Today was probably the most challenging day in the field so far. We have been cursed with bad weather this semester. Approaching the site, we had to stop because the road had become flooded due to persistent rain overnight. Dr. White used his handy map skills to scout out a detour. Just like Bilbo, we were going on an adventure.
The detour took about 25 minutes on foot, but we were able to reach the site. Just as expected, the main block was flooded with a good amount of water. Most of the class stayed at the site and started to bail out the water. Robert, Laura, and I went on a special mission with Dr. White to retrieve some equipment from the trucks. Among the items brought back was our good luck charm. (Maybe one day it’ll actually bring us luck).
Back at the site, we set up a pump and helped bail out the remaining water. We then wrestled the tarp through windy conditions to unveil our units.
Almost two hours into our day, we were finally able to start the real fun. Cate and I continued work on our 1 x 1 meter unit (Unit 16). I shoveled while Cate screened. The first level of Unit 16 needed to end at 50 centimeters below datum (cmbd). When I got close to 47 cmbd, I switched from shovel to trowel and Cate came over to help me level out the floor of the unit. It proved to be harder than we first anticipated. We were being cautious and taking measurements with the laser level constantly, but we kept going 51 cmbd in some areas. After a few helpful tips from our fearless leader, Dr. White, the troweling became much easier. Cate and I couldn’t finish the plow zone level completely before it was time to pack up, but I was pretty pleased with how much we accomplished and learned.
Today posed a little bit of a challenge to all of us. It rained very, very heavily on Thursday, and when we drove up to the dirt road that leads to the site, we found that it was completely flooded and would not be possible to drive or walk across.
We realized that if we wanted a chance at doing any digging today, we would have to find another route, so we set out on foot walking parallel to the Broad River to see if we could find a path on higher ground that would not be flooded. Surprisingly, after walking for about a half an
hour (and fording a stream), we were actually able to reach the site without having lost too much time.
As we expected, the upstairs block was completely filled with water that would have to be removed before we could get to work. Unfortunately, the water pump was still back in Dr. White’s truck, so while he and a small crew went to retrieve it and some other equipment, the rest of us got to work bailing the water out with buckets. Dr. White set the pump up when he got back and we continued bailing, but all in all it took at least an hour to clear all of the water out. Finally, we were able to remove the tarp and get to work.
Everyone kept working on the new units that we are opening up, and Zoe and I continued working on the first level of Unit 16 in the southeast corner of the block. Zoe shoveled while I screened, and we found a few rocks (including one pretty large one) and a few small pieces of rusty metal that appeared to be iron. Our level goes down to 50 cmbd, so once we got close to that depth, we both started troweling to straighten our walls and level out the floor. We realized
that, even though we had both been very concerned and cautious about not going below 50 cmbd (centimeters below datum), our floor still dipped to about 51 cmbd in a couple of places. That isn’t the worst thing since we are digging in the plow zone, but we were wary of accidentally going any lower than that, so we spent the rest of the day troweling slowly and meticulously, while frequently (maybe obsessively) measuring our depths with the laser level.
We got close to finishing, and our walls were pretty straight, but we were not quite able to get the floor level by the time we had to pack up and walk back to the trucks. Hopefully with more practice I will be able to finish troweling a unit a lot faster, but we were both happy with the way our unit is looking. We had a surprisingly productive day given how it started, but we are all hoping that next week we will be able to truly have a full day in the field and really make some progress on our units.
For day 3 of our field school class, January 31st, 2020, it started raining about 30 minutes after we arrived at the site. When we got there, the tarp covering the block (Units 3, 4, 5, 6, 12, and 15) was filled with a lot of water. We formed a line and filled buckets with water and passed them down the line to make sure the water was dumped out far enough away from the units. After about 10 minutes of scooping all the water out of the tarp, we all carried the massive tarp to the field about 100 feet away.
We started excavating the first level of Unit 15 with shovels and after about 10 minutes it started raining pretty abruptly. Unfortunately, it was supposed to continue raining all day so we decided to call it quits and put the tarp back over the units. The tarp had filled with water in the short amount of time it was sitting in the field, so we had to maneuver it to drain all the water from it before we carried it back to cover the units. Once we had gotten the tarp back over the units, we used backfill dirt to fill the buckets to put them on top of the tarp to weigh it down.
After we had cleaned everything up, we headed back to campus and had a short break for lunch, then watched all the videos from the field school class from 2018. It was interesting to see what kinds of things we will be learning later in the semester. We got to see footage of things we have not gotten to yet, such as piece-plotting and excavating with trowels.
Throughout the first three days of the class, we have not found any artifacts in context, because all of the areas we have screened so far is dirt that has fallen from the wall “downstairs” or the ground level of Unit 15 “upstairs.” It was interesting to see what it is like to find artifacts in context and features like where a firepit was located or where a post went into the ground. Although it rained shortly after arriving at the site, it was still a productive day and I am glad I have more background information about the site. Hopefully the weather is better this week!
At the site on Friday, January 24, 2020, we were working to sift through the slump from a wall that had collapsed before we had returned to the site to begin work this season. We did not find many artifacts in the slump. There were several bits of fire cracked rock (FCR). Once we had gotten through the slump, we worked to re-expose a portion of the wall, which had previously been excavated. Unfortunately, during the time the site had not been being excavated, the structures that had been put in place to preserve the site had become rotten. The dirt behind the protective structure had become unstable.
Therefore, as we removed the dirt which was anchoring the protective structure, the structure and the wall collapsed. This created more slump. This was incredibly unfortunate, as it took the artifacts within this area out of context. This means that, while we can say that a certain technology or item was used in this area, we cannot say when. Given the possibility in this space, it could have been used at any point over the past 7000 or more years. Because the wall collapsed, we lost the stratigraphy. While stratigraphy is not necessarily an exact dating process, it is a reliable relative dating process, which can tell us in relation to other things when things were used or happened.
As archaeologists, context is incredibly important. Not only is context what allows us to date artifacts and identify the cultures they belonged to, context is what separates archaeologists from simple looters (along with the interest in a monetary reward for a find). While looters grab at anything shiny and destroy any context in doing so, archaeologists work tirelessly to document and maintain contexts, even though archaeology is an inherently destructive process. Once an artifact is taken out of the ground, it cannot be put back in the ground and have the validity or accuracy of a pristine find. This is why it was important that I also spent time on Friday doing an exercise on mapping and setting up grids, so that I could learn how to preserve context as an archaeologist.
We left a bit early, but thanks to modern technology and in-hand radar devices like cell phones, we were able to prepare for our departure before any real weather event happened.
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!