Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hearths, posts, and trenches; final weeks in the field.

We have entered the final week of the 2014 Colonial Frontiers field school, and although we haven't made a blog post in a while, the students and crew have been busily working to continue and wrap up their excavations at Mission Escambe before the close of field season this Friday, not to mention a one-day trip to do shovel testing at yet another site near Mystic Springs to the north of Molino.  Rain delays this week are only making things even more challenging, but the photo essay below will provide a visual summary of all the work that has been accomplished and discoveries made. 

Melissa scrapes soil off the Area G clay hearth.
In overview, two of our excavation areas have now produced remarkably similar evidence for burned clay hearth areas and rich debris-filled midden deposits, as well as deep postholes that may represent roof supports for the potential Apalachee structures in which the hearths were originally located.  While the first hearth, first discovered in 2012 in Area E, seems to have been cleaned prior to being capped with additional clay and earth, the new hearth in Area G is associated with considerable deposits of charcoal and abundant bits of charred animal bone, presumably associated with cooking activities.  We are still gathering as much evidence as possible so that we can better understand the context of these important features.

A sawmill-era pit feature in Area C.
Area C has produced a line of three very deep postholes running east-west across our first unit in the southern part of this area (an earlier unit was backfilled after completion to the north), but a unit placed just to the south and east of this line of posts produced an unexpected clay-ringed pit feature that seems to date to the sawmill era of the late 19th-century, inasmuch as a brick chunk was found underneath the clay rim.  Excavations in these units are on hold this week after substantial weekend rains caused the water table to rise underneath our plastic tarps, making it impossible to continue excavations until the units dry out.

Katie excavates the stockade trench in sections in Area H.
Area H continues to be excavated through a series of overlapping wall trenches, starting with the 50 cm-wide stockade trench cross-cutting the yellow clay cap layer that overlies other wall trenches running east-west and north-south.  The similarity of these criss-crossing trenches to earlier excavations in Area C is unmistakeable, and we have yet to settle on an even remotely definitive conclusion as to what these features mean.

A view of the idyllic swamp bottom surrounding Mystic Springs.
Finally, excavations last Friday at Mystic Springs revealed at the very least evidence for prehistoric Native American occupation on an erosional remnant overlooking the cypress-tupelo swamp bottom adjacent to the Escambia River in this vicinity, but showers prompted an early close to excavations, so that project is on hold until we can bring a volunteer crew back later in the summer.

Additional photos of all these activities are below.


One of the deep posts adjacent to the Area E hearth.

Jodi and Chelsea working on backfilling their first unit in Area C.

Kristin, Jen, Melodi, and Chelsea laying in a new unit in Area G.

Kristin excavating in Area G.

Jen explaining Area G excavations to members of the Pensacola Archaeological Society.

Jillian showing Area C to the PAS visitors.

Ericha explaining Area E excavations to the PAS visitors.
Several mendable sherds of Puebla Blue on White majolica from Area E.
Polychrome majolica sherds from Area E.
An aboriginal pipe stem fragment from Area E.

Kristin, Melissa, Olivia, and Jen beginning a shovel test at Mystic Springs.

Melissa, Melodi, and Chelsea at Mystic Springs.

Kayla, Jodi, and Jillian at Mystic Springs.

Melissa, Jen, Kristin, and Olivia completing a shovel test at Mystic Springs.

Jillian setting up for a final photo of a shovel test at Mystic Springs.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

An amazing find today

Kandiss and Michelle when pot was first found.
While there is much more to report and more pictures to share, one discovery today deserves its own post (and the video at the bottom of this post).  In Area G today, during the excavation of the rich midden deposit beneath the clay floor/cap layer, undergraduate student Kandiss Cambell made a completely unexpected discovery in the form of a small whole Apalachee pot.  While potsherds both small and large are commonly found while shovel scraping the midden deposits, Kandiss' careful and attentive work revealed that the pottery fragment she barely scraped with her shovel was much larger than any yet found at Mission Escambe, and in fact turned out to be a nearly complete small flaring rim jar apparently discarded two and a half centuries ago because a small portion of its lip had broken off. 
Jen Knutson pauses from excavating the jar.
Careful examination of the soil stains at this level revealed no discernible pit outlines within which the pot might have been buried, but it was close enough to an adjacent large posthole pit outline that it may have been associated with backfilling that posthole.  Another alternative is that the pot was broken within a residential structure that burned, and was subsequently buried with fill dirt and capped with clay (which would account for the abundant charcoal and charred bone fragments in this layer). 

 Although we will explore the area around the jar tomorrow in order to learn more about its context and the circumstances of its deposition, the vessel was removed and transported to the lab in order to ensure that impending rain this afternoon did not damage it. 
The excavated jar in situ nearly ready to be removed.
We hope to be able to excavate the contents of the vessel under controlled conditions in the lab so that we may find evidence for its original contents and/or use, potentially exploring chemical residues inside the vessel, as well as any pollen grains or plant phytoliths that might have survived inside the protected conditions of the jar.

Videos of the excavation of the pot have been compiled together in the link below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xazzDaihEoI

Friday, July 4, 2014

Week seven update

Excavating a rich midden in Area G.
It's been more than a week since our last update, not due to lack of good progress or finds, but mostly due to the often overwhelming heat and humidity we've been experiencing out at Molino since the midpoint of our 10-week excavation season.  Much of our interpretation of architectural features and other artifact and stratigraphic data is still in development, though at this point it seems certain that the excavation units in Area E are associated with a clay-floored structure with abundant residential debris and a possible central hearth, while our newest unit in Area G is also penetrating a rich residential midden deposit with substantial amounts of charred wood, burned clay, and mission-era artifacts, possibly pointing to a burned structure.  The units in Area H are definitely associated with a thick yellow-clay "floor" deposit apparently overlying probable intersecting wall trenches (just as in Area C), and cross-cut by the 1760 stockade trench, currently being excavated.  The northern unit in Area C is now finished down to sterile subsoil (having penetrated a sawmill-era trash-filled trench or basin, possibly a borrow pit, as well as a mission-era corncob smudge pit), and a new unit was opened yesterday next to the southernmost unit in Area C, where a line of three apparent large, deep postholes paralleling a higher wall trench may indicate the presence of a large single-post structure here at the highest level area of the site.

In subsequent posts, we will doubtless focus in on interpretations of all these structural features and activity areas, but in the meantime, photos have been accumulating, which are presented below in the form of an informal photo essay.


Melodi, Kayla, and Jillian enjoying simultaneous work on a line of three posthole features (picture by Ericha Sappington).


Jodi taking a profile photo of the finished unit in Area C, showing the subsoil overlain by mission-era midden and a sawmill-era trench cutting through it.
A light moment in Area G, with Jillian, Katie, Jen, and Michelle.

Jodi and Chelsey working on profiles in Area C.

Michelle, Katie, and Jillian hard at work keeping up with paperwork.


Chelsea cleaning up loose dirt after profile cleaning.

Melissa at the newest unit in Block 5 in Area E, opened in search of a possible wall line extending south.

Kayla works on profiling one of three deep posthole pits lining up under a wall trench in Area C.

Michelle explains Block 5 excavations to visiting UWF students and staff from the Arcadia field school.


Ericha carefully excavates the north half of the burned clay hearth feature in Area E.

Nicole cleaning the floor of the new unit in Area E.
Dr. Worth, Kayla, and volunteer Michael Okray (Jillian's husband) in Area C (picture by Melissa Maynard).

Kristin and Michelle work on the newest unit in Area H, while Melissa holds the stadia rod to take elevations.
Nicole gengly brushing away dirt from a new find of majolica in Area E.

The same sherd after excavation, the waisted base of a small taza or pocillo.
A classic example of Ocmulgee Fields style incision on a carinated bowl.

A pinched rimstrip from a flaring rim jar.

An extraordinarily well-made piece of Mission Red Filmed pottery.



Wonderful layout of food brought for our annual holiday lunch cookout; thanks to all students for making this such a tasty break from normal field lunches.



Visiting UNF student volunteer Amberly Aldridge, with Jillian and Michael (picture by Ericha Sappington).


Melissa and Jen starting in on the food (picture by Ericha Sappington).
Dr. Worth serving home-brewed "black drink" (cassina tea) to Amberly (picture by Ericha Sappington).

Cooking hotdogs at the Molino boat ramp (picture by Ericha Sappington).
Dr. Worth interacting with the local wildlife again (picture by Kayla Rowe).

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Week six begins last half of field school

Panorama of the excavations taken atop a ladder in Area H.

Excavations at Mission Escambe continue this week, marking the beginning of our last five weeks this summer.  Starting last Friday, we've actually had three successive midday rainouts, only the most recent of which (today) didn't result in a complete drenching for the entire crew.  Nevertheless, progress continues in all open units, including two units recently opened in Areas E and G (a new area with our newest clay floor), with yet another new unit just laid in today in Area H (our most recent area, characterized by a clay floor discovered while tracing out the stockade wall southward along the eastern margins of the site). 
View to north of stockade trench truncating a clay floor.
It now appears that the substantial clay "floor" feature that we have been chasing in Area C since 2009 is not alone at the site, and that we have another one of undetermined extent somewhat to the north of Area C (now called Area G), and a third one directly east of Area C (now called Area H).  The last floor feature currently holds the most potential for revealing the architectural context of these clay layers, since not only was this floor truncated by the excavation of what we believe is the 1760 stockade wall trench (Feature 512 above), but it also apparently had two discrete projections northward along its northern margin (Features 511 and 513 above) which appear to be large postholes, possibly forming a wall line for the anticipated structure atop the clay floor.  These postholes were obviously set in at the same time as the basin for the yellow clay floor was excavated, since the clay is continuous between the two, so we hope further excavations of these features will tease out important details.

Soil coring helps us identify the extent of yellow clay here.
In order to find the lateral boundaries of this clay floor, Katie Brewer and Michelle Pigott (pictured, left) have excavated a number of 1/2 inch diameter soil cores in the vicinity, demonstrating first that the clay floor here is isolated from those in Area C and G some 20 meters to the west, and that it apparently measures about 6-7 meters east-west and perhaps 2 meters north-south.  Based on these measurements, we have laid in another 1x2 meter unit on the prospective northwest corner of this clay floor in order to see if there are more postholes or other architectural traces that will reveal the nature of this structure and its apparent prepared clay floor.

Lead cloth seal showing traces of the iron wire it clamped.
Among several interesting finds over the past few days, one that sparked considerable excitement was the lead seal discovered Friday in Area C, pictured to right.   The seal is the second one found at Mission Escambe, the first one having been found during 2009 excavations in Area B.  This one is very similar to the last one, including numbers probably denoting the number of inches comprised in a particular bolt of cloth, as well as a possible manufacturer's name on the top, which on both seals began with the initial "L."  These may represent seals from bolts of English cloth brought to the site either as illicit goods bought by the 1757-1761 governor of Spanish Pensacola, Miguel Roman de Castilla y Lugo, or through trade with the Upper Creek Indians, who are known to have frequented the site during this period, and who also traded with the English from Georgia and South Carolina.

Finally, during the rush to finish up excavations and gather paperwork and equipment before the impending rainstorm arrived early this afternoon, as a new excavation level was beginning to be dug in the newest unit in Area E, an iron horseshoe identified last Friday was removed as part of a new excavation level beginning to be dug in the sawmill-era deposits in our newest unit in Area E.  The video below shows the removal of the horseshoe (and the sounds of the birds and other student activity going on at the same time are notable as well, though the video quality is lower resolution here than the original).

video