Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Summer's end

On Monday morning the staff and supervisors of the Pensacola Colonial Frontiers 2009 field school joined several volunteers and finished up the last profile map before backfilling the last remaining open excavation unit. While much work remains to be done in the lab, and some additional fieldwork is anticipated during the fall and spring (mostly in preparation for next summer), we would like to take this opportunity to recognize the crew of the 2009 field school, pictured in the photos here. Six of our students spent alternating halves of the summer participating in the UWF underwater field school, and for this reason crew photos were taken for each half.

The complete crew is listed below.

Student crew: Michelle D'Onofrio, Sarah Everhart, Patrick Johnson, Colin Keohane, Jennifer King, John Krebs, Gary MacMullen, Brian Miller, Wendy Morgan, Aubrey Palmer, Roman Sinopoli, John Smith, Helen Welch. Graduate supervisors: Rachel DeVan, Matt Napolitano, Sarah Patterson. Field director: Jennifer Melcher. Principal investigator: John Worth.

The field school was sponsored by the University of West Florida University of West Florida Division of Anthropology and Archaeology, including the Department of Anthropology and the Archaeology Institute. It is important to recognize that the discovery of Mission San Joseph de Escambe was not accomplished in isolation, and in fact builds on considerable earlier work on the Spanish colonial period by UWF archaeologists and their students.

Beyond this, however, we would like to express our tremendous gratitude for the interest and support of the community of Molino, Florida, which has embraced the Colonial Frontiers project with open arms. While it would be impractical to list everyone who expressed interest or visited the site on one or more occasions, or who generously granted permission for archaeological testing on their property, we are particularly thankful to the members of the Molino Mid-County Historical Society, at the April meeting of which the search for Escambe was first presented publicly. We are also grateful to Boyett's Septic Tank & Vacuum Pumping for their generous donation of the use of a portable toilet and sink for our students and crew throughout the field season. Most especially, however, we would like to thank the Marlow, Pope, and Weihenmayer families for their hospitality and support of the project, particularly during its final weeks. Over the course of the summer we made many new friends and shared many good times. We eagerly look forward to new archaeological investigations next year, when we hope to learn even more about the mission community that has lain untouched for so long alongside the Escambia River that bears its name.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


It took a 14-hour work day on Friday for students and staff, but we were able to finish documenting two out of our three open excavations by the time the sun began to drop in the western sky, bringing an official close to the 2009 Pensacola Colonial Frontiers field school at UWF. Students did a great job of finishing what little excavation levels were left, and documenting the exposed profiles of all remaining units, including photography and detailed scale drawings. After multiple photos were taken of each cleaned wall, lines were scribed into the wall showing evident (and sometimes not-so-evident) color variations relating to stratigraphy and natural and cultural soil disturbances (see photo above right), all of which were then carefully drawn, with colors recorded for each division using a Munsell soil color chart (photo to left).

Once each unit was complete, the walls were lined with permeable landscape cloth before the sifted backdirt was manually shoveled back into the same unit from which it came (see video at bottom). Even though it is no small task, this is a traditional ritual of the last day of fieldwork, and signals the wrapup of a tremendously successful 2009 season.

A smaller crew will return early next week to finish the last remaining profile, and backfill the largest of the three excavations we opened this summer. We'll still be posting additional followup blog entries regarding this summer's project, so please stay tuned.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Nearing the end

Today was our second to last day of field school, and good progress was made in all active excavation units. The "swiss cheese" unit with multiple wall trenches was brought down into sterile subsoil by the end of the day, and produced some good surprises including a number of post impressions at the bases of the trenches, as well as a burned European pipestem, made from molded kaolin clay (see picture to right).

The deep feature in the middle of our northernmost unit finally clarified itself to be a large, deep postmold within a larger posthole pit (picture to left). The fill evidently contained Deptford pottery fragments, making it likely that the post may be from a structure around 2,000 years old. We will want to explore further in this area next year in order to determine whether or not there are other associated posts in this area, and when they date from.

The two adjacent units covering three meters of the large wall trench are still being excavated to subsoil in one corner, but we hope to be able to finish all these units, including photographing and drawing all profiles, before backfilling. It's a lot of dirt to replace, but with a good early start tomorrow, we have high hopes of wrapping things up before the weekend.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Tying up loose ends

We're now halfway through the last week of our UWF summer field school, and students have been working diligently to wrap up the excavation units that are still open. This is not as easy as it might seem, in part because each of our current units is at least eight times the size of our earlier shovel tests, and also because we are continuing to uncover extraordinarily intricate evidence for architectural features at Mission Escambe, not to mention continuing evidence of earlier occupations.

In our largest excavation block (consisting of a 2 x 2 meter unit and an adjacent 1 x 2 meter unit) we are continuing to follow the large wall trench we discovered by chance in a 50 x 50 cm. shovel test earlier in the dig. The trench is remarkably well-made, and obviously belonged to a substantial structure in the mission, perhaps associated with the cavalry barracks or the mission church. To date students have mapped almost forty wrought iron nails in-place within the trench, virtually all of which seem to be in their original position within the post-on-sill wall foundation. When all the information is combined on a single map, we hope to be able to reconstruct the construction details of this wall with great detail. One amazing find today was a nail still embedded in a piece of iron-encrusted wood, a remnant of the original beam or post into which the nail was hammered some 250 years ago. A knot-hole is still visible in the preserved wood (see photo above right).

Another unit to the south of this unit has not one but two overlapping sets of wall trenches, each of which apparently belonged to a somewhat less-substantial post-in-trench structure. The earlier structure was demolished and capped with gray soil, and the second structure was placed in a slightly different position on top of the earlier one, with its wall trench cutting through the slightly deeper earlier trench. The remains of both of these structures were later capped with a thick layer of orange clay to create a level surface, into which a large fire basin was excavated. Excavating these overlapping wall-trench features has turned out to be an incredibly complicated task, with multiple bisections and partitions of each feature at specific angles in order to maximize our ability to understand the chronological and structural relationships between the trenches. Since the trench is so narrow, it is quite a balancing act to excavate several sections of these trenches at once, leaving the floor looking something like Swiss cheese in the middle of the process (see photo above left).

The third excavation unit turned out to have several possible postholes, including a large, deep feature that is proving to be more difficult to interpret than it originally seemed. Since mission-period artifacts were found in the deeper layers of this unit, some of these features may relate to the mission occupation, though at present their identity and relationship to the rest of the Apalachee village is unclear.

Students were also treated to a visit by UWF President Dr. Judy Bense today (see photo to left, with project field director Jennifer Melcher), whose decades of archaeological work in and around Pensacola literally laid the groundwork for the current UWF archaeology program. She and her colleagues and students have conducted extensive investigations at the three 18th-century Spanish presidios on Pensacola Bay, and as she noted in her comments to the students today, our work at Mission Escambe will build upon this earlier work, providing new details about Pensacola's Spanish colonial heritage to a new generation of students.