Monday, June 13, 2011

Mill and mission

Over the past few days, student teams have been making steady progress, and more discoveries. One of the most important regards the clarification of the function and date of the brick-filled trench discovered in 2010, and which we have been exploring this year. A total of five bricks marked with the "J. GONZALEZ" imprint were ultimately found in the section of the trench opened this year, confirming that the bricks were 19th-century in age, and probably associated with the nearby ruins of Molino Mills (1866-1884), currently under investigation by UWF graduate student Joe Grinnan (see below). Today, the central lower section of this trench was excavated into the layer which produced paired rows of nails last year, and which resulted in the same pattern this year (picture above, showing nails in place). Evidence continues to build that this trench represents the remains of what was variously called a "board drain" or "underdrain" during the 19th century, through which water flowed through a square or triangular board-lined channel buried in a narrow trench at the bottom of a wider trench filled with stones or similar rubble.

Until recently, however, we could find no particular reason for this board drain, but last Friday we were surprised to find that the substantial subsurface disturbance associated with a large depression on the surface of the ground was most likely a well upslope at the head of this drain feature. As can be seen in the picture to the left, we cored the soil in this rectangular pit down to a depth of nearly a meter, finding what appears to be layers of water-lain sand at this depth. Whether this pit was an open well, or surrounded an as-yet undiscovered pipe driven to make an artesian well, we now suspect that the well and the drain feature were both constructed as part of the 19th-century sawmill operation downslope at the site, perhaps bringing water for the operation of the steam engine.

In this connection, last week also saw two days of fieldwork by students from the UWF maritime archaeological field school, under the supervision of Joe Grinnan (pictured at right explaining ongoing fieldwork to our terrestrial students at Molino). Two teams mapped both underwater and terrestrial remnants of the pilings and trough features associated with the 19th-century Molino Mills sawmill operation along the Escambia River. We were excited to see ongoing work relating to a second research project at this same location in Molino, especially since it underlined the importance of this landform throughout human history in this region. Details about the fieldwork can be found on the weekly video blog of the UWF Maritime Field School, entitled "Bend in the River: The Molino Mills Project" on YouTube (which includes some video shots of our terrestrial student crews at work).

Ongoing excavations in the 18th-century mission-period deposits at Escambe are revealing more enticing clues as to the structures and activity areas at the site. To left is the cleaned surface of an orange-yellow clay cap layer bounded to the north and south by gray clay and underlying midden, exposed over the past few days. This clay layer corresponds well to a similar deposit just east of this trench excavated in 2009 and 2010, under which were the traces of overlapping wall trenches from at least three mission-era buildings. We hope further excavation here will provide important evidence for the size and configuration of these structures, and how (if at all) they relate to the final clay cap layers.

Other areas of the excavation are providing some surprises, including the discovery of a posthole filled with more than a dozen sherds of Apalachee pottery, possibly discarded there when the post was pulled up and backfilled (see picture to right, with three sherds still in place). Many of these sherds belong to the same vessel, though there are several others as well.

Below are additional shots from the site during the past few days.

Above, Norma Harris and Michelle Pigott practice their shovel-toss (note perfectly formed shovelful of dirt caught leaving Norma's shovel).

Above, an unusual glass necklace bead discovered today, probably an 18th-century "melon bead."

A view of the same bead backlit with sunlight, showing its translucent cobalt blue color.

Colin Bean with his Area B mascot, "Bert the Beetle" (who made a brief appearance this morning before returning to his normal life).

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