Saturday, July 2, 2011

Seven weeks down, three to go

Time is getting short in our 2011 field season, and our student crews are working hard to finish up their excavation units and reveal as much information as possible about Mission Escambe before we have to backfill in just three weeks. As can be seen in the image to the right, the yellow clay cap has just about disappeared the long slot trench in our southernmost excavation area, revealing (just as was expected) the clay-filled mouths of two wall trenches running east-west, both of which were first encountered in units to the east in 2009 and 2010. There also appears to be another unexpected surprise in the form of a probable wall trench running just west of due north, along the left side of the trench in this photo, cross-cutting both wall trenches (and probably another east-west trench which we should encounter a bit deeper just to the north). There is now a very real possibility that we have no fewer than four superimposed mission buildings in this small area, each on a different footprint, all capped by a sometimes thick layer of yellow clay (and a broader area of gray clay around it). Excavations in this unit will be easier without the clay, but slower now that features are being encountered.

The image to the left provides a good example of the complex nature of the Mission Escambe site. The overall soil profile in the wall shows a dark layer of humus and underlying 18th-century mission-era midden soil, grading into a lighter yellow and finally orange-yellow clay subsoil. Cross-cutting this vertically, however, is a late 19th century board drain trench filled with brick rubble, and below that (the dark bisect excavation in the floor of the unit) is a deeper pit feature probably dating to the prehistoric period. Since people have lived on and utilized this terrace location off and on for at least six millenia, each leaving traces of their activities on the site, we have to be extremely careful and meticulous as we peel back the layers of soil, noting the relationship between each horizontal layer and any vertical disturbances that cut through it, gradually piecing together a portrait of the sequence of events that led to the current configuration of the site. In large part for this reason, we are moving at what seems like a snail's pace in our excavations, gathering as much information as possible before moving forward in search of answers to our many and varied questions.

Below are more images of the past week of fieldwork.

Above, Lindsey Cochran balances high above the 2-meter-long slot trench using a ladder and tree branch (with Danielle Dadiego steadying the ladder) to take a full plan view photo of the unit at this level.

Ralph Hosch demonstrates flat-shoveling as participants in a statewide teacher workshop listen to Lindsey Cochran explaining the excavations in Area C.

Nick Simpson and Phillip Mayhair demonstrate "close quarters" archaeology as they excavate simultaneously in the bottom of a 1.0 x 1.5 meter excavation unit.

Alesia Hoyle, above, demonstrates another example of the awkward poses sometimes required during archaeological excavation in deep units.

Colin Bean with a precision GPS (Global Positioning System) unit designed to tie in the established site grid at Mission Escambe to global UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) coordinates in order to facilitate the use of GIS (Geographic Mapping Systems) software for mapping purposes. Yes, that's a lot of acronyms!

Ashley Geisel shows off a wrought iron nail with preserved wood that looks remarkably similar to the crucifix we have all been imagining finding one day at the mission.

Michelle Pigott shows another large nail with well-preserved remnants of the wood in which it was originally embedded.

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