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!


Posted in Blog Post, Field, Uncategorized

Field School, Day 1

– post by David K., field school student

And we’re off! The 2016 FSU Archaeological Field School began today at FSU’s Department of Anthropology labs. Eighteen graduate and undergraduate students spent their day in the lab cleaning artifacts excavated from an archaeological site located southeast of Tallahassee. These artifact samples were recovered from ‘shovel tests,’ or small holes (generally less than 18″ across), that are dug to make note of the presence/absence of artifacts, middens, and other features at a known site. Archaeologists with the National Park Service’s Southeastern Archeological Center spent the past several weeks digging shovel tests to help us identify areas that are suitable for further excavation. As the artifacts were cleaned, the students were able to handle and identify different types of pottery sherds, animal bones, oyster shells and other objects that early Floridians had discarded in the course of their daily lives.


Students are sure to write all provenience information on the drying paper.

Once the artifacts had been cleaned, they were separated and placed in drying racks.


Rows of artifacts drying in specimen trays.

Once dry they will then be counted and weighed in order to compare determine where the densest artifact and midden concentrations are at the site. These comparisons will give this class of future archaeologists a better idea of where to locate their excavations over the next several weeks.


A small sampling of artifacts washed today.


Dr. Peres and Dr. Thomas, archaeology professors at FSU, designed this field school  as a hands-on classroom for their students as part of their research into ancient lifeways of native Floridians. Over the course of the summer semester, research will include: defining how big the of an area humans occupied at this location; understanding how this community relates to others like it across the southeastern U.S.; assess the assumptions and interpretations about the importance of aquatic and terrestrial animals and plants in the diet; and learn about ritual life of Floridians during the Woodland Period (roughly 1000 BC to AD 1000).

Please continue to follow our blog and Facebook page as we head out of the lab and into the field. The mosquitos will be plentiful, the students will be eager to learn and gain experience, and your supportive comments and questions are welcome!