Posted in Blog Post, Excavation, Field, People, Uncategorized

On Location

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 7.57.44 PM

If you recall from a few weeks ago, FSU Office of University Communications spent a few hours in the field with us to document our work and uniqueness of the archaeological field school as a hands-on learning opportunity for FSU students. Staff of the FSU Communications office – Nora Bertolaet, Digital Content Producer, Ryan Ruditz, Videographer and Editor, and their skilled crew produced a fabulous piece that we are all proud of.

Watch it for yourself! You will feel like you are “On Location with the FSU Department of Anthropology!”




Posted in Blog Post, Excavation, Field, People, Uncategorized

Visitors, Photos, and Videos

On Thursday we hosted a number of visitors to our field site, in addition to our regularly scheduled volunteers and our partners at SEAC. Archaeologists with the Florida Public Archaeology Network came out to see our work and to experiment with photogrammetry.

FPAN Archaeologist, Tristan Harrenstein, takes shots of an excavated unit.
Tristan (FPAN) checking the pictures and how much life is left in the battery. You can see the plywood and plastic in the background that was put up so there unit would be completely in shade. The dappled shade/sun of the natural tree cover does not make for good archaeology photos.


We also had a visit by a retired soil scientist that has worked all over but is especially knowledgable about the soils in our area. We need to figure out if some of the sands we are encountering in our excavations are naturally occurring or if the people that lived here 1200-1400 years ago brought them to this specific location. If it is the latter, we then get to puzzle over (and hopefully answer) – Why?  Next week we will take sediment samples and cores of various parts of the site for further analysis.

We were very excited to host staff from the FSU University Communications office. They brought out a number of digital and video cameras to capture our work. It was wonderful to share our passion for archaeology and the excitement for what we are learning about the last people to live here is palpable. Nora Bertolaet, Ryan Ruditz, and their team were wonderful to work with and asked really great questions! We can’t wait to see the finished product (which we will post here of course)!

FSU University Communications staff learn about some of the tools and technologies used by people at this (and neighboring) sites over a thousand years ago. (They are interviewing Thadra Stanton, FSU Anthropology Alumna and current staff with SEAC.)
FSU University Communications videographer and assistants interview Dr. Tanya Peres about our work at the site and the FSU archaeological field school course.
Posted in Blog Post, Excavation, Field, People, Uncategorized

The day after

We were anxious as we returned to the site this morning, unsure of the extent of any damage to our excavations from Tropical Storm Colin. On Friday of last week we took extra precautions when we covered the excavation units in anticipation of three days of rain – but that was before the rain turned into TS Colin! We are so glad we bought plywood and made extra efforts – they paid off!

Several of our excavation units covered with plywood and plastic. They worked!

In several of our units near the swamp (and on a downslope) we were not so lucky. We had to create a bucket brigade to get the nearly 40 cm of water out of the deepest unit!

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Fortunately for us, we are nearly finished excavating the units that were inundated. This means we can leave them to dry out over the next few days and finish our work in there later this week.

So, the crews that were in those units were sent to join the rest of the group and we opened three more excavation units to extend our view into the site. We still have lots of work to do as we uncover features and try to figure out the puzzle of the past, but we are having a great time! Thanks for reading!

Posted in Blog Post, Excavation, Field, Uncategorized

13 units, all in a row

– post by Carrie D.      

Today we continued excavating our units (there are 13 total units being excavated). Each unit is along the same coordinate line so that we can eventually create one continuous trench.

Our units are in a line running south to north, though not always touching each other. This allows us to see a cross-section of the site on the long axis. 

Many of the excavation units thus far have contained pottery sherds and lithics while others have contained shells and bones.

Fragments of turtle shell, oyster shells, and pottery are examples of the types of remains we find that give us clues about ancient life in this part of Florida’s Gulf Coast. 

The discovery of these artifacts allows us to map out the site and see how far the plaza, the place where people once used for daily activities, extends and where the shell midden ring, where they discarded their waste, begins. In addition to the artifacts we are discovering in each unit, the color changes in the soils can also tell us important information about the site. For instance, a few of the units have contained a light yellowish colored soil that is distinct from the usual light brown colored soil.

The tools on the left side of the picture are some of the things we need in addition to our more traditional shovels and trowels.


The units with the light yellow soil have been marked as a part of the plaza area. These particular features are also starting to appear in adjacent units as well. The more units we open up the more we can tell about where the plaza ends and where the outer shell midden begins. This information will help us map and better visualize the perimeters of the site.

Posted in Blog Post, Excavation, Field, People

Lucky number 13 (excavation units)

– post by Kaitlyn L.

Thursday was an incredibly productive day in the field. We have 13 units in active or suspended excavation (meaning we stopped excavation because we identified features and will return to them during the last week). The excavation units are where the art of excavation actually takes place.

Units under active excavation by FSU Archaeological Field School students and volunteers with the National Park Service and Friends of the St Marks National Wildlife Refuge.


Today, all of the groups were schnitting (shovel skimming), troweling, measuring elevations/depths of units, plotting artifacts and features in situ, and screening through soil searching for the artifacts excavated from the units. Schnitting is a very important skill learned in field school where the excavator gently shaves off centimeters of soil, so as not too dig too deep. This allows us to identify features as they first appear. Once a layer of excavation is finished the trowels are used to create straight walls and sharp corners and to produce a smooth surface in the floor of the unit.

FSU Archaeological Field School student, Julian S., trowels the floor of an excavation unit in preparation for pictures. Notice the sunny spots in the unit. We use the blue tarp (top of picture) to block out the sun and “shade” the units to allow for better pictures.


Excavation units must be as smooth and level as possible to see the features in the soil. Features are changes in texture, composition, and or color of the soil and/or artifact density within the excavation unit. Many of the excavation units today revealed features of much lighter colored soil and of much darker colored soil than the normal soil found throughout the site. So why are features important? They are not tangible artifacts like ceramics or lithic, but they do tell us a wide array of information about the site and those who lived in it. Features tell us about human activities at the site, such as where a cooking fire or house wall once stood. Features can also depict where artifacts that no longer exist were once placed. The positioning of living, ceremonial, and working areas can be determined by the features that are found within the excavation units. Features map out what the layout of the site once was. Our goal is to identify features over the next few weeks, and during the last week document them via mapping and photography, and then excavate them taking 100% sample of the feature for further processing in the lab. We’ll post more on these features, what we are learning from them, and how we process them in the coming days. After today, we are off for a much needed rest over Memorial Day weekend!

Posted in Blog Post, Excavation, Field, People, Uncategorized

Field Trip

– post by Dr. Peres 

Today we worked in our units and on the topo map until about noon. Then we packed up and headed to a neighboring site (in the Wildlife Refuge) for a guided tour by the Southeast Archeological Center’s Jeff Shanks. The site we visited has a Weeden Island village and shell ring and an older Swift Creek shell ring. This is similar to our field school site which is a Weeden Island village and shell ring with a Swift Creek component. We are finding similar types of artifacts and, hopefully, we will encounter similar types of features.

Jeff Shanks standing on a section of the Weeden Island shell ring. The FSU Archaeological Field School students listen attentively.

Jeff’s tour gave us a lot of insight into just how big these sites are. They are really massive. They have also been hit pretty hard by looters over the years. Numerous looter pits can still be seen, which to the professional archaeologist, is heartbreaking. Any digging into an archaeological site is destructive, and illegal when done on state and federal properties.

Archaeological sites located on federal lands are protected by the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA) of 1979. ARPA made it illegal to remove, damage, vandalize, excavate or destroy archaeological materials from lands owned by the U.S. Government. When an digs into an archaeological site to get artifacts, the data surrounding that artifact (including its location, its relationship to other artifacts and evidence of human activity) is lost forever. Taking artifacts from the surface is also prohibited. In many cases, artifacts on the surface may be all that remains of an archaeological sites and their removal will further restrict our knowledge of what may have occurred at that particular location.

ARPA violations come with stiff penalties:

  • For a felony offense, first time offenders can be fined up to $20,000 and imprisoned for up to one year.
  • Second time felony offenders can be fined up to $100,000 and imprisoned for up to 5 years.
  • Section 7 of ARPA enables Federal or Indian authorities to prosecute violators using civil fines, either in conjunction with or independent of any criminal prosecution.
  • Section 8 (b) of the statute allows the court or civil authority to use forfeiture of vehicles and equipment used in the violation of the statute as another means of punishment against convicted violators.

Above all, archaeological and historic sites that are located on federal and state properties are there for the benefit of all. The taking of artifacts or looting of a site steals knowledge of our collective past from all of us. All for the personal gain of an individual or small group of individuals.

Jeff Shanks gets upstaged by a resident gobbler.
Posted in Excavation, Field, People, Uncategorized

Week 3 Begins

– post by Dr. Peres and Mason P.

Today was the first day of Week 3. We arrived on site to find that our three deepest units contained water from this past weekend’s rains. The students had their first chance to bail the units.

Bailing May 23 2016
Field School Students Brady and Emilee bail the water out of their unit before removing the protective plastic cover. 


By the end of the day we had nine Excavation Units (EU) being actively excavated, with another ready to be started tomorrow. All of our units, with the exception of one, are  rectangles that measure 1 meter x 2 meters.

To begin working in an EU, first we had to remove all brush and loose vegetation from the marked off unit. After clearing these out, we then used a laser level to accurately measure the depth of each corner of our 1×2 meter units, as well as the center (all measured below a set datum point). To do this we used stadia rods with adjustable sensors and a laser level set up over the datum point. We took depth readings to within the half centimeter.  These were noted so that we could compare the depth of the EU as we go down each level.

After accurately measuring at what depth each corner was, we began to dig. Our first task was clearing out the numerous surface roots within the humic layer, or the decomposed plant remains and roots located at the top of the soil profile (You can read more about soil profiles and how soils are typed or classified). Once this had been cleared out and properly screened for artifacts, we began to dig into the soil below. We dig in a controlled systematic manner, sometimes called schnitting or shovel skimming, taking off a centimeter or two at a time. This allows us to map any artifacts or identify features as they appear.

More pictures and details to come tomorrow…


Posted in Blog Post, Excavation, Field

Excavations – Unit Placement

-post by Bridgett B. (FSU Field School student)

Today we mapped out where the excavation units were going to be. We used knowledge of the site and the completed shovel test survey to determine where we were going to open up units that will help answer the project research questions.

Dr. Thomas inspecting an area where we will have several excavation units. We expect there will be an abundance of tree roots in these units.


We started out by clearing all of the brush out of the way so that they tape measures would lay flat on the ground. Then we measured out one meter by two meter units using the East 1020 transect line as our point of reference. It is important to measure everything in relation to the grid that was established by our partners at the Southeast Archeological Center so that we can find the exact location of units we are working in and future archaeologists know where we had units opened up for excavation.

Dr. Peres and Dr. Thomas showing the FSU Field School students how to establish (and re-establish) transect lines along the E1020 grid line. We have to make sure there is no vegetation or large branches keeping the tape measures from laying flat on the ground.

We double checked that our measurements were correct by doing a little bit of geometry. We used the Pythagorean Theorem which is a2 + b2 = c2  to find what the measurement of the diagonal line or hypotenuse should be. We found that for our one meter by two meter units that the hypotenuse should be 2.236meters across.

Dr. Peres teaches the students the importance of the hypoteneuse.

Once we checked, doubled-checked, and triple-checked the measurements again we put metal pins in the ground to mark the four corners of the unit.

Dr. Peres and Dr. Thomas checking, double-checking, and triple-checking the measurements.
FSU Field School student makes sure teh corner spikes are in the correct location so our excavation units are a true 1-meter x 2-meter rectangle.

Then tied pick flagging tape around those pins so we wouldn’t lose them or trip of them the next day.

Field assistant, Kelly L., flags the corners of an excavation unit.

The last step in preparing the units to be excavated was to wrap twine around all four of the metal pins to clearly define the edges of the units. The twine will help us start off the excavation with straight walls so that we excavate following accepted scientific methods for proper contextual control. The goal is to get as much information as possible about the people who lived here in the past and marking out perfect excavation units is just one way of achieving that goal.

Posted in Blog Post, Field, Survey

Shovel Tests ‘R Us

-post by Carrie D. and Dr. Peres


This week is devoted to shovel test survey of the site to determine how big it is. Yesterday and today we  shovel tested on the exterior of the known shell ring. To date we finished 72 shovel tests, most to a depth of 1 meter (just over 3 ft.). Several of them ended when water seeped into the bottom from the water table. Doing the shovel tests at various points around the site allows us to better map and visualize the area where we will excavate. It is important to test the outer edges of the site as well to determine where it ends or continues on. There are only a few more shovel tests to be completed tomorrow before the full scale excavation can begin.

Today we had a number of visitors to the site. Colleagues from the University of South Florida stopped by on their way through the area. That was a nice (though brief) visit. In the afternoon a number of staff with the National Wildlife Refuge came out to see the site, learn about our survey and excavation plans, and discuss future research and management issues. We are very fortunate to have great collaborators on this project. Everyone is excited to see what we find and learn about this site that was built nearly 1400 years ago.


 Dr. Mike Russo and Jeff Shanks, archeologists with the National Park Service, talk with staff of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.

Posted in Blog Post, Field, Survey, Uncategorized

Week 1 – Site Survey (or why we dig square holes)

by Dr. Tanya Peres and Jessica K. (field school student)

Our first week in the field is spent learning survey methods. Survey work is an important, though labor-intensive, part of archaeology. It allows us to explore a site that has never before been excavated to learn more about how big and deep the deposits are. Our preferred survey method is shovel testing. Why do we choose to shovel test vs. other survey methods? Shovel tests are not too big, which means fewer disturbances to any potential intact deposits, yet they are big enough to give us a good snapshot into what lies beneath the surface.

Learning to dig square holes and screen the dirt for artifacts seems like it would be an easy task, but there are many steps to follow and data to record to ensure the accuracy of our work and that will we be able to reconstruct what we did at a later date in the lab. Digging shovel tests is part skill, part art form, part determination, and part brute force. Yes, any non-archaeologist can dig a round hole in the ground, but we do it in a very systematic manner. We dig some, screen the dirt, look for artifacts or other evidence of previous human occupation, and measure the depth if we find any. We have a minimum depth we must meet, which varies by site.


We screen all dirt from the shovel tests for artifacts. This tells us about the types of activities that took place at the site and gives us an idea of that we can expect in our larger excavation units.

At our current site location, all of our shovel tests are dug to a depth of 100 cm (about 3 ¼ feet) below surface or until we hit water.


The students hit water at 29 cm below surface in this shovel test.

We analyze the soils as we dig, noting the texture, major ingredients of the soil (sand, silt, clay), and the color. All of that information is recorded and at what depth any changes occurred. We space our shovel tests at regular intervals, typically 10 m (~33 ft.), 20 m (~66 ft.), or even 50 m (~164 ft.) apart. We place in them in straight lines parallel to one another, called transects.


Students measure the depth of the shovel test and record soil colors using a Munsell Soil Color Chart.

To keep track of where the shovel tests have been dug in relation to the landscape and one another, we draw field sketch maps (which always have important pieces of information like a North arrow, scale, key, etc.). We flag each shovel test with locational and inventory information so that we can come back and use a sub-meter GPS (read high degree of accuracy in locating them on the ground) to plot them in digitally.

Since it was our first day of survey, we set as a goal – a total 14 shovel tests excavated by day’s end. The students were so excited about their first day in the field, they exceeded expectations and completed 22 shovel tests! Many of the shovel tests have been “negative” or did not turn up any artifacts of soils that looked like they were disturbed or created by people. This is one of those times when the absence of data is important data. These are all areas on the edges of the site, so basically we now know where the site deposits end. Tomorrow we will finish the shovel tests on the western edge of the site, then proceed to interior locations. Check back on our progress throughout the week – we can’t wait to dig more square holes!