Friday, June 25, 2010

New crew members, continued progress

Despite losing Tuesday to rain, on Wednesday and Thursday we welcomed six new students to our crew (picture of all students, staff, and faculty for last half of 2010 field season to right), and were treated to clear weather for continuing fieldwork. All excavation units are making slow and steady progress, though in several cases the more we uncover, the more questions we have. Students are still tracing out the nail-filled wall-trench running east-west across the central area of the site, and as yet no corners have been discovered. To the south, one of two overlapping wall-trenches discovered last year appears now to have a third intersecting wall-trench crossing one of them as well, making interpretation of the complex stratigraphy even more of a challenge. Postholes continue to be excavated in the area of the Deptford occupation at the site, some of which may be part of the same structure that produced a deep post last year. And in our new excavation area below the high terrace on which the mission rests has now been brought down to orange subsoil in one corner of the unit, and has revealed what appears to be a very large excavation pit filled with redeposited sediments from the mission period (pictured above left are Tonya Chandler and Cody Poitevint mapping these deposits). The lenses of soil within this 18th-century feature may be interpreted in a variety of ways, but one possibility being explored is that it may be associated with a barrel-well connected with the mission. Such wells are quite common in Pensacola presidios and other Spanish colonial sites from the era (and indeed persisted in the subsequent British period), so such a find would not be unexpected. More exploration will be needed to determine what this area really is.

Pictured below are Brett Briggs, Linda Geary, Stephanie Poole, and Sydney DePalma working on various phases of excavation and mapping in the area of the overlapping wall-trenches.

Joe Grinnan carefully maps newly-discovered portions of the wall-trench believed to have been part of the cavalry barracks at Mission Escambe.

Chris Dewey maps a bisection of a deep mission-period post in the middle of the Deptford-period structural remains elsewhere in this unit.

John Krebs reviews the total station for incoming students (left to right) Brett Briggs, Jesse Hamilton, Joe Grinnan, and Stephanie Poole. Sydney DePalma and Sara Smiddie in background.

Finally, in the video below is Dr. John Worth giving a lift to one of the chickens that frequent our crew lunches looking for scraps (video recorded by Cody Poitevint).

Monday, June 21, 2010

Features and more

Today was the last day for six of our students who will be spending the last five weeks of the field school participating in the UWF Maritime Field School (pictured at right is our crew at the end of the day today). Tomorrow their counterparts will be joining us from their first five weeks on the water.

Progress continues to be made in all excavation units, and we are finally beginning to drop down into the mission-period pit features that should eventually help us define structures and activity areas on the site. Two units on either side of the wall trench section discovered last year have now been brought down even with the top of this same post-on-sill wall trench as it runs east and west, and both show evidence that the trench extends in both directions at least as far as these units (one meter in each direction). These trench sections, along with other pit features that appear to be contemporaneous (see photo to left), will be excavated carefully over the next days as we further explore this substantial mission-period structure.

To the south, the units being excavated into the clay-capped overlapping post-in-trench structures are finally beginning to push down into the uppermost occupational layer, and both old and new wall-trench segments are beginning to appear. Though we will have to wait until the precise relationship between the newly-identified trench features and those discovered last year, another small pit feature appeared today--a smudge pit filled with charred corn cobs--corresponding to a similar feature discovered last year barely half a meter away. The cobs (pictured to right) appear to be of the same 8-row variety, and excavation will proceed very delicately in order to preserve these botanical remains for detailed study.

These same units also produced two new types of mission-era ceramics in good context today, pictured below. The first is a ring-base from a porcelain cup, and was likely among the more expensive ceramics available on the colonial frontier.

The second sherd below is a fragment of French faience, which is not uncommon on Spanish colonial sites of this era, but which might reflect exchange with the nearby French colony at Mobile.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Midpoint of 2010 Field School

Over the past few days our student crews have been making slow but steady progress in their excavation units, even as the weather conditions become more and more oppressive.

On Thursday, one of our recent discoveries, a metal object pictured still in the ground in our Monday post, was X-rayed in the conservation laboratory at the anthropology department at UWF (considerable thanks to Dr. John Bratten and Jake Schidner). We were somewhat surprised to find that enough metal remained in the core of the rusty concretion to show a small hole what now appears to be the tang of a folding straight razor (on the right side of the picture to the left), with the thinnest portion of the blade (left side, facing down) partially corroded away, but still conserving its overall square-ended shape. This would have been a folding knife with a bone or wooden handle attached by a pin through the hole in the tang. Such objects are documented to have been common items in the 18th-century Indian trade, though the one discovered at Escambe might well have belonged to one of the Spaniards living on site as well. They are not well-known archaeologically from this period, so this specimen will be a useful contribution.

All four excavation areas (including a total of six active excavation units) are now well into mission-period (or earlier) deposits, and while we are still piecing together how the various strata and features are related to the various occupational horizons at the site, we continue to add to what we know about the site. An assortment of photos are provided below from the latter half of this fifth week of our field season.

Pictured below is visiting archaeologist Dr. Nick Honerkamp (University of Tennessee, Chattanooga) flat-shoveling in isolated mission-period midden deposits below the primary terrace on which the mission is located. Cody Poitevint and Norma Harris are also pictured.

Image below of Hallie Johnson and Danielle Dadiego operating the GPR unit under the supervision of Sarah Mitchell.

Below is an image showing radar anomalies at multiple depths starting from the surface downward within a 20 by 14 meter block cleared this year. The image was processed by Sarah Mitchell (thanks also to Dr. Victor Thompson for his aid), and shows several linear and rectangular anomalies that are as-yet unidentified. While we know there is a wall-trench structure within the block pictured below, as yet it does not correlate well with any of the anomalies shown. We will be ground-truthing this and other remote sensing survey data over the course of the summer.

Closeup view of 18th-century aqua glass with numerous tiny air bubbles resulting from the handblown manufacture process, characteristic of glass from this period.

Pictured below are Danielle Dadiego, Amelia Easterling, Wayne Abrahamson, and Jennifer Melcher holding the shade tarp aloft while Mark Vadas (on ladder) takes digital photos of the floor of a 2 x 2 m excavation unit (with posthole stains pedestaled and labeled within the unit).

The two images below show two projectile points (likely spearpoints, possibly also used as knives) found in the unit above during the last two days of this past week. Both are made from Tallahatta Quartzite, found far upriver in southern Alabama. The first point may be late Middle Archaic in age (ca. 6,900-3,900 B.C. in calibrated radiocarbon date), making it the oldest artifact yet found on the site (more than 6,000 years old).

The second, smaller point is more likely Early to Middle Woodland in age, and probably dates to the Deptford occupation at the site, which has been radiocarbon dated to approximately 170 B.C. based on charcoal found in a deep post just north of this unit. Scale in centimeters to the right.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Humidity and heat

Today's excavations were undertaken in remarkable humidity and heat, with little to no breeze to cool things down. Nevertheless, progress was made in all excavation areas, though much of this progress involved documentation and careful removal of soil to predetermined elevations, or following the boundaries of cultural strata (pictured to right are Linda Suzanne Borgen and Mark Vadas mapping soil stains associated with deep plow scars).

As the clay cap in our southernmost unit was being removed today, a number of mission-period artifacts were discovered in the dark soil beneath it, all neatly sealed beneath the undisturbed 18th-century clay cap layer. As exemplified in the photos to the left and below, the assortment of mission debris included both Native American and European ceramics, lead shot, and an as-yet unidentified iron object, all embedded in apparently random position within the dark fill, possibly a secondary deposit of debris from elsewhere (though likely nearby). Toward the end of the day, flat-shoveling was halted when a fragment of sheet-brass was discovered and carefully excavated (see video and photos below). We hope to see more of this deposit tomorrow, and make continued progress in other units.

Pictured below is a thick sherd of tin-glazed tableware in-place in the soil matrix.

Pictured in the following video is Allen Wilson excavating the soil around the sheet brass object pictured below.

Friday, June 11, 2010

More traces of the mission village

Our fourth week of field school began and ended with clear but hot weather, and our summer excavations are proceeding well. Two new test units were opened this week over a post-on-sill wall-trench feature that we believe may belong to the cavalry barracks built in the summer of 1760, and the westernmost unit has already begun to show traces of this same wall-trench above last year's profile view (see traces of yellow clay above wall trench profile in picture above right). Today the first sherd of Spanish olive jar yet found at Mission Escambe was discovered in this unit, displaying the common interior green glaze and finger-ridges from the wheel-turning process used to create it (picture to left).

Excavations in the area of the two superimposed wall-trench structures to the south are continuing to reveal details about the clay cap placed over the buried buildings, including the fact that the thicker and more obvious yellow clay cap layer appears to be overlain in part by a thinner grey-pink clay layer, which also caps a firepit that was previously excavated into the yellow clay (pictured to right are Hallie Johnson and Danielle Dadiego taking a plan view image at the base of one unit). Based on artifacts found within the fill (including Spanish and Apalachee ceramics, and lead shot), all these superimposed layers appear to date to the mid-18th-century mission component at the site, suggesting that considerable energy was expended replacing structures and preparing floors on this particular location, which is situated at one of the the highest points on the gentle ridge that slopes slightly downward and northward through the mission village. As yet we are unsure about the identity of these successive structures, but we hope to find more clues in coming days and weeks.

In the unit located north of the primary mission area along the margins of the prehistoric Woodland-period site, a mission-era pit feature was discovered on Friday. Bisection of this pit revealed a deeper section of the pit which may indicate it was a posthole (pictured above left is Mark Vadas excavating this feature), and also resulted in the discovery of mission-period Spanish and Apalachee artifacts, including the lead-glazed El Morro rim sherd pictured to the right.

On occasion, we discover or confirm additional periods of prehistoric occupation at the site, and the discovery of a single incised shell-tempered potsherd this week demonstrates that there were indeed indigenous Native Americans living at this site during the late prehistoric Mississippi period. The sherd (pictured at left) appears to be part of the Pensacola series, and thus predates the Escambe mission by perhaps two centuries or more.

Finally, today we were all treated to the display of a pair of nesting birds attempting to build a nest inside the hanging backpack of one of our graduate supervisors. The Carolina wrens flitted in and out throughout lunch and the afternoon, bringing twigs and leaves into the cavity. Pictures of the quick birds were hard to get, but a few turned out reasonably well.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


The first three days of our fourth week of excavations have witnessed good progress toward our summer goals, and student crews are finally all excavating larger units in 18th-century mission deposits. Three 1 x 2m units have been opened adjacent to a 2009 excavation unit with two superimposed wall-trench structures under a clay cap layer, all dating to the mission period (pictured at right around these units are Hallie Johnson, Danielle Dadiego, Linda Geary, Allen Wilson, and Sydney DePalma), and two other 1 x 2m units have been opened on either side of a 2 x 3m excavation block excavated last year through a substantial wall trench running east-west across the heart of the site. Both these excavation areas are designed principally to trace out the size and configuration of these mission structures, and within a few days we should begin to see more evidence of these buildings.

Two other excavations have been opened to the north of the primary mission area, including a 2 x 2m unit placed near a 2009 unit with a deep posthole radiocarbon dated to the 2nd century B.C. (and filled with prehistoric pottery of the Deptford series), as well as another 2 x 2m unit around the shovel test which penetrated an isolated mission-era midden deposit with postholes below the bluff slope north of the mission. While neither of these units have yet reached their goal, both are already beginning to produce artifactual evidence (pictured at left are Linda Suzanne Borgen, Lee Ann Wayland, Mark Vadas, and Amelia Easterling).

In addition, this week we were joined on Tuesday by UWF graduate student Sarah Mitchell, who directed students in running several remote sensing scans of a 20 x 20m area around the substantial wall-trench structure noted above. As seen in the photo to the right, students have now cleared a very broad area in the once thickly-wooded heart of the site, and ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and soil resistivity surveys have been conducted. While data are still being processed, a number of interesting anomalies were noted in the field, and several appear consistent in their spatial arrangement using both techniques (see video below). We have high hopes that remote sensing results may guide our excavations to the outside walls of the possible barracks structure already discovered in this area.

Heard in the video below are Sarah Mitchell and John Worth discussing the results of the ongoing GPR survey, with John Krebs and Patrick Johnson operating the unit.

Below are photos of some of the mission-era artifacts discovered on Wednesday. The first two images show both sides of a translucent honey-colored gunspall, used to fire a flintlock musket.

The image below shows a blue glass seed-bead and a tiny fragment of blue on white majolica (tin-glazed ceramic tableware, probably made in Mexico).

Friday, June 4, 2010

The skies finally clear!

After a holiday week with only two short morning stints in the field, today we were finally able to get in a full day of fieldwork in good weather conditions. Even though much of the day was spent by one crew trying to reconcile the total station to last year's unit locations, the last remaining shovel test was backfilled, and a new unit was staked in using an old but reliable optical transit (see picture to right with Patrick Johnson using the transit to help Tonya Chandler align a corner stake to be hammered in, with Cody Poitevint viewing from a different angle).

In addition, elevations were taken for new units adjacent to one of last year's excavations, re-excavated last week. Prior to the start of excavation, all wall profiles in the 2009 unit were carefully cleaned and examined by this year's field crew (pictured in photo to left are Norma Harris in the excavation unit, with Hallie Johnson, Danielle Dadiego, Sydney DePalma, and Jennifer Melcher looking on during the discussion). We know we have at least two superimposed mission structures in this area, but as yet their identity and size/shape is unknown. We hope that further excavations this year will clarify the complex stratigraphy in this area of the site.

Not all fieldwork is archaeological; the video below shows a large pine snake crossing the dirt road adjacent to a newly-staked unit.

This video shows Norma Harris coaxing escaped goats back into their pen next to our crew's favorite lunch spot.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Rainy weather means labwork

After another mid-morning rainout today, students returned to the UWF campus to try their hand at rough-sorting artifacts in the archaeology lab. In photo below, lab director Jan Lloyd provides an overview of lab procedures to students, with John Krebs and Jennifer Melcher looking on.

Below, Lee Ann Wayland and Linda Suzanne Borgen begin sifting dried materials previously recovered in the field in order to start rough sorting (see other bags in the box in the foreground).

Tonya Chandler, Hallie Johnson, and Sara Smiddie pictured sifting, below.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Another short rain day

Today we were frankly lucky to get in even half a day's work, since the clouds built all morning until we were rained out at 11:00. Nevertheless, it was still a productive day, with one crew re-excavating the backfill from one of our 2009 excavation units, another using the total station to re-establish datum positions in order to lay in a new 2x2 meter unit, and the two remaining crews continuing to excavate the remaining shovel tests in the woods. Below are a few videos and images from the day.

Below are Amelia Easterling and Lee Ann Wayland at the total station, with Mark Vadas holding the stadia rod in the background.

Sometimes trees get in the way; shown here is Mark Vadas bending a medium-sized sweetgum out of the way for a total station reading.

In the video below are Hallie Johnson, Sydney DePalma, and Allen Wilson re-excavating the backfilled unit from last year's dig; also shown are Linda Geary and Danielle Dadiego.

The photo below shows Hallie Johnson and Danielle Dadiego working to get the last remnants of backfill from the 2009 unit; also pictured are Allen Wilson, Sydney DePalma, and Linda Geary.

Despite our short day, waterscreening the wall-cleaning from one shovel test produced a nice decorated potsherd that appears to be Wakulla Check Stamped, straddling the line between the Late Woodland and Early Mississippi periods (somewhere around a thousand years ago).