Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bigger and better

With less than a month left in this summer's field school, we're making good progress in confirming and defining the mission-period occupation that we first began to discover in shovel tests late in June. Four shovel tests have been excavated so far in the transects that were cleared through the woods last week, and all but one produced clear evidence of Native American ceramics dating to the right time period. The most recent, excavated today, produced a sherd of a type of ceramics commonly associated with Creek Indians, commonly known as Chattahoochee Brushed (see photo), decorated with bundles of pine straw. This type only begins to appear in the Pensacola area during the eighteenth century in association with other mission-era ceramics, and may well have been made by Apalachee Indians who grew up in the Creek country before 1718, or by Creeks who married into the Apalachee community from Creek settlements north along the Escambia.

In addition, this same excavation produced what may be our best indicator for the mission yet: a fragment of what may be a crude Native-made candlestick, called Colono Ware by archaeologists in recognition of Native American manufacture in European-inspired forms (see photo). These wares are generally thought to have been made by mission Indians for the use of resident Europeans, which is consistent with the presence of a Franciscan missionary and as many as 16 Spanish cavalry soldiers at Escambe.

Using the Ground Penetrating Radar data obtained last week, we have also set in a new, larger excavation unit measuring 1 by 2 meters in the area of a subsurface disturbance that might be related to the mission-period occupation. When this unit is brought down to the level of this anomaly, we hope to discover whether it is a cultural feature such as a firepit or hearth, or perhaps just some natural disturbance. In either case, we should obtain a larger sample of mission pottery from this unit, which should give us better evidence about the time period and cultures involved at this site.

In sum, we now have a total of 17 contiguous shovel tests that have produced evidence for Native American ceramics in the area we are currently working in, making a site measuring at least 120 meters by 80 meters, and occupying the highest original ground surface along the river margin of the terrace we have been surveying. Most of the ceramics appear to date to the mission period, and are consistent with Apalachee pottery from this period. At this point, evidence is rapidly building that we may well have discovered the site of Mission San Joseph de Escambe. Further testing over the next few weeks will be designed to confirm this tentative identification, and begin the archaeological exploration of this site.

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