Thursday, July 16, 2009

More finds

We had another exciting day today, with several unexpected discoveries, and further confirmation of the wall-trench structure first identified yesterday. In a shovel test just 20 meters from that structure's corner, what first appeared to be a simple concentration of charred wood (which might have been anything from a burned tree stump to a charred post) ultimately turned out to be what is known as a "cob pit," filled with large numbers of charred corn cobs, several of which were nearly intact (see photo to right). These pits are very common on Spanish missions across northern Florida, and appear to have been used as smudge pits to generate smoke for mosquito control in and around houses in the village. The cobs were placed in small subsurface pits with constricted mouths, where they could smolder slowly and generate enough smoke to keep bugs away. Importantly, the cobs found at our site is of the 8-row variety, consistent with maize grown by North American Indians during this period (and much, much smaller than modern hybrid varieties). Further study should tell us more details about the corn grown at the Escambe mission.

In the same unit, and at about the same level, students found a remarkably well-made ground-stone discoidal made from greenstone, a type of stone probably originating in the Alabama Piedmont region, well over 100 miles away. This type of object, generally thought to be a Native American gaming piece, might date to the late prehistoric Pensacola culture, or it might instead be an Apalachee item from the mission period. Since people were living at this site during both periods, either option is possible, though further exploration at the site may tell us more about the context of the object, and what period it belongs to. The same unit produced a tiny sherd of plain Spanish majolica.

In the adjacent shovel test, students continued to explore the wall-trench structure discovered yesterday, which now appears to be a post-on-sill construction type that was commonly used on French colonial sites, though it has also been documented in Pensacola's Spanish presidios. An intriguing feature of the structure we have identified at the Escambe mission is the apparent presence of the remains of some sort of floor structure on the inside of the building corner. A number of wrought-iron nails were found lying in place in association with this floor, and careful excavation of this complex set of features is still proceeding. We definitely plan to conduct additional excavations in this area in order to learn more about the identity of this structure and what role it played in the mission community.

Other students continued to work on the larger excavation unit opened above the radar anomaly described in earlier posts, where they were able to learn how to shovel-shave, and how to draw larger plan-view maps using rulers and a plumb-bob (see photo). While some Native American ceramics and tiny flakes of chert have appeared in this unit, the presence of sheet metal and other modern artifacts may indicate that the anomaly could be related to the 20th-century dairy barn in this vicinity. In any case, only further excavation will tell the tale.

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