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.

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