Sunday, May 31, 2015

Progress despite the rains

Kelsey Bruno holds an iron implement she just excavated.
Two weeks into our 2015 field school, our crew continues to make steady progress, despite a number of delays and missed time due to rainy weather and saturated ground, along with the normal startup difficulties in getting our total station and new datums fully aligned with the existing site grid.  One excavation located along the bluff slope has been effectively halted due to soggy ground, but a nearby shovel test at the foot of the bluff on the surface of the lower terrace has already begun to produce evidence of the sawmill that burned down here in 1884, including an iron tool or machine part (pictured above) and a possible corner brace, along with brick fragments.  This shovel test should drop to the presumed floor level of the sawmill within a level or two, where previous probing with a steel rod suggests there may be a brick floor or other structural evidence.

Additional evidence for mill-era activity on the summit of the terrace where the mission had been located is also abundant as in previous years, including near-surface scatters of brick fragments, slag, charcoal, iron nails and other fragments, and late 19th-century glass and ceramics.
Notable finds this week include a heavy iron object that may be a tool or machine component (pictured to left), a distinctive brass fitting from an as-yet unidentified object or implement, and an intact cobalt blue Bromo-Seltzer bottle that appears to date between 1891 and 1907 (the latter two pictured below).

Bromo-Seltzer medicine bottle made in Baltimore between 1891-1907.

Brass fitting or fastener with decorative design on one side.

Three 1x2 m excavation units in the mission area of the terrace summit made good progress this week, including one unit that was begun in 2014 and will be finished this year with the excavation of its base into sterile clay subsoil beneath an unusual clay-lined pit feature that appears to date to the sawmill period, but which falls in line with a series of three posts just to the west that we believe might be a mission-era structure wall, perhaps even the long sought-after church.  Ongoing excavations in two units to the north have been laid in along the predicted southern and eastern wall lines of a possible Apalachee circular residential structure with a clay floor and hearth feature found last year (along with a possible roof-support post nearby).  These units are both capped to some extent by what now appear to be post-mission-era clay deposits, one of which is currently theorized to have been a logging skidway with two parallel trenches and evenly-spaced trenches traversing it, resulting from the placement of round logs in the ground to assist in the dragging of felled trees across the ground to the sawmill (perhaps the early 19th-century sawmill operated at some distance west by Thomas Cooper).  When the skid road was replaced by a short railroad line in the Reconstruction era, the logs seem to have been removed and the entire roadway covered with a layer of hard yellow clay to fill in the trenches.  Later, another layer of mottled gray clay was also deposited over and around the roadway in this vicinity, and the amount of charcoal, slag, coal, and small brick fragments here might possibly represent the location of the blacksmith's shop documented for Molino Mills, or it could also be associated with the railroad engine that transported wood to the main rail line to the east.  Pictures of these clay deposits are below.

Emma Dietrich excavates the northern edge of the yellow clay that intrudes on mission deposits here.

Clear stratigraphic relationship between dark modern humus, mottled gray clay below, and brown mission-era midden deposit below that.

Underneath these clay deposits are the intact 18th-century midden deposit associated with the possible Apalachee structure.  Students found several rimsherds of Mission Red pottery in one of these units this week, as well as an intact but battered small honey-colored chert gunflint (all pictured below).  Within a few days we hope to begin seeing whether there are postholes extending below this midden representing the predicted wall line of the Apalachee structure surrounding the hearth found last year.

"French-style" gunflint, probably pistol sized.

Rounded rimsherd of a Mission Red vessel, painted on both sides.

Flattened rimsherd of a different Mission Red vessel, also red on both sides.

Below are additional photos of fieldwork since our last blog update.  Stay tuned for more as we make further progress in Week 3.

Olivia shovel-shaves the midden at the floor of her level.

Darby works on cleaning up the base of the unit begun in 2014.

Jodi and Emma team up to sift.

Darby holds the stadia rod to take elevations; Jodi in background.

Tyler shovel-shaves sawmill-era deposits in her unit.

Kayla works to square up the base and walls of her shovel test at the base of the bluff.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

First Day Back

Our full 2015 PCF field school crew (and field-dog-of-the-day)
The summer field school season began to day at Molino, with a full crew, and lots of energy and enthusiasm, only mildly tempered by the claustrophobia-inducing swarms of hungry mosquitoes and early summer heat.  Joined by undergraduate students Kelsey Bruno, Sabrina Cummings, Darby Gorin, and Tyler Huggins, the full crew (pictured above) quickly set to finalizing our first three 1x2 meter excavation units, two positioned at the predicted outer walls of a possible circular 18th-century Apalachee residential structure surrounding a probable central hearth discovered last year, and another along the edge of a buried brick floor also found last year below the terrace in association with the 19th-century sawmill next to the mission site.  Students also got a start at re-excavating a backfilled unit-in-progress along the possible wall of a large structure that might be the long sought-after mission church, and a shovel test was staked in at the bluff base along the edge of the mill as well.

The day began with instruction and training sessions ranging from field note-taking to trowel-sharpening, and flat-shoveling to proper dirt-throwing, and our sights quickly turned to hammering in the final re-bar corner posts for our new units using triangulation in combination with our occasionally finicky total station laser transit.  Sandbags were filled using backfill from last year, and paperwork and bags were begun, and while only one unit actually broke ground by the end of the day, we count today as a successful start to our 2015 field season.  Pictures from today's work follow below.

Darby and Tyler practice sharpening their trowels.

Kayla focuses on balancing the total station prism.

Darby and Kelsey stake in a unit corner; also pictured are Emma, Sabrina, Tyler, and Jen.

Tyler and Kelsey string in a new unit.

Sabrina gets shovel-tossing right; also pictured, Tyler.

Kelsey nails shovel-tossing; Jodi also pictured.

Caroline and Sabrina get paperwork started for their new unit.

Darby puts the first dirt of the season in the screen for Olivia to sift; also pictured, Jen.

Friday, May 15, 2015

2015 Colonial Frontiers Field School Preparations

(L-R) Jen, Kayla, Jodi, Emily, Melissa, Caroline, Olivia, and Jillian
The stage is now set for the sixth Pensacola Colonial Frontiers archaeological field school, once again focusing on the mid-18th-century Mission San Joseph de Escambe, but this year including expanded fieldwork at the adjacent Reconstruction-era Molino Mills steam-powered sawmill (1866-1884), along with new shovel testing at a Second Spanish-era water-powered sawmill site farther south along the Escambia River, both of which are the respective thesis projects of this year's graduate field directors-in-training Melissa Maynard and Jillian Okray (pictured above).  Our supervisory crew also includes four additional returning members of last year's crew, graduate student site supervisor Jen Knutson, graduate student supervisors-in-training Olivia Pitts and Jodi Preston, and recently-graduated Kayla Rowe, along with two newcomers to the PCF field school, graduate student supervisors-in-training Emily Dietrich and Caroline Peacock. Dr. John Worth will once again serve as principal investigator.

This week the supervisory crew prepared equipment and paperwork for the field school starting next week, and made several visits to the site, including half a day today (Friday), clearing brush, raking excavation areas, re-establishing the site mapping grid (with the much-appreciated help of UWF Archaeology Institute research associate Jennifer Melcher, also a veteran of the first two field seasons at the mission), and staking in new excavation units.  While details will follow over the course of the next ten weeks of fieldwork, the pictures below show some of the activity from this week.

Melissa probes the lateral extent of a buried sawmill-era brick floor discovered last year.

Jennifer Melcher runs a training session on total station use; also pictured are Jodi, Olivia, Kayla, Caroline, and Emily.

Caroline holding the stadia rod for mapping.

Kayla makes good use of a machete.

Olivia after delivering more brush to the brush pile.

Staking in an excavation unit; (L-R) Jen K., Jillian, Jen M., Olivia, Jodi.

One of the mission's reptilian denizens, the Gulf Hammock Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta williamsi), climbing a tree.

In a curiously familiar moment, Dr. Worth tries to make friends with the snake.