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