Monday, July 26, 2010

More documentation and backfilling

Staff and student volunteers returned to Molino today to finish documenting profiles in two remaining excavation units, followed by a last push to backfill these units. Once profiles had been carefully mapped and colors recorded (pictured at right are Sarah Everhart, John Krebs, Rachel DeVan, and Jennifer Melcher), the two remaining large units were completely backfilled, leaving only a single remaining shovel test to be documented later this week. The backfilling began with shovels and wheelbarrows, as on previous days, but toward the end of the day we were generously aided by Mr. Richard Marlow, who made many trips back and forth to deliver fill dirt for the last remaining excavation block using his tractor. The video below shows part of that operation, which was a real lifesaver for our already-exhausted students. Thanks again, Mr. Marlow....we couldn't have finished up without you!

The units we backfilled on Friday were subjected to considerable rain over the weekend, but barely settled at all, leaving the level surface we were hoping for (see picture below). Although some units will have to be re-excavated next year for continued exploration in these areas (in some cases for the third time), in the meantime the vegetation and leaf litter will cover virtually all traces of our excavations over the course of the next year.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Completing the 2010 Colonial Frontiers field school

On Friday, students finished excavation and documentation of all but three remaining units, and backfilled the rest on our final day of the 2010 field school at Molino (pictured at right is Sara Smiddie returning for another wheelbarrow load of dirt). Field conditions during our final days were extremely hot and muggy, but in the end it was an approaching afternoon thunderstorm that ran our crew out a bit earlier than expected.

The 2010 field season was a resounding success on several fronts. While in the end we probably found more questions than answers, and more complexity than clarity, we nonetheless made great progress in understanding the Escambe mission site overall, and obtained a much broader view of the structures we encountered last year.

One of the more intriguing features discovered last year was the substantial post-on-sill wall-trench we believe to have been part of the Spanish cavalry barracks documented to have been built during the summer of 1760 under the direction of engineer Phelipe Feringan Cort├ęs. As can be seen in the mosaic image below showing the largest contiguous section in this area (south is to top), we opened broad areas of this trench during the 2010 season, extending over a total of more than 12 1/2 meters of the trench's original length.

Friday, on our very last day, we were thrilled to confirm that the westernmost end of this trench had finally been encountered, and that we had indeed discovered the northwest corner of this building (pictured at right is graduate supervisor John Krebs reveling in the moment). The east-west trench apparently terminates and turns south (to the left in the picture below), while a substantial wooden buttress post extends just northward from the corner, within which nearly a dozen nails were discovered, presumably anchoring the post (see rectangular patch of light-colored clay just right of the wall-trench corner in the lower left corner of the picture). Based on the discovery of this corner, as well as the extent of the wall-trench running due east from this point, we now know that the presumed barracks structure was at least 12 1/2 meters east-to-west, amounting to some 15 Spanish colonial varas. This was clearly a substantial structure, despite the fact that the cavalry garrison of 15 men was located in such a small, remote mission village.

To the south, excavations in the area of three overlapping post-in-trench wall-trenches produced a remarkable 6-meter-long profile showing the trenches and associated dark midden deposits, as well as at least two episodes of clay capping (in the photo mosaic below see deeper yellow clay layers underlying the lighter gray-pink clay just below the surface). This profile provides crucial details augmenting what we have already discovered about the shape and configuration of the three successive structures built in this location, though much more work remains to be done in order to trace out the walls and discover the overall size and function of the structures. The artifact assemblage discovered in this area of the site is somewhat distinctive, including not just a wide range of non-aboriginal goods such as Spanish cookware and tableware, Oriental porcelain, a folding razor, and abundant lead shot, but also a considerable proportion of red-filmed aboriginal pottery (presumably made by Apalachee potters) and other ceramic types. This excavation block in particular has become more complex over the course of our summer work, and we won't expect to get any definitive answers until additional fieldwork is carried out next year.

Among the noteworthy finds from our last days include a sherd of prehistoric shell-tempered pottery with an adorno loop handle (pictured to right), discovered in the remaining northern excavation block which has already produced considerable evidence for prehistoric occupation at the site. Documentation of this block will have to wait until early next week, when we plan to finish up what remains and backfill the open units using staff and supervisors, along with student volunteers.

Another discovery was the second ground stone discoidal found at the site, made from fine-grained red sandstone and ground into a small disc, possibly used for gaming. Though this example is considerably smaller than a greenstone discoidal discovered last year, it was still an exciting find (pictured below is finder Cody Poitevint holding the disc). Whether or not it was made and used during the mission period, or instead during prehistoric occupation at the same site (or even found and re-used during the mission period), it nonetheless provides evidence of stonework using extralocal material.

Though we will post additional blog entries following additional wrap-up work next week, at this time we would like to express our considerable thanks to Mr. Richard Marlow and his family for their hospitality and support throughout our field season. Continuing research at Mission Escambe would not have been possible without their interest and help. We are also grateful to Boyett's Septic Tank & Vacuum Pumping for the generous donation of the use of a portable toilet and sink throughout the 2010 field school, for the second year in a row. The Pensacola Colonial Frontiers project is sponsored by the Archaeology Institute and Department of Anthropology at the University of West Florida. We would also like to acknowledge the help and interest of a number of volunteers and visitors, including but not limited to Wayne Abrahamson, Neal Collier, Dave Dodson, Sarah Everhart, Nick Honerkamp, Sarah Mitchell, Debbie Mullins, Aubrey Palmer, Harold Pope, and Amanda Salazar Clonts.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Trying to finish

Two more days to go, and several excavation units have already been finished and backfilled, while work continues in other areas. The long section of wall-trench exposed this year is still being carefully documented, though two units on either end of our current excavations still hold promise to provide clues about the overall size and orientation of the structure (pictured at right are Patrick Johnson and Linda Geary creating a plan view of the trench).

The two larger units being excavated down into prehistoric occupational layers are still proving to be challenging, especially given the large number of posts and other possible small pit features, several of which intrude upon each other, and some of which have turned out to be quite deep (working in the unit in the picture at left are Stephanie Poole and Amelia Easterling).

In addition, the remaining units in the area of overlapping wall-trenches are proceeding nicely, and we are finally clarifying some of the trench relationships, as well as making new discoveries within the rich midden deposit just below the clay caps in this area (pictured at right are Ben Garrett and Jesse Hamilton mapping one of these units). The pictures below will show some of the recently-discovered artifacts from our remaining excavation units, along with a video showing some of our first backfilling activity for this year.

The first image shows a handful of mission-period artifacts, including red-filmed and brushed Native American pottery, and a chipped bifacial scraping tool made from European botttle glass. Below the first image is a shot of the biface in sunlight, showing its translucent color.

Pictured below is a large sherd of prehistoric pottery from the shell-tempered Pensacola series, probably dating several hundred years before European contact. The incised and punctated designs are very similar to a large sherd found below the bluff which originally led us to conduct testing in this area in 2009.

The image below shows a different type of incised pottery found yesterday within the brick-filled trench discovered recently just north of the presumed barracks wall. It dates to the mission period, and is a local variant of the Ocmulgee Fields Incised pottery commonly associated with Creek Indians to the north.

Finally, the video below shows Jennifer Melcher, Linda Geary, Brett Briggs, and Patrick Johnson loading wheelbarrows with sifted dirt for backfilling the nearby excavation unit.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Our last week begins

Since our last post, two of three workdays (including one extra day on Saturday) have been cut short by downpours. Despite that, our final Monday for the 2010 season witnessed quite a bit of progress, since we are hoping to finish up as much as possible before backfilling Friday. As can be seen in the photo above, we have expanded our excavations this year considerably beyond the small number of units opened in 2009, in one case necessitating a line of three tents and an improvised tarp side-by-side. This block of excavation units traces the wall-trench we believe to have been part of the Spanish barracks, which now appears to terminate in or just before the westernmost unit, giving the building a minimum east-west dimension of roughly 10 meters (some 12 Spanish varas). Since the eastern trench may continue past our open excavations, we opened one more small unit to the east on Monday, hoping that we will either define the end of the wall-trench or confirm that it extends beyond 12 meters.

Just to the north, the excavation unit opened in the area showing earlier Archaic, Woodland and Mississippi-period occupation is finally moving down below the bulk of the overlying mission deposits (including the brick-lined trench discussed in previous posts, still being excavated at the same time). A number of new feature stains have now appeared in the eastern of two adjacent 2x2 m. units, and we have high hopes that some of these may be associated with the possible Deptford structure associated with the deep post discovered just north of these units (pictured above is Matt Tanner standing in this year's "Swiss-cheese" unit, with Linda Geary and Norma Harris in the background). Meanwhile, the brick-lined trench (pictured below) continues to be excavated toward its base, and the narrow central trench shows up clearly within the fill of the broader trench. The number of nails in this deeper trench is remarkable, and we hope that complete excavation of this small slice of the trench will provide clues as to its function.

Farther south, a new 1x1 m. unit opened next to the overlapping wall-trench structure we have been exploring this year is finally pushing down into the underlying midden deposit, which is already producing a range of artifacts, including Spanish and Native American ceramics, lead shot, and a seed bead. In the picture above, Norma Harris and Danielle Dadiego are scraping the surface of two visible deposits--yellow clay fill presumably overlying one or more wall-trench depressions, and dark brown midden representing the original occupational surface associated with these structures (note the wheelbarrows full of excavated dirt from these clearly-distinguished color zones).

Finally, during our drenching on Saturday morning, we were intrigued to see that the southwestern terminus of the brick-lined trench (see small shovel-test unit in front of Jennifer Melcher in the picture to right) is precisely in the right spot to have acted as a drain for the substantial puddle that accumulated during the rainstorm immediately north of the presumed barracks wall (to left in picture, under sandbagged plastic). While this may simply be coincidence, it might provide one further clue supporting the idea that this trench may have been related to downslope drainage adjacent to the 1760 barracks structure.

We have only four days left, so we're still hoping to find a few answers to the many questions we have generated during this year's work.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Trenches, a baby chicken, and an owl

The last three days have witnessed steady progress in all areas of the mission site, though answers to our research questions are proving difficult to come by. The sturdy post-on-sill wall-trench discovered last year, still believed to be part of the 1760 Spanish barracks at Escambe, has yet to display a definitive end or corner, though we have finally excavated one unit on the western end which shows no traces of the trench in line with the rest of the wall, meaning the wall ends somewhere in the skipped unit just east (and in an old tree-fall depression, also under a modern sweetgum). To the east (pictured above), the wall-trench extends a total of nine meters already exposed, and might possibly continue even farther before finally reaching (presumably) a corner. We are fast running out of time to wrap up what we have already excavated, so some answers may have to wait.

Farther south, detailed dissection of the overlapping post-in-trench wall-trench features continues, and we hope to be able to disern whether or not there is a door gap present in the north-south wall, and whether or not the earlier trench it crossed relates to some ambiguous feature staining associated with the junction of these two features (see picture above).

The unusual brick-filled trench feature explored early this week has provided some surprises as students excavated deeper under the bricks (see picture to right). Although the main trench is rougly 50 cm. wide and filled with brick rubble, centered underneath it is a narrower trench (15 cm. wide) that has virtually no brick rubble, but which contains two rows of wrought iron nails side by side running longitudinally down the trench. The uppermost set of nails are pointing down, and lower layers appear to be pointing up, all of which suggests there was some sort of narrow wooden structure nailed together inside this trench, and then capped with brick rubble. The possibility of some sort of wood-lined channel underneath a wider rubble-filled trench is still consistent with some sort of land drain running downslope from the barracks area, though it is possible this may represent something else. Careful probing at the southwestern terminus of this trench allowed us to open a 50 x 50 cm. shovel test bisecting the end of this feature, and we are already finding the same brick rubble in association with a shallower fired clay platform on the outside of the brick-filled trench. More excavation should provide us with clues to help interpret this unusual feature.

Finally, the crew was startled today when an owl came swooping through the excavation area and dropped a live baby chicken in our midst. The chicken was found to have several talon wounds, but seemed to be otherwise unharmed, and was successfully re-introduced to the mother and siblings after the wounds were treated with antiseptic (as shown in the video below of Jennifer Melcher and Norma Harris tending to the wounds).

Monday, July 12, 2010

Unexpected discoveries

Today we continued to have good weather as we entered our second to last week of field school, and work progressed in three of our four excavation units. Student crews were switched between different graduate supervisors (and units) today, lasting for the rest of the dig. Excavations continued in the area of our wall-trench structures, though at this point the overall length and configuration of these trenches is still unclear. Early in the morning, however, we were surprised to discover that two of the three charcoal concentrations uncovered late last week in our northern terrace-top unit were actually filled with charred corn cobs (pictured above are Jennifer Melcher and Stephanie Poole working in this unit, along with Matt Tanner's sock feet). All three now appear to have been smudge pits, used for mosquito control, and these three features match another cob pit discovered near the southernmost excavation unit last year, as well as another mass of cobs discovered nearby this year. Cob-filled pits in particular are a common feature of Spanish mission sites in Florida (see closeup at left), reflecting a by-product of surplus corn production, and while their discovery at this site is not surprising, the examples from Escambe are somewhat larger than most, and contain corn from the very end of the First Spanish Period in west Florida. We hope that detailed study of these remarkably well-preserved botanical remains will provide insights into the varieties of corn that were grown at the mission, and whether their origins are local or Mexican. The majority of the cob pit pictured above was able to be removed intact in a block of dirt (see picture to right, with Jennifer Melcher and Amelia Easterling packaging the pit contents for transport), and we should be able to do the same with the other smudge pit (including one that has no visible cobs, and may have been comprised of normal wood).

In the same unit, excavations continued into the substantial handmade brick concentration found in the corner of the unit, and a narrow steel rod was used to probe in the area surrounding this brick concentration in order to discover how far it extended (pictured excavating below are Stephanie Poole, Joe Grinnan, Matt Tanner, and Rachel DeVan). We were surprised to learn that the bricks appear to have been deposited in a narrow (about 1/2 meter wide) trench running roughly NE-SW for a total distance of 15 meters straight. The southern end of the brick-filled trench is located just outside the wall of the substantial wooden barracks structure just south of this area, and runs downslope to a lower location just outside the margins of the principal mission occupation area. The line of bricks do not appear to turn or make a corner at either end, and none are articulated together as if part of a collapsed wall. In fact, the trench fill looks more like broken brick rubble than anything structural.

Upon excavation, we also noted the presence of at least two types of bricks, including one (called a ladrillo, pictured below) typical of First Spanish sites, as well as another thicker type that may also be contemporary with the mission occupation. So far, no artifacts later than the mission occupation have been found within this trench, so at present the possibility still remains that it was dug and deposited before the mission's destruction in 1761 (along with the adjacent smudge pits). While we have far too little information to interpret the original function of this brick-filled trench feature, it might possibly have been some sort of drainage feature (something akin to a French drain), drawing groundwater downslope and away from the wooden foundations of the barracks structure, avoiding rot. Since as yet we cannot even date this feature confidently, any interpretations at this point are pure speculation.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Eight weeks down, two more to go

Although the first two days of this eighth week of our field season were marked by the Independence Day holiday and yet another rain day, we were treated to clear skies and dry conditions, not to mention heat and humidity, for the rest of the week (pictured above are Brett Briggs and Sydney DePalma sifting in under the blazing afternoon sun). From Wednesday through Friday, student crews have continued to make progress in all excavation units, including existing units as well as several new shallow units designed to trace out the long wall-trench interpreted to be part of the Spanish cavalry barracks. Only two weeks remain for the 2010 field school, and we are focusing on getting as much information as possible during the time that remains.

The photos below show some of our activities and finds this week. Pictured below is Amelia Easterling excavating around a cluster of handmade bricks discovered within the plowzone of our northern unit (possibly associated with the sawmill era).

Tonya Chandler is shown below photo-cleaning a 1x1 meter unit within the larger excavation unit below the bluff slope, where excavations are now suggesting much of the deeper staining below the 18th-century midden deposit is non-cultural.

Below are Brett Briggs and Sydney DePalma mapping the floor of our first excavation unit to be completed down to sterile yellow clay subsoil.

Below is a plan view image showing intersecting wall trenches (see pre-excavation shot from our July 5 post) which have been carefully sliced into sections in order to determine which trench was excavated through the other trench. The vertical trench (bisected to the right) was found to be earlier and deeper than the horizontal trench, still showing toward the top half of the picture above the deeper bisection toward the bottom of the picture.

The two images below show decorated rim sherds from two ceramic vessels. The first is a hand-painted fragment of tin-glazed majolica (Puebla Blue on White), presumably a plate.

The second rim below is of Native American (presumably Apalachee) manufacture, probably from a jar or deep bowl form, with incised decoration and a ticked lip.

The heavy metal object below was found in the plowzone along with artifacts from both sawmill and mission-period artifacts; it's identity and function is presently unknown.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Rain, holidays, and site visits

Since our last post, excavations at Mission Escambe have been slowed considerably by the combination of rain days and the July 4th holiday today. Despite the bad weather, occasioned in part by the passage of Hurricane Alex far to the south, students have been able to get in a good amount of labwork, plus a couple of days of fieldwork since the 24th.

Continued excavations in the area of as many as three or more overlapping wall-trench structures have proved difficult to interpret, so work is proceeding very slowly using planned bisections as "windows" to see both the horizontal and vertical relationships between intersecting trenches, as well as potential posts within the trench fill (pictured above right is Rachel DeVan excavating one of the new trenches discovered this year). Just south of these structures, students also discovered a line of what appear to be four small postmolds from a possible fence line running east-west (see picture to left). Though there is not enough time left in our summer field season to expand additional units in this area, we hope to make a start at answering some of the many questions we have about this part of the site during the three weeks that remain.

On Thursday of last week, the Colonial Frontiers students and staff visited the Arcadia Mills field school site, and were treated to a tour by principal investigator John Phillips (pictured at right talking to students in the remains of the 19th-century textile mill). Students from both field schools had an opportunity to catch up after many weeks at their respective field sites, and Molino students were able to learn about the research progress made to date at Arcadia (pictured to left are students standing around the deep excavation block associated with a 19th-century residential area of the Arcadia site; Arcadia field director Melissa Timo, who continued the tour at the excavations, is front right). We were all extremely interested to see the progress at Arcadia, and to see the clear differences between Arcadia's upland soil deposits underlain by sand, and the riverine clay deposits underlying Mission Escambe. Students were also intrigued to see the range of 19th-century artifacts shown to them, including intact and nearly-intact patent medicine bottles and decorative molded clay pipe bowls. Many thanks are due to John Phillips, Melissa Timo, and all the other students and supervisors at Arcadia for their hospitality.

On Friday morning, the Arcadia students and staff returned the visit, though repeated downpours during previous days left our covered excavation units filled with water, requiring bailing. The pictures below show scenes from the day, including a video at the end showing the removal of charred corn cobs from a feature discovered the previous week.

Pictured below are views of two excavation blocks inundated by rain, including a view of the groundwater that flowed back into one unit after the plastic was removed (Linda Suzanne Borgen pictured bailing).

Below are images of each of our supervisors explaining their respective excavation units. First, Amelia Easterling discusses her crew's work in the Woodland-era deposits north of the main mission compound.

Next, John Krebs stands on remaining backfill from last year while he explains his crew's excavations along the wall-trench thought to be part of the cavalry barracks at Escambe.

Next, Danielle Dadiego shows Arcadia students her crew's work in the clay-capped multi-structure deposits south of the presumed barracks area.

Below, Patrick Johnson explains his crew's work in the isolated 18th-century midden deposit below the terrace, where a large, deep pit feature has begun to appear over the past days of excavation. The bottom of the unit was still wet from groundwater penetration, with the shovel test in the corner of the unit completely inundated.

Finally, the video below shows Danielle Dadiego carefully removing the in-situ charred corn cobs already photographed, mapped, and fully documented just north of the overlapping structures. By removing the cobs within the matrix of soil that originally surrounded them, we hope to preserve as much information as possible about these fragile objects. In the background, other students can be heard taking down the tarps covering the units at the end of the day.