Friday, October 3, 2014

Field School Wrapup and Beyond

A group picture of our crew at the end of the 2014 field school.
The 2014 Pensacola Colonial Frontiers field school at Mission Escambe is now history, but work continues on our finds from the summer.  In addition to posting a few shots of our intrepid crew during the final week of fieldwork and backfilling at the end of July (below), this post details recent work on the small Apalachee jar that was excavated at the site in July.

Dr. Worth carefully positions the jar with dirt still inside.
The fractured vessel was removed whole, with all the original sediment within it still adhering to the vessel fragments on the outside.  In September, the jar was x-rayed in the UWF archaeological conservation lab, providing for the first time a glimpse of the walls of the jar, which were clearly somewhat less complete than we had originally believed in the field.  Nonetheless, the partial vessel had been discarded facing down in a pit excavated for a posthole, thus providing an unusually enclosed and protected environment for the interior of the pot, and the midden sediments that eventually settled there after burial.  For this reason, the final excavation of these sediments, and the separation of the vessel fragments from the cast of the interior of the vessel, was done in such a way as to maximize the possibility for residue and sediment testing, a project currently being pursued by graduate student Jen Knutsen.

Michelle and Jen watch Dr. Bratten as the image is captured.
 The pictures on this blog post detail both the x-ray process and the cleaning of the jar, leading to the exposure and cleaning of all the large fragments that had originally been deposited together in the partially-intact vessel.  We will update the progress on this and other labwork through the year as we continue to try and learn more about the residents of Mission Escambe following five field seasons of archaeological work there, for which we continue to be grateful to Richard Marlow and his family for their hospitality and welcome.

Dr. Bratten observing one of the full x-ray images of the jar.
An x-ray of the still-assembled jar and sediments within, showing the vessel profile clearly.

Michelle carefully cleans the dirt adhering to the vessel fragments.

One of the larger basal fragments comes free from the dirt inside.

Jen continues cleaning the dirt, catching the contents in a bowl for later analysis.

A large fragment of the upper shoulder and flaring rim of the jar.
Cleaned fragments of the small brushed jar.
 The pictures below were taken during our final week in the field during late July.
The trench in Area E half-filled with backdirt (and lined with landscape cloth).
Chelsea pours backdirt into a completed unit in Area G.

Mr. Marlow uses a tractor and front end loader to dump backdirt right in the wheelbarrows.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hearths, posts, and trenches; final weeks in the field.

We have entered the final week of the 2014 Colonial Frontiers field school, and although we haven't made a blog post in a while, the students and crew have been busily working to continue and wrap up their excavations at Mission Escambe before the close of field season this Friday, not to mention a one-day trip to do shovel testing at yet another site near Mystic Springs to the north of Molino.  Rain delays this week are only making things even more challenging, but the photo essay below will provide a visual summary of all the work that has been accomplished and discoveries made. 

Melissa scrapes soil off the Area G clay hearth.
In overview, two of our excavation areas have now produced remarkably similar evidence for burned clay hearth areas and rich debris-filled midden deposits, as well as deep postholes that may represent roof supports for the potential Apalachee structures in which the hearths were originally located.  While the first hearth, first discovered in 2012 in Area E, seems to have been cleaned prior to being capped with additional clay and earth, the new hearth in Area G is associated with considerable deposits of charcoal and abundant bits of charred animal bone, presumably associated with cooking activities.  We are still gathering as much evidence as possible so that we can better understand the context of these important features.

A sawmill-era pit feature in Area C.
Area C has produced a line of three very deep postholes running east-west across our first unit in the southern part of this area (an earlier unit was backfilled after completion to the north), but a unit placed just to the south and east of this line of posts produced an unexpected clay-ringed pit feature that seems to date to the sawmill era of the late 19th-century, inasmuch as a brick chunk was found underneath the clay rim.  Excavations in these units are on hold this week after substantial weekend rains caused the water table to rise underneath our plastic tarps, making it impossible to continue excavations until the units dry out.

Katie excavates the stockade trench in sections in Area H.
Area H continues to be excavated through a series of overlapping wall trenches, starting with the 50 cm-wide stockade trench cross-cutting the yellow clay cap layer that overlies other wall trenches running east-west and north-south.  The similarity of these criss-crossing trenches to earlier excavations in Area C is unmistakeable, and we have yet to settle on an even remotely definitive conclusion as to what these features mean.

A view of the idyllic swamp bottom surrounding Mystic Springs.
Finally, excavations last Friday at Mystic Springs revealed at the very least evidence for prehistoric Native American occupation on an erosional remnant overlooking the cypress-tupelo swamp bottom adjacent to the Escambia River in this vicinity, but showers prompted an early close to excavations, so that project is on hold until we can bring a volunteer crew back later in the summer.

Additional photos of all these activities are below.

One of the deep posts adjacent to the Area E hearth.

Jodi and Chelsea working on backfilling their first unit in Area C.

Kristin, Jen, Melodi, and Chelsea laying in a new unit in Area G.

Kristin excavating in Area G.

Jen explaining Area G excavations to members of the Pensacola Archaeological Society.

Jillian showing Area C to the PAS visitors.

Ericha explaining Area E excavations to the PAS visitors.
Several mendable sherds of Puebla Blue on White majolica from Area E.
Polychrome majolica sherds from Area E.
An aboriginal pipe stem fragment from Area E.

Kristin, Melissa, Olivia, and Jen beginning a shovel test at Mystic Springs.

Melissa, Melodi, and Chelsea at Mystic Springs.

Kayla, Jodi, and Jillian at Mystic Springs.

Melissa, Jen, Kristin, and Olivia completing a shovel test at Mystic Springs.

Jillian setting up for a final photo of a shovel test at Mystic Springs.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

An amazing find today

Kandiss and Michelle when pot was first found.
While there is much more to report and more pictures to share, one discovery today deserves its own post (and the video at the bottom of this post).  In Area G today, during the excavation of the rich midden deposit beneath the clay floor/cap layer, undergraduate student Kandiss Cambell made a completely unexpected discovery in the form of a small whole Apalachee pot.  While potsherds both small and large are commonly found while shovel scraping the midden deposits, Kandiss' careful and attentive work revealed that the pottery fragment she barely scraped with her shovel was much larger than any yet found at Mission Escambe, and in fact turned out to be a nearly complete small flaring rim jar apparently discarded two and a half centuries ago because a small portion of its lip had broken off. 
Jen Knutson pauses from excavating the jar.
Careful examination of the soil stains at this level revealed no discernible pit outlines within which the pot might have been buried, but it was close enough to an adjacent large posthole pit outline that it may have been associated with backfilling that posthole.  Another alternative is that the pot was broken within a residential structure that burned, and was subsequently buried with fill dirt and capped with clay (which would account for the abundant charcoal and charred bone fragments in this layer). 

 Although we will explore the area around the jar tomorrow in order to learn more about its context and the circumstances of its deposition, the vessel was removed and transported to the lab in order to ensure that impending rain this afternoon did not damage it. 
The excavated jar in situ nearly ready to be removed.
We hope to be able to excavate the contents of the vessel under controlled conditions in the lab so that we may find evidence for its original contents and/or use, potentially exploring chemical residues inside the vessel, as well as any pollen grains or plant phytoliths that might have survived inside the protected conditions of the jar.

Videos of the excavation of the pot have been compiled together in the link below.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Week seven update

Excavating a rich midden in Area G.
It's been more than a week since our last update, not due to lack of good progress or finds, but mostly due to the often overwhelming heat and humidity we've been experiencing out at Molino since the midpoint of our 10-week excavation season.  Much of our interpretation of architectural features and other artifact and stratigraphic data is still in development, though at this point it seems certain that the excavation units in Area E are associated with a clay-floored structure with abundant residential debris and a possible central hearth, while our newest unit in Area G is also penetrating a rich residential midden deposit with substantial amounts of charred wood, burned clay, and mission-era artifacts, possibly pointing to a burned structure.  The units in Area H are definitely associated with a thick yellow-clay "floor" deposit apparently overlying probable intersecting wall trenches (just as in Area C), and cross-cut by the 1760 stockade trench, currently being excavated.  The northern unit in Area C is now finished down to sterile subsoil (having penetrated a sawmill-era trash-filled trench or basin, possibly a borrow pit, as well as a mission-era corncob smudge pit), and a new unit was opened yesterday next to the southernmost unit in Area C, where a line of three apparent large, deep postholes paralleling a higher wall trench may indicate the presence of a large single-post structure here at the highest level area of the site.

In subsequent posts, we will doubtless focus in on interpretations of all these structural features and activity areas, but in the meantime, photos have been accumulating, which are presented below in the form of an informal photo essay.

Melodi, Kayla, and Jillian enjoying simultaneous work on a line of three posthole features (picture by Ericha Sappington).

Jodi taking a profile photo of the finished unit in Area C, showing the subsoil overlain by mission-era midden and a sawmill-era trench cutting through it.
A light moment in Area G, with Jillian, Katie, Jen, and Michelle.

Jodi and Chelsey working on profiles in Area C.

Michelle, Katie, and Jillian hard at work keeping up with paperwork.

Chelsea cleaning up loose dirt after profile cleaning.

Melissa at the newest unit in Block 5 in Area E, opened in search of a possible wall line extending south.

Kayla works on profiling one of three deep posthole pits lining up under a wall trench in Area C.

Michelle explains Block 5 excavations to visiting UWF students and staff from the Arcadia field school.

Ericha carefully excavates the north half of the burned clay hearth feature in Area E.

Nicole cleaning the floor of the new unit in Area E.
Dr. Worth, Kayla, and volunteer Michael Okray (Jillian's husband) in Area C (picture by Melissa Maynard).

Kristin and Michelle work on the newest unit in Area H, while Melissa holds the stadia rod to take elevations.
Nicole gengly brushing away dirt from a new find of majolica in Area E.

The same sherd after excavation, the waisted base of a small taza or pocillo.
A classic example of Ocmulgee Fields style incision on a carinated bowl.

A pinched rimstrip from a flaring rim jar.

An extraordinarily well-made piece of Mission Red Filmed pottery.

Wonderful layout of food brought for our annual holiday lunch cookout; thanks to all students for making this such a tasty break from normal field lunches.

Visiting UNF student volunteer Amberly Aldridge, with Jillian and Michael (picture by Ericha Sappington).

Melissa and Jen starting in on the food (picture by Ericha Sappington).
Dr. Worth serving home-brewed "black drink" (cassina tea) to Amberly (picture by Ericha Sappington).

Cooking hotdogs at the Molino boat ramp (picture by Ericha Sappington).
Dr. Worth interacting with the local wildlife again (picture by Kayla Rowe).