Thursday, May 29, 2014

Summer rains and more progress

Kristin and Nicole troweling in Area C.

With a morning fieldwork rain delay and a drenching at the end of the day yesterday, and more rain forecast for today, the crew is taking the day for some local museum visitation while we hope for better weather tomorrow.  Our first two days on this Memorial Day week were productive, and we're finally beginning to push downward through the late 19th-century sawmill deposits into the remains of Mission Escambe.

A chert gunflint (?) fragment in Area C.
Our two units in Area C, the possible church/friary area, are making good progress, and the southernmost (above) is coming down on top of yet another clay layer, though as yet we don't know how or if it's related to the thick clay layers to the immediate north, which we have long suspected to be prepared structure floors.  This southern unit has also produced a chunk of what may be French-style gunflint chert, as well as a piece of porcelain that might be from the mission period (though it could be later).  Most of the mission-era debris actually underlies the clay caps, but there are some 18th-century materials on top of it, probably relating to the brief period of mission occupation after the 1760 construction project halted by an August 12 hurricane, and before the April 9, 1761 destruction of the mission in a raid by Alabama Indians (a subdivision of the Upper Creeks).

Chelsea, Jen, Katie, and Kayla photo-cleaning in Area E.
Ericha and Jodi photo cleaning the adjacent unit in Area E.
The units in Area E are both approaching the zone of yet another apparent floor deposit, this time one that showed surface burning and relatively abundant Spanish debris that suggests it might have been the barracks in the center of the stockaded compound at the mission after 1760.  These units, like all the rest, are struggling to get through the root zone just under the forest surface, and will likely progress somewhat more quickly once the deeper deposits are encountered.  Nonetheless, this area may represent the burned floor of a pivotal structure in the mission's history, and so the placement of artifacts and the configurations of floor layers and potential wall trenches will have to be excavated with great care in order to reveal as much as possible about this area of the pristine archaeological site.

Dr. Worth also staked in a new 1x2 meter unit and began excavations on Wednesday in the area to the east of the church/friary area, hoping to discover further evidence for the eastern curtain wall of the stockaded compound built by Spanish Engineer Phelipe Feringan Cortes in 1760.  We discovered its northeast corner and part of the eastern wall in 2012, but additional excavations are needed to discover how far south it extends, and this unit (in Area B) will provide us an opportunity to trace this fortification.

Cody cleans around a sawmill-era brick in the next shovel test.
Finally, our second shovel test once again penetrated the 1866 - 1884 Molino Mills deposits at the foot of the bluff where the mission is located.  Handmade brick chunks and abundant iron artifacts are appearing in the upper layers, and some sort of feature was discovered by the end of work on Wednesday, so further exploration there should be interesting.

On a final note, we've been getting "up close and personal" with some of the local reptilian life, and a few pictures of our neighbors at the site follow below.
A Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus) in some Chinese privet on the site.

Closeup of a Gray Rat Snake (Pantherophis spiloides) next to the screening station.

Dr. Worth decided to try a close encounter with the rat snake (both parted unharmed).

Saturday, May 24, 2014

One week down, nine to go.

Cody clears debris off the brick floor.
A snapshot of the cleaned brick floor on the bluff slope.
Students finished out their first four-day week at Mission Escambe today, having opened and made progress in four 1 x 2 meter excavation units and one 50 x 50 cm stratigraphic shovel test.  All units are still largely within the 19th-century sawmill deposits associated with Molino Mills (1866-1884), located immediately below the site on the lower terrace next to the Escambia River swamp.  The shovel test being excavated on the slope below the mission by Cody and Melissa gave us quite a surprise today, however, when it bottomed out on a laid brick floor about two meters below the upper terrace, and somewhat over a meter or so above the lower terrace where the mill was located.  This exact same kind of brick floor was discovered on the floor of the mill to the east in a previous field season, but at a lower elevation, on which the main floor of the sawmill seems to have been situated (and at the level of two machine foundations, one brick and one made of huge granite blocks, both with large iron screw anchors).  We don't know what this upper floor was used for, but the amount of burned debris immediately on the surface of the brick floor dates it to the 1884 fire that destroyed Molino Mills.

Jodi pauses from flat shoveling.
The rest of the excavation units are steadily pushing downward toward their respective goals, including two units in Area C designed to find evidence for two parallel wall-trenches discovered in 2012, believed to have been part of the same structure, with a width of 7.5 meters on the east-west axis.  Two other units in Area E are laid in around last season's discovery of a shallow burned clay floor in a rich midden deposit with a higher density of Spanish debris than found in any other area of the site so far.  We hope to discover whether the clay floor is associated with some sort of mission structure, and to that end we hope we will find one or more wall trenches below the midden in these units (along with further artifactual evidence for the function of this central area of the site).

We now have all areas of the site set up for our summer field school, including several dry-screening areas and a waterscreening station as in previous years.  The pictures below show a range of activities this week, all of which will resume next Tuesday after the well-deserved Memorial Day break (thanks to Jen Knutson for sharing some of her candid pictures, supplementing Dr. Worth's images).

Kayla and Kandiss flat-shovel their root-filled units.
Nicole and Kristin work on shovel-tossing dirt from their unit while Jillian trims roots.
Melissa and Cody take depth measurements in their shovel test.

Jen cuts roots while Kayla and Chelsea work on cleaning up walls.

Ericha looks on while Kandiss and Michelle straightening unit walls.
Kristin and Nicole work on keeping up their all-important fieldbooks.
Melodi and Olivia dry-screen dirt from their unit.
Cody and Melissa inspect waterscreening results from their shovel test.
Lunchtime at the Molino fairgrounds, with Jodi, Kristin, Nicole, Dr. Worth, and Kandiss.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

2014 Fieldwork Begins

The complete student crew on the first morning.
Under a blue sky and warm late spring weather, UWF's 2014 Colonial Frontiers field school got off to a great start today, with a full crew.  Pictured to right are (back row): Michelle Pigott (field director), Kristin Parrish, Olivia Pitts, Melissa Poppy, Melodi Hacker, Cody James (student supervisor), Jodi Preston, Nicole Capitano, Kandiss Campbell, Katie Brewer (site supervisor), Jen Knutson (student supervisor), Jillian Utter (student supervisor), Ericha Sappington (student supervisor), (front row) Melissa Maynard (student supervisor), Chelsea Randall, and Kayla Rowe.  Today's work included instruction in trowel sharpening, flat shoveling, laying in and stringing excavation units, field paperwork, and general site clearing and other equipment setup.  Tomorrow we plan to begin four new excavation units and one new shovel test, and hopefully Mission Escambe will begin to yield up more of its secrets to us in our fifth year of fieldwork.

Cody demonstrates trowel sharpening technique.
Melodi and Nicole work on their trowels.
Ericha demonstrates flat shoveling.
Melissa demonstrates problem-solving in fieldwork.

Jillian demonstrates checking unit measurements.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Field prep completed for 2014 field school next week

Today's field day at Mission Escambe was positively gorgeous, with comparatively cool spring temperatures, pleasant breezes, and a clear blue sky.  While nonetheless dodging mosquitoes and an amazingly lush and abundant growth of poison ivy at the site, our hard working supervisory team spent the day delivering a trailer-full (and van-full) of equipment to the site, clearing more growth, re-establishing the mapping grid for the site, and laying in new excavation units to be begun next Tuesday when the rest of the field crew arrives to begin our 10-week 2014 Pensacola Colonial Frontiers field school.  The student team consisted of field director Michelle Pigott and grad student supervisors-in-training Jen Knutson, Melissa Maynard, Ericha Sappington, and Jillian Utter (Cody James will also join us next week after the underwater training week for the maritime field school this week), along with principal investigator John Worth.  While recent rains have swollen the Escambia River (see picture below), the site is in great shape, and we anticipate a great field season this year, hopefully to include answers to several outstanding questions about Mission Escambe.  Pictures of today's fieldwork are below; keep an eye out for next week's posts as we begin to explore the past in earnest.

Michelle reviews the total station with the crew.

Jillian aims the total station at the stadia rod (Jen and Ericha in background).

Michelle and Jillian working with the wireless data collector for the total station.

The entire student crew in front of the packed trailer, ready for next week.

The boat ramp at Molino, completely inundated by the Escambia River.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Preparations begin for 2014 Pensacola Colonial Frontiers field school

Less than a week remains before the UWF summer archaeology field school season officially begins, and preparations have shifted into high gear this week.  Field director Michelle Pigott and four of our grad student supervisors spent the first couple of days organizing paperwork and gathering equipment for our 10-week field season at Mission Escambe.  Tomorrow is our first setup day on site, but the pictures below show some of the preparations so far.

Planning excavation strategies (L-R: Melissa, Ericha, Jen, Jillian, and Michelle).
Checking out equipment (L-R: Jackie Rodgers, Ericha, Jen, Melissa, and Kelsey McGuire)

Jen, Ericha, and Jillian starting to load the van.