Friday, April 11, 2014

Continued archaeological testing along the Escambia

Today's student field crew at the riverbank
Shovel testing continued today at the possible location of the Creek town of Los Tobases along the Escambia River near McDavid, Florida.  Under the field direction of UWF graduate student Michelle Pigott, the field crew including four other grad students (Katie Brewer, Melissa Maynard, Ericha Sappington, and Jillian Utter, all pictured to left) and their professor (John Worth) excavated four new shovel tests near the ones completed two weeks ago, finding additional evidence for Native American occupation including potsherds and quartzite flakes in most of the units.  The river was swollen following recent rains upriver, highlighting the importance of the higher terrace ground where the site is located.  We were also joined by self-described "colorful local guide" Neal Collier.  Pictures from the fieldwork are below.

Michelle and Ericha finishing the unit, with Neal looking on
Jillian lands a perfect shovel toss, with Melissa and Ericha at the screen
Michelle catches up on her notes in the swinging bench
Katie supervises while Jillian digs and Melissa sifts
Jillian watches Melissa and Ericha cleaning the walls of the deep shovel test

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Shovel Testing North of Mission Escambe

Shovel testing crew
This weekend a small crew of current and incoming UWF graduate students under the leadership of Michelle Pigott conducted shovel testing at a previously unexplored location near McDavid, Florida, finding Native American ceramics in all three tests.  The site is being explored as a prospective location for the mid-18th-century Upper Creek (Tallapoosa) town called Los Tobases (the Tawasas), which was in existence at least during the 1730s, which seems to have been abandoned after the establishment of Mission Escambe a few leagues to the south in 1741, and which was later reoccupied by a group of some 30 men and their wives and children between 1759 and 1761, after a formal 1758 peace treaty with the Spanish.  Abandoned during the 1761 outbreak of hostilities that resulted in the burning of Mission Escambe and all other Spanish out-settlements north of Pensacola, the town does not appear on historic maps, but its location can be predicted based on a combination of distance descriptions and geographic features.

Three shovel tests were excavated by the crew following a previous day of heavy rains, and even though the riverside terrace soil was sandy, it nonetheless proved difficult to sift, particularly for one test unit.  Regardless, all three tests produced evidence for Native American occupation dating to several time periods, including both prehistoric Woodland and Mississippi period (Pensacola culture) potsherds.  Although final diagnosis awaits artifact washing and analysis, preliminary inspection in the field indicates that some of the sherds likely date to the colonial period, perhaps even belonging to Los Tobases.  Even if we were lucky enough to find the Creek town on our first day of fieldwork in the target zone, only additional testing will provide the evidence we need to evaluate whether or not the sherds recovered belong to the mid-18th-century Creeks known to have resided in that vicinity.  This summer's field school at Mission Escambe will likely include additional testing at this newly-discovered site, since the residents of Los Tobases were nearest neighbors of Escambe, and knew each other personally for at least a couple of years.

More pictures of our fieldwork are below.  The student crew included Molino fieldschool veterans Michelle Pigott and Katie Brewer, along with newer students Jen Knutson, Melissa Maynard, Katherine Sims, and Jillian Utter (with professor John Worth behind the camera).

Jillian, Melissa, Michelle, Jen, and Katherine at the first test (ST#1).

Melissa and Jillian excavating ST#2.

Michelle examining riverbank profile soils using the Munsell chart.

Michelle, Jillian, and Melissa preparing ST#2 for photos.

Jen and Katherine forcing wet sand through the screen.

Katherine and Jen taking final measurements for ST#1.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Site-clearing begins for 2014 summer field season at Mission Escambe

Saturday volunteer student field crew at Mission Escambe.
We're back!  After a break during the summer of 2013, the UWF Colonial Frontiers terrestrial archaeological field school is gearing up for our 2014 summer field season, when we will return to Mission San Joseph de Escambe for year five of research.

Today we had a crew of more than a dozen student volunteers return to the site for the first time since July of 2012 for some vegetation clearing.  We were pleasantly surprised to see that our previous clearing had not grown up too badly in the intervening year and a half, so students quickly turned their attention to the downslope edge of the woods to the east of the main mission compound.  Under the leadership of our 2014 student field director Michelle Pigott, the team worked on clearing a part of the site we had never thoroughly penetrated before because of a dense growth of privet hedge. 
Eastern margin of the mission site, newly exposed.
When their efforts were done, we were amazed to see how much of the mission topography we had been unable to see except in extrapolated topographic maps.  When more fully mapped, this may give us a better perspective on the configuration of the eastern mission stockade wall discovered in 2012.

We also spent some time using a 1/2 inch coring device to explore the central area of the mission compound where a burned clay layer was found in 2012. 
Dark midden overlying sterile yellow clay subsoil.
Though it appears this burned area is fairly restricted in extent, a dark midden deposit extends deeper than normal next to this excavation unit, giving us one target for further exploration this summer.

Keep an eye out for more frequent updates as warmer weather approaches!

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Summer of Analysis and Report-Writing

Some of you may have noticed the lack of blog posts for the summer field season of 2013...the reason is that we've taken a summer off to finish analyzing our finds from the 2009-2012 field schools.  But don't worry, we're planning to return to Mission Escambe in the summer of 2014, with a finished 4-year report in hand and a specific plan to fill in some of the gaps in what we've already learned about the site.

And please take the opportunity to visit the 2013 UWF summer field school web sites, including the UWF Maritime Archaeology Field School Blog, YouTube Channel, and Facebook Page, and also the UWF Campus Survey Field School Facebook Page.

Below are some pictures from the ongoing labwork relating to the mission dig.

One major task of labwork is to digitize the field maps of plan views and profiles for all the excavation units.  The picture above shows Michelle Pigott working on re-scaling and combining original drawings.  Michelle has also spent much of the summer conducting detailed metric analysis of mission-era Native American ceramics from Escambe, which will form part of her own thesis project.

Once the maps are digitized and cleaned up a bit, they are then entered into a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database, where they are spatially referenced so that we can examine all the map information from different units together.  Above, Jennifer Melcher works her magic on the computer.

Continuing artifact analysis includes work on European trade goods by Danielle Dadiego, above, for her thesis project exploring the role of Mission Escambe in the colonial economy of 18th-century Pensacola

A major task of this summer's work has been to complete the processing of flotation samples taken during the past four years, most of which were added last year (2012).  Michelle Pigott, above, has spent a number of days working to reduce the huge volume of dirt into small bags with light and heavy fractions, following up on earlier work this winter and spring by Lauren Walls and Morgan Smith (see previous blog post).

One of the more interesting pieces of equipment that was acquired not long ago by Dr. Ramie Gougeon in UWF Anthropology is a 3-D laser scanner, which can create three-dimensional scans of artifacts or other objects, such as the late prehistoric potsherd pictured above.

The image above shows the raw scan on the computer screen (yet to be "cleaned up" of additional elements such as the platform and arm) with the original object in the background.

The lead bale seal above was scanned twice at highest resolution in order to cover all points on the surface.

The final scan of the seal shows fine details such as the lettering on the stamped surface, likely corresponding to the maker of the items being sealed (probably cloth) and perhaps also the measurement or some other designation for the item.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Winter update: flotation samples from Mission Escambe

Thanks to extensive work this past fall by UWF grad student Lauren Walls (whose thesis project focuses on prehistoric subsistence at the Thompsons Landing site on the UWF campus), our new flotation system is in full operation, and soil samples from Mission Escambe are now beginning to be processed. With the help of student Morgan Smith, this past Wednesday we used the system to process four soil samples in order to extract lighter-than-water charred plant remains from excavated samples taken at the site in 2012 (and many more remain to be done from previous years as well).

The photo-essay below will provide an overview of how flotation is done, and shows that we are continuing to work on different aspects of the Mission Escambe project year-round. Artifact processing is nearly done from the 2012 season after a fall full of labwork, but until now, our many flotation samples have been awaiting attention. We hope to learn many new things from this process, most notably to include detailed evidence about crops and other plant foods used at Escambe, as well as the range of woods used for architecture and heating at the site.

The first and last step in flotation is proper record-keeping, which involves creating a record of precisely which samples have been processed, and attaching waterproof labels to each portion of the processed sample (both the light and heavy fractions, noted below).

Since the soils at Mission Escambe are so full of clay (they are alluvial soils alongside the Escambia River), each soil sample has to be deflocculated by soaking the soil in water and adding baking soda in order to help separate the tiny clay particles from one another and thereby release charred wood samples so they can float to the surface of the water.  Below are Lauren and Morgan gently stirring the sample.

Some charcoal particles immediately float to the surface and are poured off into a strainer to be incorporated into the light fraction of the processed sample.

Once the rest of the deflocculated sample is poured into the flotation tank, the sieve just below the water surface captures everything, including pebbles and artifacts and charcoal fragments that are heavier than water, as well as any additional particles of charcoal that will be released upon further soaking and agitation by tiny jets of water projecting upward from just below the sieve.  Gentle agitation by hand helps free these particles, which then flow on the surface of the water into another sieve which captures them as the light fraction, as the water falls through and below.

Once the sample has been thoroughly processed, the larger sieve is lifted out from the water in the tank, revealing all the artifacts, pebbles, and small rocks that may be present, including charred plant remains that were too heavy to float away.  This constitutes the heavy fraction of the flotation sample.

Both the heavy and light fractions are then placed in rectangles of curtain shear or other light cloth in order to be able to dry them for later processing and/or storage.  Below is the heavy fraction.

The light fraction is substantially smaller and lighter, consisting only of those particles (and sometimes tiny modern rootlets) that floated to the surface of the water and were caught in the sieve on the side of the tank.

The two fractions are then tied up with their appropriate labels...

...and hung up to dry.

This entire process results in a series of paired light and heavy fractions that can be examined with a microscope to sort out the assorted plant remains into their various types and individual species, allowing a remarkable glimpse into the daily lives of Mission Escambe's inhabitants.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Last day of 2012 field season

The flurry of activity in our 2x2 in Area C.
The last day of the 2012 field season proved to be one of our busiest, but the crew pulled together and successfully completed our work and backfilled both remaining excavation units in Area C before taking a cooling swim in the Escambia River, a now-annual tradition at Molino.  The pictures below provide a glimpse of our busy work to finish bisecting and sampling wall trenches, draw and Munsell profiles, and line the units with landscaping cloth before dumping load after load of dirt back into the units, bringing them back up to the original ground surface.  In a few months, once the leaves fall and vegetation begins to grow back, the forest will begin to return to its original appearance this spring, awaiting our planned 2013 field season.

More work in the 2x2, removing feature samples and mapping.
Even though we had a smaller crew this year than any previous season, we feel that our work was an unqualified success, even though as usual we will need to come back to follow up on many new questions raised by this year's work.  In 2012 we finally discovered the northeastern corner of the 1760 stockade trench, we confirmed the termination of the apparently unfinished stockade wall on the northwest, we found several new smudge pits including our largest cob pit to date, we discovered a completely unknown burned structure floor in the middle of the mission compound, and we identified no fewer than eight north-south wall trenches crossing our now 13.5-meter-long wall trench in Area C, two of which seem to belong to opposite walls of the same building.  We found many new artifacts of daily life at the mission, and took a large number of soil samples for flotation and eventual botanical analysis.  In sum total, 2012 was a resounding success, and we thank all the students, staff, and volunteers for their help in making this year both rewarding and fun, and the Marlow family once again for their hospitality and support.
Another view of the race to finish the 2x2.
Patty and Danielle measure and draw profiles in the 1x2.
Students carefully lining units with landscape cloth.
A line of dirt-filled wheelbarrows awaiting completion of our units.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

One day left!

Sherd of Rhenish stoneware found today in feature context.
Today our field crew powered through our fourth full day of fieldwork under clear summer conditions, bringing home literally scores of bags full of soil from the multiple wall-trenches and other features now being excavated in our two remaining open excavation units.  Like a swarm of ants, students are working quickly but capably in our 2x2 meter unit to dissect the intersections between four separate wall trenches and several other adjacent features.  Nearby, several good examples of postholes were excavated today in a 1x2 m unit, which is also being brought down to sterile subsoil before mapping and backfilling tomorrow.  A few pictures from today will preface what promises to be a very busy and eventful day tomorrow as we close down the 2012 field season at Mission Escambe.

An archetypical posthole profile.
Profile of the deep, double post shown in an earlier post.
The double post after excavation of the other half.