S. Go team S.S.S.! it’s not a competition, but it should be. Unfortunately this team will not last to the end of the semester. There will come a point where the groups will change up.
Did team S.S.S find anything of interest while digging? Yes! I believe that my group found at least six pieces of pottery. At one point of the day there was a disagreement about the pottery in which I came out on top. I had found a piece of pottery which I wanted to show. It wasn’t particularly interesting, but to me anything that comes up is interesting. I showed it to one of the other students who claimed “that’s a rock." I was shocked that this person would go against the expertise that I don’t have. In all seriousness, after that was said I wanted to know for sure what it was. So I asked Dr. White and he agreed that it was a piece of pottery.
“Yes!” I thought “I’m not an idiot!”
I was really happy that I didn’t look like a fool, which may happen more than I would like. Also I was right. Remember, it’s not a competition, but it totally is.
I only recorded in my notebook what my group found, but if my memory is correct, other groups found quartz , which my group has yet to find.
There were some real struggles though. The war against the roots began for me that day, and it might be waiting for me when I get back next Friday. There were a lot of roots to cut through. We are not the only ones who have had to deal with roots. I’m sure that the rest of the class will agree that it is a pain to cut through them.
Over all, the day was eventful, and I look forward to going back and finishing the war with the roots.
When we pulled into the Broad River site and started unloading our belongings, I noticed a feeling of routine. We were getting to know the class and each other better, and I think everyone is getting more and more comfortable with the idea of getting up at the crack of dawn to scrape in the dirt.
I returned with Jim Legg to the “downstairs” portion of the site to continue assisting him in digging out the profile wall. The site’s "upstairs" and "downstairs" are divided by a curved wall, scooped out of the earth by a backhoe, revealing a number of layers and archaeological features. Jim’s job is to flatten this wall systematically and according to the arbitrary grid to create a visual representation of the site’s geologic and archaeological past. I had the privilege last week of helping (and watching) Jim magically carve a perfectly flat wall from a curved mess.
Jim finished digging the first unit (Unit 8), but still had one meter deeper to cut before becoming flush with the exiting profile (created by Units 1 and 2). While he filled out paperwork, I assisted Dr. White in mapping out the two extreme points of the profile line, so we knew where to dig. I held a mirror while Dr. White shot lasers from a stationary point. When the beam reflected back to the computer, Dr. White got a reading of the mirror’s location and instructed me where to move so we could locate the exact point in space where we wanted to place the nail.
Once the profile line was set up, we returned to the dirt. There was some overhang from the upper layers held together by grass and tree roots that we needed to knock down before we dug deeper into the wall so as to avoid a possible cave-in of loose sand.
Soon after starting this exercise, we broke for lunch. I ate at the table in the barn with the rest of the class but broke off towards the end to explore. I walked across the gravel road and into the field which was once (possibly) an ancient bed of the Broad River, long ago diverted and now a field of grass and clovers. I sat on the ground and watched stratus clouds whisp over a backdrop of lush green and bright blue skies. Frogs from a near by creek hollered endlessly. The site is a very peaceful place to be, and one of my favorite things about fieldwork so far is being outside in such a beautiful, remote location.
When I returned to the wall, Jim explained what we were looking for as we dug out more and more sediment. The top layer of lighter sand was called a “plowzone.” This simply meant that people had farmed this land and plowed the fields at some point in recent history. As we neared the bottom of the plow zone, we kept an eye out for what’s called plow scars. Once the very top of the sub-plow sediment layer is visible, lines of lighter upper sediment will be visible. Basically, whenever the deepest gouge of the plow reached this layer, it moved the lighter dirt from above into this “scar,” clearly confirming that this top layer was in fact a plowzone.
Once we spotted an indication of plow scarring, Jim set out to clean up the edges of the wall so Dr. White could photograph the scars, and I moved to the four units where the rest of the class was digging. I had been helping Jim for most of the time that we had shovels in the earth (mostly manning the screen and paperwork), so I was eager to get my trowel dirty. My group was finishing up a layer, creeping closer to the edge walls and scraping the floor flat. Maybe two full days of watching Jim Legg ninja 90 degree angles out of wonky slopes rubbed off on me, because when I took my first slice at the wall I noticed how natural it felt. I started carving away and tossing dirt into a bucket for screening, but before we could finish the layer it was quitting time. I can’t wait to return next week and really get my hands dirty in these units. Here’s hoping it doesn’t rain!