Monday, June 6, 2011

Following leads

Despite high heat and humidity over the past few days, as well as a rainstorm last Friday which required bailing the units this morning, student crews are making solid progress in a number of excavation units, pushing downward in an effort to discover subsurface trenches and pits which will help us understand the layout and configuration of Mission Escambe's structures. One unit which may overlap a north-south trending wall trench filled with yellow clay produced a surprise in the form of an ash and charcoal-filled feature adjacent to the clay (above is Phillip Mayhair bisecting the feature). This feature may be the remains of a large (though shallow) burned post, or it may be a hearth or smudge pit, or something else entirely.

The long wall trench we have been following since 2009 seems to be coming to an end to the east, where there is as-yet no evidence of the trench continuing into our easternmost testpit. Careful exposure of the trench from the last unit it appeared in should allow us to delineate the probable corner, and will guide us in additional testing to determine the exact shape and size of what we presume to be the Spanish barracks (to right is Ralph Hosch excavating the feature eastward toward its likely terminus in the unit at the top of the picture).

To the west, a larger testpit opened south of the presumed western end of this wall trench has yet to encounter any evidence of the structure's western wall, so we will likely have to turn our attention northward to see if the corner discovered last year is the southwest corner instead of the northwest, as we had initially interpreted. With each bit of negative evidence, however, we narrow down our search for the clues to this large but maddeningly elusive colonial building.

Adjacent to this trench, a large (apparently) circular pit feature is carefully being excavated by levels into its dark, mottled fill (to left is Nick Simpson scraping the soil matrix around the feature on the left side of the unit). The pit seems to be getting narrower with depth, but it still dwarfs all other pits and postholes yet discovered at the site, so we are increasingly intrigued to learn its function. A large glass necklace bead was discovered in the matrix of this unit today (photo at bottom), probably providing further evidence of the Indian trade at this mission village.

To the south, we have also just opened a pair of units constituting a long slot trench we hope will expose the cross-section of as many as four mission-era wall trenches found just to the east in previous years. Unfortunately, this trench also falls between several fast-growing sweetgum trees, and the interwoven roots of these trees comprise a formidable barrier to the kind of slow, careful excavation we intend to conduct (photo to right). With the roots nearly all gone, we anticipate beginning to see evidence for mission-era structures soon.

Step by step, our 2011 summer field school team is following the leads that will provide at least some of the answers we seek at Mission Escambe this year.

Above, a large clear glass necklace bead, wire-wound and faceted, dating to ca. 1700-1800 and possibly made in Amsterdam but common on period Spanish colonial sites.

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