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.

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