On Day 2 of our class it was raining lightly and a bit hard off and on for the beginning and the ending of the class period while on the site near Broad River in Fairfield County. The ground was quite muddy in some areas due to the rain that day.
So far we have been doing well at picking up where work was accomplished last time the site was visited and from the year 2018 and yet we manage to work in such overcast weather aside from the rain along with our friends from the Heritage Trust Program of South Carolina’s DNR.
During the duration of the day we were able to find a few artifacts while screening slumped dirt from the wall. Before I worked on screening, I was assisting in adding in a new unit to the block by assisting one of my classmates by holding the end of the measuring tape at the center of a nail when creating the new 2 by 2 unit (Unit 15), and the measurements that we got while doing it were about 2 meters on the side and also a hypotenuse around 2.828 meters or 282.8 in centimeters.
Later, however, one of the supportive wood wall frames that protected the wall from being exposed to rain broke and caused a minor landslide when being removed in the process due to rotting wood. Luckily there was no severe damage that would affect our progress and we were still able to find a decent amount of artifacts from that such as certain rocks and small bits of pottery that were found while screening the dirt which had slumped. Part of a pipe was also found while screening as well, and eventually they’ll probably be examined back in lab on campus when the professor has the time to do so.
From what I know about the site is that Broad River once flowed on the side of site where we are digging and eventually it dried up and left some sediment behind as the river moved towards the opposite side of the dig site. To me so far, work has been going well on the site and I hope I’ll learn more and that we’ll discover new artifacts during the duration of this semester, and I also hope I’ll make new friends while on the job.
Field School Day 2
Damp and Overcast at 51°
Today I screened slumped dirt from north of Unit 14. We found several rocks indicative of flintknapping as well as ceramic debris, supporting the idea that this location was used by peoples throughout several time periods.
However, during the continued removal of sand and back dirt from the supporting retaining wall of Unit 14, a sizable collapse happened taking a majority of Unit 14 (net yet excavated) and Feature 4 out of context. Through the slumped dirt of this collapse a ceramic pipe bowl fragment was found but could not be dated or have supporting context.
After this collapse I shifted into a different group to help with the coordination and creation of new unit to expand the block: Unit 15.
Prior to excavating, Dr. White had us practice grid plotting in 1x1 and 2x2 meter plots so that we could get a feel for setting up a new unit and the proper technique of lining the unit with string. It was nice to have a practical use of basic mathematics and using the Pythagorean theorem in modern context with the measurement and use of hypotenuse to make sure our grid was set up properly.
From there Sami and I began excavating the southeast quadrant (1x1) of Unit 15, which Sami had set up and verified with Sara. We used the field laser (datum) to measure our depth to 40 cm below datum (still within the plow zone). We took turns shoveling and sifting through plow zone dirt in hopes of find superficial evidence of early peoples, but unfortunately nothing was found in this area. We will continue to work on this and create deeper layers in following visits.
This spring, an archaeology field school with the University of South Carolina and South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology (SCIAA) will be excavation a multi-component site here in South Carolina. On our first day, January 17th, we started in the classroom learning about the site and basic rules of archaeology before we headed out. With us that first day were graduate students working under Dr. White, the undergraduate students taking the field school class, and archaeologists from the SCDNR Heritage Trust Program.
When we first arrived, we got a short tour of the site, and Dr. White explained what we would be doing on our first day: uncover the floor of previous field school excavations, set up the site, and screen a fallen wall. We stopped for a quick lunch break and then we started to clear the vegetation which had grown up since May 2018 in order to find the nails marking the corners of the unit. We tied string tied around the nails in order to square off the unit and ensure the dimensions and the walls stay the same throughout the dig. Once the string was in place and plywood of the walls were located, we put shovel to dirt and began to dig! Personally, my only experience with digging are the two times I helped do shovel surveys so my skill with the shovel was lacking, but I was ready to give it my all.
Screens were set up by the wall unit for screening through the collapsed dirt for artifacts that were now out of context to bag up. The way we screened was by using standing screens, and as a couple of people were digging there were also people going through the dirt. By running our hands over the screen and pushing the dirt through we were able to separate the rocks, and pottery sherds left. When I was down by the screen we did happen to find what seemed to be a decorated rim sherd. Later, in the day the people screening were able to also find a projectile point which was thought to be a Savannah River Point. Since the wall was collapsed and now out of context we did not have to worry about which layer an object was found as it was all mixed together. I know when I was down screening, we started a smaller bag for pottery and more delicate objects.
Back in the upstairs block we were getting closer to the floor, and it was getting to have too many people shoveling. We were running three people shoveling and two people running the wheelbarrows. As we were getting closer to the floor, we had to make sure that we were keeping the shovels level. One of the DNR archaeologists Larry Lane taught me how to “shnit,” or shave the dirt away in a way that allows you to sort of sneak up on the floor. This way you do not just stab your shovel into the landscape fabric and plywood. We did not finish digging down to the lower floor, so we had to save that for next week.
At the end of the day we had to pack up and cover the units we were working in. Dr. White has this massive blue tarp that we were going to place over the unit to prevent the weather from interfering with our work. The way we did it was, first we had to refold the massive tarp, but then place it over the entire unit. Dr. White said that some people will try to fight against the water but we are going to work with it. To accomplish this, we stepped on the tarp in order for it to fit to the shape of the unit that would allow it to fill like a swimming pool. We are not expecting rain in the week between field days but if it did, it would be interesting next week how we go about getting the water out. To keep the tarp from blowing away we also placed buckets with some fill dirt on the corners and around the perimeter, as well as the two wheel barrows.
Week 1 of the 2020 season at Dorn Levee #1 was a bit unconventional, in that the day got started a bit later due to a brief orientation given by Dr. White on campus before embarking to the site. We were given basic ground rules, expectations, and a short background on the site and the previous excavation seasons that have occurred there. We then left in separate vehicles from the SCIAA parking lot, after having loaded the necessary equipment into several of the vehicles.
After arriving, we were shown the large wooden toolbox that holds much of the hardware that is needed for successful excavation at the site. We then took a brief lunch break to allow everyone to eat and charge up energy for the rest of the day. We were shown where we would be able to use the restroom, as well as shown where we could refill our waters, which will be getting increasingly important as the weather begins to warm during the semester.
After being shown the upstairs and downstairs portions of the site, we immediately set to work on assembling the screens and screen tables that would be used for the rest of the season. After I had completed assembling the screen I was assigned to put together, I helped others out with theirs.
Once all the screens had been assembled, most of the field team set to work on removing much of the backfill dirt that had been put into the upstairs units from the previous excavation season. This involved using shovels and wheelbarrows to remove the dirt in teams. Tarps had been set up on either side of the units to allow for future ease with refilling the dirt back into the units, and the dirt was taken from the wheelbarrows into these tarps as they were being filled. About 20 minutes into this, I was asked to join another small team that was being tasked with removing and screening some of the dirt that had collapsed from the unprotected part of the wall during the off season. This involved the delicate removal of the loose dirt from the wall, which was mostly concentrated on the bottom of the wall itself, although some of it was still attached. We moved two screens to the downstairs area and picked up some artifact bags that we would use to store the finds recovered from this process, and we labeled them accordingly. We were asked to place the screens in such a way that allowed for the material that got through the screen to become part of the protective area around the wall.
At first, we began by using square shovels to gently skim the loose dirt from the more solid part of the bottom of the wall. The dirt was then placed into buckets and brought to the screens. Those of us working on this section of the site would intermittently rotate roles, allowing everyone to screen, shovel, and run buckets. Some artifacts were recovered from the wall area during this process, including some ceramics, flakes, and even a decently-sized Savannah River point. We called Dr. White down to look at the point before it was bagged individually.
While Dr. White was with us at the downstairs portion of the site, he showed us how to properly find and gather more of the loose dirt from the bottom of the section of the wall we were working on. Following the lamellae, while also relying on sensing the density of some of the wall, it became clear that more loose dirt could be removed from the wall, without damaging parts of the wall that would need to be removed and excavated with more precision. We then began to use trowels to gently scrape away more of the loose dirt, letting it fall down into the pile of loose dirt that was being carried away by shovels for screening. Extra care was taken during this part, as we did not want to destroy the more intact parts of the wall.
After some time, Dr. White called us all over towards the upstairs portion of the site in order to instruct us on the typical protocols and steps involved in leaving the site for the day. Tools and other important objects were put away properly, and the team left the site, eventually all meeting back at the SCIAA parking lot.
Today was our first day of field school and, as I’m sure all of us were, I was very excited to get to know the site that we will be working on for the next few months. We met at 8:00 am for a brief orientation, and I was surprised at how many people were there between undergraduates, grad students, and other members of the crew. Dr. White gave us an overview of the site, and I thought that the story of how he came to find it was interesting in that it almost seemed like a happenstance kind of discovery, not at all as exciting or dramatic as pop culture depictions of archaeology make the discovery of an archaeological site seem to be.
Site 38FA608 is a site located very close to the Broad River in Fairfield County, South Carolina, that is comprised of several layers of Native American occupation dating at least as far back as the Middle Archaic period. It is a valuable and unusual site, because archaeological sites that are that close to a river are often damaged by erosion or washed away entirely. Site 38FA608’s stratigraphy is intact and shows discrete layers of occupation, meaning that it is possible to date those layers and the artifacts and features within them to a specific time and place. For that reason, as we learned, careful hand excavation and piece-plotting is a large part of the excavation process. I do not have any experience with this type of slower, more hands-on excavation, so I am excited to learn the techniques.
When we arrived at the site, we took a brief tour of the upper block and the lower wall and talked about some basic rules and safety info before we got to work assembling the table screens, which proved to be a little trickier than I had anticipated.
Once we figured that out, we started to remove the dirt that had been filled into the block at the end of the last field season in order to protect it from weather damage and disturbance. This involved a lot of shoveling and wheelbarrow-ing dirt, and I can’t say I wasn’t relieved when I got to go downstairs to start screening with a few people while everyone else worked on removing the fill from the block. The dirt we were screening came from a tall wall whose profile originally showed many neat layers, but which had, unfortunately, partially collapsed, leaving the artifacts in the collapsed dirt with no context. However, artifacts are artifacts, and DuVal was guiding the removal of the dirt while we rotated through to help shovel dirt, screen it, and collect the artifacts in carefully labeled bags. A couple of the more interesting finds were a complete Savannah River point and a complicated stamped rim sherd (pictured below), both of which would be potential diagnostic artifacts if we had known which layer they came from.
Our first day in the field came to an end around 2:30 pm as we covered the site and packed up our equipment. I was surprised at how quickly we had jumped into actual digging and screening, but I guess with such a limited period of only fourteen days in the field, there’s not a lot of time to waste! I really enjoyed screening, but I am excited to get to work on excavating the upper section as the semester goes on. Overall I think we had a great start!