Friday, May 28, 2010

Two weeks down, eight to go

Today students wrapped up the second week of field school under typical summer conditions: sunny, hot, humid, and buggy. Two of our most recent shovel tests to the east of the primary mission deposits were finished and backfilled today, and both produced at least some evidence of mission-era Apalachee pottery, including a very good example of the type Ocmulgee Fields Incised, with remnants of a pendant loop below three parallel lines (photo to right). This type, traditionally associated with Creek Indians in middle and western Georgia and east-central Alabama, was apparently picked up by Apalachee expatriates who lived among the Creek during the period from 1704-1718, and added to the existing assemblage of Apalachee wares.

The two units completed today were both along the easternmost margins of the terrace on which the site is located, and may represent marginal areas of the site. Nevertheless, one test produced evidence for a compacted sandy layer that may represent a structure floor, despite the sparse collection of artifacts from this area (pictured on left at this unit are Mark Vadas, Sydney DePalma, Danielle Dadiego, and Cody Poitevint).

We would also like to take this opportunity to express our considerable gratitude to Boyett's Septic Tank & Vacuum Pumping for the portable toilet and sink setup which they have provided for our student field crew this year. This is a real help to our field school, and makes daily life in the field a lot more convenient.


Over the past couple of days, student crews have continued to excavate shovel tests to the north of the primary mission site, filling in the gap between the northernmost 18th-century midden deposit discovered late last week and the main site to the south. Several of these units fall within the modern floodplain, and one was placed in an area near fill deposits that were placed decades ago, extending higher ground as far as the riverbank. As can be seen in the photo to the right (pictured is Tonya Chandler), the uppermost layers of modern fill turned out to be underlain by an original ground surface that is characterized by a dark, organically-rich soil layer that appears to be a buried midden, but which produced only a single tiny shard of olive green glass.

In order to explore this deposit in broader context (and see what the underlying deposits looked like), we moved a few meters away to the edge of an old water-filled channel that had been cut all the way to the river, and cut a fresh profile roughly a couple of meters long along the upper bank (see photo to left; pictured is Jennifer Melcher). This profile showed us that the dark layer was underlain by light-colored sand and clay deposits probably dating to late in the Ice Age (much more recent than the bluff-top deposits where the mission site is located), and in fact these deposits were later found at the bottom of the shovel test above.

On Thursday three new shovel tests were finally set in to the east of the last line of tests excavated last year in the heart of the mission site. Given the extremely thick vegetation in this area, and the undulating topography along the steeper erosional edge of the high terrace above the second bottoms in this area, these units were located using a Global Positioning System (GPS) unit, combined with on-the-ground pacing from and between known shovel tests to the west (pictured at right is Jennifer Melcher taking GPS readings under the shadowy forest canopy). The area is full of poison ivy and mosquitoes, not to mention entangling vines and brush, but the two units were ultimately placed along the eastern edge of the high bluff, with a third located below the bluff in the midst of a vast field of broken bricks associated with the 19th-century steam-powered mill at Molino.

Two of these tests were opened late in the day, and will be explored further on Friday (pictured at left are Hallie Johnson and Morgan Wampler cutting roots).

A number of our recent shovel tests along the gentle slope to the north of the mission site have produced almost no cultural materials, and have come down on dense alluvial clay deposits that are virtually un-screenable without water. Below is a video of Tonya Chandler and Cody Poitevint using the waterscreening station to screen buckets of excavated clay.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Exploring new mission-era deposits

In the first two days of our second week of field school, we have already begun to explore last week's discovery of mission-era archaeological deposits some 60 meters north of what we previously thought to be the edge of the mission site, and at the foot of the slope below the Molino terrace (see photo of shovel test in progress to right). Below a layer of recent brick and other sawmill-era artifacts, a dark, thick midden layer with 18th-century Native American pottery identical to that found in the mission was discovered, and below this midden deposit (shell and sand tempered brushed sherd to right) was a complicated assortment of soil stains that faded into an underlying soil horizon. This deeper layer now shows possible evidence of multiple posthole stains, possibly associated with a mission-era structure, and more extensive exploration of this area will be undertaken soon.

Other shovel tests in the vicinity have also produced mission-era Native American ceramics, though one somewhat higher along the slope to the south seem to represent disturbed deposits (pictured in photo to left are Norma Harris and Jennifer Melcher inspecting the test, along with Amelia Easterling, Sara Smiddie, and Hallie Johnson; in background are Danielle Dadiego, Linda Suzanne Borgen, and Linda Geary). Further excavations in this unit should allow us to determine whether or not the potsherds found here are associated with any intact occupational layers beneath.

Other tests are also being excavated, including several located in the "second bottoms" of the modern floodplain, which we have yet to test extensively. Though mill period debris is common in higher layers, we have high hopes that there may be underlying deposits relating to the mission era or earlier (pictured in photo to right are Patrick Johnson, Matt Tanner, and Lee Ann Wayland).

The weather has been generally clear and hot through midday, and adapting to these conditions has been quite a challenge for students, who sometimes take a catnap in the shade after lunch before returning to fieldwork (see photo). On Tuesday, however, fast-building clouds ultimately drenched the site (and students) by early afternoon, and so with more clouds on the way (note stormclouds below), we elected to make it a short day and return to dryer conditions.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A great first week

Today students wrapped up their first week of field school. All in all it was a very productive week, although much of what we learned for the project was negative evidence (in other words, where mission-period occupation was NOT located). Two lines of shovel tests to the west of the mission site discovered last year turned out to contain no evidence for Native American habitation from any period, nor any other traces of Mission San Joseph (pictured at right are Morgan Wampler, Amelia Easterling, Lee Ann Wayland, Sara Smiddie, and Hallie Johnson). It now seems that most of the mission occupation is more concentrated toward the edge of the terrace, overlooking the modern swamp bottom.

Just today, however, we discovered our first positive traces of mission occupation to the north of the site area we tested and explored last year, beneath bricks and other debris from the sawmill era (pictured at left is Linda Geary). Based in part on the 1771 Taitt map, which shows the ruins of the mission site slightly downriver from the bluff landing, this year we have pushed our shovel test lines northward in order to determine whether or not the Escambe pueblo extended along the terrace margin toward the landing. Moreover, since most of the prehistoric Woodland occupation seems to be concentrated in this same area, we hope to discover whether or not this earlier inhabitation of the site was more extensive than previously thought. While most of the tests we have opened in the last few days to the north of the mission site have turned out negative, today one crew encountered what is either a rich buried midden deposit (soil turned dark by organic debris) or some sort of pit feature with mission-era debris, including 18th-century Native American pottery. One sherd (shown here, held by Norma Harris) appears to be red-filmed, and is thus very likely to be associated with Mission Escambe. This shovel test is actually located at the foot of the terrace slope, close to the low "second bottoms" terrace within the modern floodplain, and so at this point it represents a departure from our previous excavations on the high summit of the Molino terrace.

On Monday, what remains of this feature will be excavated in order to learn more about its nature (see dark midden deposit to left; pictured is Becca Booker), and additional shovel tests will be opened just south of this area, where students cleared a line through the thick brush on Friday. In this way, we should be able to determine whether these mission deposits "connect" with the main site upslope and southward, or if they are something else isolated from the core of the Escambe pueblo.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

First day of 2010 field school

The weather was clear, hot, and humid for our first day with a full complement of students (right) in the field at Mission Escambe on Tuesday. Four teams of students with supervisors began work in several areas, including two excavating shovel tests to the immediate west of the mission site, one team clearing a line through the woods for yet another line of shovel tests to the east, and a final team using the total station to set up new datum points and sight in six additional shovel test locations (which we'll be excavating over the next week). Apart from learning about the various techniques of field archaeology (many for the first time), the students experienced firsthand the field conditions that make sunscreen, bugspray, bandaids, and (most of all) water necessary. Below are an assortment of photos and videos of the day's work.

First, our first two shovel test locations, both of which appear to contain only modern debris.

Second, Hallie Johnson and Amelia Easterling gridding out a new shovel test.

Next, John Krebs, Linda Suzanne Borgen, and Becca Booker taking measurements using the total station, with Linda Geary and Allen Wilson holding the prism in the distance.

Cody Poitevint, Danielle Dadiego, and Mark Vadas setting up the photo board for documentation of the shovel test prior to excavation.

Sara Smiddie and Sydney DePalma screening excavated dirt.

Cody Poitevint clipping large roots with Danielle Dadiego looking on, and Tonya Chandler screening.

Hallie Johnson measuring shovel test depths, with Norma Harris looking on and Rachel DeVan in background.

Students lined up at the water cooler; in picture are Linda Suzanne Borgen, Danielle Dadiego, Matt Tanner, Norma Harris, Jennifer Melcher, and Mark Vadas.

Finally, video of Heather Puhl using a machete to cut brush, with Lee Ann Wayland and Patrick Johnson dragging brush out of the woods, and Matt Tanner in the background.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Preparations continue for start of field school next week

Today the supervisory crew for the Pensacola Colonial Frontiers 2010 field school spent their first entire day at the Escambe mission site, and worked many long hours to re-establish the site grid using the total station and previously-mapped datum points from last year's dig. The weather was clear, if a bit hot in the afternoon, though regular breezes kept conditions on the pleasant side overall. Unfortunately, the total station proved remarkably stubborn, and after a morning on the mission site itself, we had to move back to our original site datum (a permanent brass marker with known elevation) and work our way slowly back across an open field toward the site. After many tries, the crew was finally able to re-establish the mapping grid for the site, and we spent the rest of the afternoon working our way toward the mission. Now that this task has been accomplished, we will be able to lay in new shovel test units for next week's start of field school.

On another front, rapid success was experienced in our first attempt to bring water from a flowing artesian well to a location near the edge of the site where we plan to conduct waterscreening for specific samples from the site where fine-screening will be necessary (and which would be virtually impossible with dry-screening the clayey soils). The video below shows the moment when the water finally made its way through several long sections of fire hose and began flowing at the waterscreening location. We are very grateful to the site's owner for his considerable help in bringing water to the site.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Preparing for the 2010 field school

UWF students and volunteers took to the field again this past April at Mission San Joseph de Escambe in Molino, Florida. Wielding machetes and even a chainsaw, they took advantage of clearer conditions at the beginning of spring growth to do a bit of clearing of thick undergrowth around last year's excavation units. This year, beginning on May 18, we plan to expand on several of last year's units, and so early clearing makes it easier to lay in new units and utilize remote sensing to guide our work once we get started with a full student field crew.

As can be seen in the video below, small-diameter brush was cleared, leaving larger trees such as sweetgum and oak to maintain the forest canopy above. The students added fresh cuttings to the pile originally started by the landowner earlier in the spring, resulting in a truly huge pile of brush (above).

We will begin posting new blog entries as the project gets underway this month, but we also plan to leave last year's blog entries intact, so visitors can get a feel for the process of discovery that led to this year's project.