Sunday, July 26, 2015

It's a wrap: Finishing up the 2015 season at Molino

Official group photo for 2015, taken overlooking Spring Lake.
Friday marked the last official day of the 2015 Colonial Frontiers summer field school, and all but one of the excavation units at Molino have been completed and backfilled.  This year's fieldwork at Molino was unquestionably successful, and provided important new clues to both the mid-18th-century Mission San Joseph de Escambe and the late 19th-century Molino Mills sawmill, although many questions of course remain.

Excavations in Mission Escambe on the site's upper terrace provided new clues as to the probable corner of a mission-era rectangular structure that may be the mission church, as pictured in the photos below.

View to SE of sand lens in E-W trench, with lens on S profile where the trench cornered.
Kelsey and Emma working on bisection of trench feature.

Floor-cleaning from three angles.

View of S profile with substantial post below sand lens.

Other excavation units to the north were designed to catch wall posts or interior features of a predicted circular Apalachee residential structure, and although a total of three units were opened here this summer (two 1x2m and one 1.5x2m in size), only a few posts were found, only some of which were deep enough to have been probable wall posts or roof supports.  Initial inferences regarding a large circular structure some 10 meters in diameter were not supported, and although more units will be needed next year to confirm a pattern, the possible residential structure here presently seems to be most probably in the neighborhood of 6-6.5 meters in diameter.  A good amount of residential debris was found in these units, however, as well as a probable smudge pit.

Jillian and Melissa pause while helping start a larger unit adjacent to the unit Olivia is sitting in.

Kayla takes an overhead plan view shot while Jillian steadies the ladder.

Kayla shows off fragments of Spanish majolica she has just found in her unit.

Tyler takes a photo of a feature profile with Jillian holding a metric rule.

Final plan view photo showing the base of two finished units, mostly demonstrating where posts (hence walls) are NOT located.

Kelsey makes notes on the profile of one of the units in the area of the possible southern wall of the round house.

A pretty fragment of hand-painted blue majolica from the house area.

Below the upper terrace, the two excavation units in the floor of Molino Mills were slowed by an over-abundance of architectural features and building debris, but provided considerable information about the Reconstruction-era sawmill.  Our uppermost unit located on the bluff slope exposed the southern edge of a brick floor feature first identified in a shovel test last year, and revealed that the floor had been laid in on a level platform carved into the bluff itself, and was bordered along the bluff edge by a drainage trench somewhat lower than the elevation of the bricks, with water-lain sand and a central gully subsequently covered by burned wood and nail debris when the mill burned in 1884.

Caroline celebrates the completion of one stage of the trench feature excavation.

Caroline, Kristin, and Darby revel in the completion of unit backfilling.

The most distant excavation unit, located in the humid, mosquito-infested lower terrace area adjacent to the active swamp-bottom, proved to have been situated on the northern edge of some sort of excavation associated with the emplacement of what appears to have been sawmill machinery, and included considerable brick and mortar debris in the southern half, underlain by clay fill, burned debris, and underlying sand deposits, bordered on the north once again by some sort of drainage trench lined by boards that appear to have charred in the ground when the mill burned.  A large iron bolt had been set deep within a trench next to the excavated area under the machinery it was probably attached to.

Jen, Darby, and Melissa pause during the excavation of the middle layers of the unit.

Jen and Olivia carefully excavate around the bricks and trench/board features near the bottom of the unit.

Kelsey, Jodi, and Olivia work on mapping the board-lined trench while Chelsea works on unit paperwork.

Tyler and Kelsey display the striking results of a day of intense waterscreening through muddy clay.

An unrusted bent cut nail recovered among the debris in this unit.

The entire crew rallies around the last of the waterscreening during the last hour of the last day as rains begin to fall.

In the end, the summer field school of 2015 turned out to be a fun and successful sixth season at the Mission Escambe site, including new work on both the Molino Mills sawmill there, as well as testing at a nearby Second Spanish mill, providing important new information on all sites and time periods represented.  We are especially grateful to Richard Marlow and his family for continued support and help to the project, and we thank Josh Pope, William Cox, Neal Collier, and particularly Dr. Elizabeth Benchley and the UWF Archaeology Institute, including Karen Mims, Norine Carroll, Jen Melcher, and Jan Lloyd and her lab staff, as well as our many volunteers at the site this summer, of course including our wonderful student crew.  We look forward to continuing laboratory analysis of all our finds this summer during the fall and winter, and we hope to be back once again next year with more discoveries for 2016.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A change of pace: fieldwork at a Second Spanish Period sawmill community

For the past week and a half, the Colonial Frontiers field school crew has been conducting a shovel test survey at a completely different archaeological site, a water-powered sawmill dating primarily to the Second Spanish Period (1781-1821) located along a creek feeding into the Escambia River from the west.  The site has received limited archaeological surface survey in the past, but is now the focus of master's thesis research by one of this year's field directors, Jillian Okray, and so our students have just wrapped up 8 days of shovel testing at the site.  Here, along the broad, gently sloping ridge bordering the remnants of the mill dam, we have found clear evidence for the small mill community founded here during the late 18th century, including several concentrations of what appears to be residential debris dating to the time period of the mill.  Apart from a total of 74 shovel tests completed across the site in an attempt to define and bound the occupation, one narrow test trench was excavated in an area that appears to have a collapsed brick structure, either a wall or pier or chimney base.  Despite intense heat and humidity over the past few days in the field, students learned the basics of shovel test survey and simultaneously provided us a great new window into the Second Spanish community located at the site.  We hope to return to the site in the fall in order to explore a few questions left unanswered during our short stay at the site this summer, but for the moment, a series of photos below will show some of our activities and finds at the site.

Olivia and Tyler work on a shovel test next to one of the site datums.

Volunteer Nikki Mauro shaps a picture of a shovel test with some help; also pictured are Melissa, Tyler, Kayla, and Jillian.

Jen uses a coring device to explore stratigraphy while Kelsey looks on.

Olivia and Caroline excavate in the trench while Jillian and Melissa sift.

Darby and Tyler work on a test next to the lakebed.
Kelsey and Tyler hold a massive root they conquered while digging a shovel test.

Volunteers Kristin Parrish and Chelsea Randall help Jodi and Kayla excavating and sifting.
View of the brick wall and associated scatter when originally identified.

Careful excavation around the bricks in the trench.
Volunteer Michelle Pigott helps Olivia and Jodi excavate the brick wall feature.

View of the brick wall and collapsed scatter after excavation.
A charred board found within a pit feature containing poorly-fired handmade brick rubble.

The entrance to the natural gap in the ironstone peninsula where the mill raceway may have been located.

Jillian, Kayla, and Emma exploring the raceway trough.

Kayla, Emma, Jillian, and Dr. Worth in the raceway, as viewed from the bridge above.

View of what appear to be chisel marks along the base of the stone raceway, apparently where Spanish mill owners straightened a portion of the natural stone trough.

Jillian examines a vertical notch carved into the stone wall at the base of the raceway, presumably made to emplace a wooden structural element.

A blown glass stopper for a cruet or similar container.
Side and end views of two of the glass beads found on the site.
Front and back views of a brass button with attached wire loop.
The neck of a handmade bottle.
Another handmade bottle neck with applied strip.
Some ceramics from the site.
Surface finds near the mill raceway, including an iron "log dog."
Brushed pottery, probably associated with Creek Indians either during or just prior to the mill occupation.
A transfer print sherd.
A large, bent wrought iron nail.
A large sherd of a shell-edge plate.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sawmill floors and mission posts: midpoint update at Molino.

We are now in week six of the Pensacola Colonial Frontiers 2015 field school, and still making good progress on both the mission and sawmill portions of the dig.  We have two excavation units still in progress on the lower terrace and bluff slope, and have finished up one very deep and complex "shovel test" (which is actually a mini-excavation unit, dug in levels at Molino instead of the standard top-to-bottom shovel test of the same size, 50x50 cm).  The first is located along the slope below the summit of the bluff but above the sawmill floor on the lower terrace, and was originally laid in to discover the southern boundary of a brick floor discovered last year.  During excavation, students found that the clay comprising the bluff seems to have been truncated and leveled in this area so that the brick floor could be laid adjacent to the cut, and after digging through quite a bit of overlying sediment and debris, yesterday the top of the bricks were finally reached.  Further excavation should allow us to determine more about how this structural feature was constructed, and what the function of this brick floor may have been for the sawmill, especially given the location of what we believe to have been the brick chimney and steam boiler just a few meters to the north.  The brick floor has soot and ash deposits, and charred wood and nails along the edge, all probably associated with the 1884 fire that destroyed Molino Mills.

Melissa and Kelsey working on the bluff-slope unit.

Molded glass from the same unit, with "Montgomery, Alabama" among the markings.

Taylor cleans dirt off the newly-exposed brick floor in this unit.

One of several nails discovered along the margins of the brick floor.

Farther east out on the lower terrace (an area of the site most prone to mosquitoes since it is technically within the floodplain adjacent to the modern swamp bottom), another unit has been excavated through alluvial sand to what appears to be a clay floor, with more evidence of the 1884 fire, as well as a considerable jumble of large mortared bricks that may have been part of one or more collapsed brick piers in this area.  Whether these piers supported mill structures or machinery within such structures has yet to be determined, but this unit is providing great new information about the sawmill.

Olivia, Taylor, Melissa, and Emma hold sheets for shade in Jen's swamp-bottom unit.

Large pier fragments made of mortared brick amidst alluvial sands.

A nearby shovel test just completed and backfilled last week along the base of the upper terrace bluff has provided other clues.  Deep below more recent colluvial and alluvial sediments was found a deposit of broken brick rubble and other debris adjacent to what appears to have been a thick clay pad that may have served as a floor, and which bears a blackened layer on its uppermost surface.  This clay was apparently laid on top of a white sand base, and below both the bricks and the clay-sand feature was the original sand and clay comprising the lower terrace.  Since we got such a small window into these features, interpreting their function will be difficult, but we currently suspect the brick-filled deposit may have been a trench dug between the base of the bluff (where runoff would have flowed during rainstorms) and the prepared clay floor of the sawmill, perhaps in an effort to control drainage around the mill.  A similar brick-filled trench was discovered during the 2010 and 2011 field seasons on the upper bluff, as can be seen in the blog updates here and here.

The surface of the brick-filled deposit and adjacent clay feature (view to north).

Profile view (to east) showing excavated clay feature and remaining bricks in unit walls.

On the bluff summit, two ongoing excavation units continue to provide clues as to the possible Apalachee structure surrounding one of two clay hearth features discovered during our 2012 and 2014 field seasons.  The southernmost unit has been slowed considerably by the careful excavation of the intersecting trench features and clay cap we now believe to have been associated with a log skid road potentially constructed for the Cooper mill during the early 19th century, but in undisturbed deposits below these features several postholes have appeared, at least one of which is substantial and deep enough to have been some sort of wall or roof support post for an Apalachee roundhouse.

Sabrina, Emma, and Darby work on excavating sediments in their unit in the possible Apalachee structure.

Sabrina and Emma show off a completed map of the fully-excavated trench features at the base of their unit.

The other unit to the northeast came down on at least two postholes, one of which is similarly deep and substantial, and which may also be part of the structure we are looking for.  This unit is presently being profiled (scale drawings of stratigraphic layers and other features in all four walls) before backfilling.

Olivia, Brenna (Darby's sister), Jillian, and Darby work on mapping Olivia's unit.

Olivia takes measurements for a profile map of her neatly-excavated unit.

We have also been employing some additional technology in our fieldwork this summer, including the new, the old, and the super-old.  The "new" technology was a ground penetrating radar (GPR) operated by Archaeology Institute archaeologist Jennifer Melcher last week with the assistance of our students.  This instrument provided a readout of subsurface disturbances under the grassy field where previous shovel testing suggests there may have been a sawmill-era residence or other structure on the bluff summit away from the main mission and mill complex, and results will be ground-truthed soon with additional shovel tests in the areas where possible anomalies appeared.

Melissa, Jennifer Melcher, and Darby take readings with the GPR.
The "old" technology is a standard optical transit, which has been serving as a reliable backup for our laser-enabled total station unit that occasionally has "issues" (or which may need to be set up in a different area of the site).  Dr. Worth trained several students in the use of the transit (which he was originally trained to use during 1980s-era archaeology), and it continues to serve well for checking elevations during fieldwork.

Jillian and Darby work on leveling the optical transit.

Olivia and Jillian take elevations using the transit and metric stadia rod.
The "very old" technology tried over the past week was a "smudge pit" created in a metal can in order to generate sufficient smoke to keep the mosquitoes and yellow flies at bay.  While labor-intensive, this technique has proved effective, though building a hot fire in the middle of the summertime conditions on site sometimes seems to counteract the benefits gained by the smoke.  Based on several days of experimentation by Dr. Worth, the operation of a smudge pit seems to depend on generating a hot enough fire using oak or other woods that build up a solid base of coals, and then periodically adding green or moist wood on top of the coals to generate the most smoke.  When the fire is burning hot, the smoke largely disappears, but when the smoke is best, there is a risk that the fire and coals will die out (plus the smoke is actually so copious that it can be hard to breathe).  The key seems to be in balancing the two forces (coal-generating hot fire and smoke-generating smoldering coals), and this may indeed explain why most in-ground smudge pits found archaeologically here at Mission Escambe seem to have been fed with corn cobs, which could easily soak up water and then smolder for a while on a bed of live coals inside a structure.  The fire was probably generated in the main hearth, and the smudge pit was used sparingly to generate just enough smoke to expel the bugs.

Closeup of the "smudge can" in operation.

View of the bug-scattering smoke wafting across the dig site.

During one of our rain days, the students from both the Colonial Frontiers and Arcadia UWF field schools traveled to First City Art Center in downtown Pensacola, where they were able to take part in a special demonstration and workshop on glassblowing arranged for the UWF group.  Students were even able to make their own colored glass globe ornaments for a modest price, learning some of the basics of the ancient art of glassblowing.  This was a great way for students and staff alike to get the experience of seeing and participating in the creation of glass objects not dissimilar from the hand blown glass bottles that we find fragments of routinely at Molino.  We are very grateful to the folks at First City Art Center for hosting the UWF group.

The 2015 Colonial Frontiers crew at First City Art Center.

Olivia heats the glass in the furnace while rotating it.

Melissa blows air into the glass bubble to create a globe.

Jillian carefully shapes the glass using a wooden block soaked in water.
Finally, on a happy side note, one of our current student supervisors, Kayla Rowe, got married this past weekend, and a number of members of our past and present Molino archaeology crews attended the Hawaiian-themed wedding (group picture below).  We wish Kayla and her husband all the best in her future happiness!

Molino attendees to Kayla Rowe's wedding; pictured are Chelsea Randall, John Worth, Michelle Pigott, Jen Knutson, Sabrina Cummings, Kayla Rowe, Kristin Parrish, Jillian Okray, Emily Dietrich, and Melissa Maynard.