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!