In archaeology there are several methods of collecting and processing data and a lot of them can be performed in the lab. Sometimes, however, there is a need to do what is called flotation (click on this link to see a short video of flotation using a commercially-made tank); this is when a sample is put into a deep screen which sits inside a tank that is being pumped with water from below the screen.
Flotation tank set-up (photo by Abigail Hyndman).
As the water flows, the sample gets stirred and swished by an archaeologist
Archaeology stew (photo by Abigail Hyndman).
and the light “fraction” (artifacts and particles that float) floats to the top of the screen and spills out a spout onto a smaller screen along with the water that has overflowed.
Water pouring out of spout (photo by Abigail Hyndman).
This leaves us with all of the tiny artifacts on one screen (light fraction), and all the larger and heavier artifacts still in the big screen (heavy fraction). The reason why we do this process is so that we can be sure that we’re seeing things as small as seeds or tiny bits of charcoal within a sample. These things are often washed or screened away without the use of the flotation tank.
Right now, MTSU Anthropology majors Mimi Glass and I (Abigail) are working on using this method on samples from last summer’s excavations at Site 40DV7. When we started there were over fifty samples that needed to be processed and now we are close to being finished. Within these samples we’ve seen a lot of charcoal, tiny pieces of shell, small lithics, and even some small bone fragments. It’s dirty work but very rewarding as you watch a big bag of dirt turn into small archaeological finds that will yield big data!
Guest post by Abigail Hyndman
(Many thanks to the Tennessee Division of Archaeology for allowing us to use their flotation equipment!)
As a graduate of two Florida institutions of higher education holding a BA, MA, and PhD in Anthropology, the grassroots This Is Anthropology movement caught my attention early on. I congratulate Jason Miller, Charlotte Noble, and Janelle Christensen for starting this project, but more importantly for turning passionate disbelief and at times, I imagine, anger, into something positive and educational. I am also pleased that the American Anthropological Association understands the importance of sharing the good work of Anthropologists to a public that does not always know what Anthropologists “do,” much less why Anthropology is an integral part of our society.
If you are an Anthropologist, please add your profile to the “Find an Anthropologist” map. Help spread the word via Twitter #thisisanthro.
The website is quickly becoming the go-to place for information related to the field of Anthropology. If you are interested in becoming an Anthropologist, or just want to read more about the many different ways we practice Anthropology, you can search the interactive Google map of Anthropologists and projects from around the world, read about the skills necessary to perform fieldwork, the kinds of jobs we are hired for, and find advice on beginning a career in Anthropology.
With that being said, the blog post below is re-posted from Neuroanthropology on the PLOS Blogroll.
This Is Anthropology.
Today was our last day in the field. It was a good day. As I watched the wheelbarrows, shovels, and tractor bucket swiftly carry the dirt back to the excavation units I felt happy and satisfied with our work of the preceding seven weeks. We accomplished what we set out to do. The fieldwork could not have gone smoother. We met some very generous and kind people along the way and caught up with old friends. We are left with a load of data to analyze, sort through, and ponder. What more could any scientist ask for?
I think some of the students were a bit sad. I remember that feeling after my first field school. You grow close to a group of people, you get used to seeing them everyday, and then bam! you are left with a lot of free time as everyone parts ways. Most, if not all, will renew these friendships in late August when the fall semester starts up at MTSU. This group of students was wonderful. I told them I don’t think I have ever worked with a more agreeable bunch and I would be pleased to work with all of them again in the future. That says a lot!
We close this week with some fun facts and statistics from this season (but be sure to check back in July — we will be blogging from the lab):
- We hand excavated 33.435 cubic meters of dirt and rock from 109 bucket auger tests, 8 excavation units, and 2 column samples.
- We recorded over 245 field specimens.
- We used just about 250 50-lb feed bags for sample collection.
- We hand excavated the deepest auger test ever recorded for the Cumberland River (it’s over 9 meters deep!).
- On June 1, it was cold enough that we had to wear jackets the entire day.
- On June 28 it reached a record 108 ° F (without the heat index)!
- We slathered and sprayed on a collective 19 tubes and 16 cans of sunscreen, and 18 cans of bug spray.
- At least 17 tubes of lip balm were on site at any given time.
- Our water coolers hosted a total of 90 bags of ice over the 32 days we were on-site.
- We consumed a cumulative 90 Sonic large iced teas; 30 Red Bulls; 17 microbrew sodas; over 200 quarts of Gatorade/Powerade/Vitamin Water; and around 450 gallons of water.
- We commuted a total of 3,150 miles from campus to the site over the 7 weeks.
MCAP Field School 2012 enjoys the front porch at Cracker Barrel post-backfilling.
Today we began the several-day long process of closing up the site. We have some documentation to finish, but we now have three units officially backfilled. Backfilling is always bittersweet.
You spend weeks carefully excavating a square area in very small increments. . .
Dr. Peres collecting some final samples before the unit is backfilled.
only to throw all the dirt back in in a matter of an hour or so.
Backfilling in progress.
There is much more of this in our very near future! We are looking forward to slightly cooler temps tomorrow (high of 87 instead of 97) and the closing up of several more units.
In the meantime, here is a honey bee doing its thing in my backyard over the weekend.
Bee on sunflower.
There are only 4 field days left to our field school, but that doesn’t mean we get to sit in the shade and eat ice cream for the next week! This week we moved a lot of dirt (per usual), learned some new tricks (like the GPR), and began the final stages of full documentation — photos, mapping (lots of mapping), sediment profiles, radiocarbon samples, column sampling, and the like.
MCAP Field School students Wesley Vanosdall, Kate McKinney, and Kyle Deitrick have fun profile mapping their excavated unit.
MCAP Field School student Pam Hoffman excavates a 50×50 cm column sample.
MCAP Geoarchaeologist Ryan Robinson describes sediment profiles from a finished excavation unit.
We also had several visitors from MTSU today. Dr. Jackie Eller, chair of the Department of Sociology & Anthropology; Dr. Kevin Smith, Director of the Anthropology Program and Senior Advisor to the project; Georgia Dennis, Anthropology Alumnus and current Honors College staff and friend Judy.
Dr. Peres explains our excavation strategy and findings to Drs. Eller and Smith.
MTSU visitors Georgia, Judy, and Dr. Smith.
Monday starts our final week of the 2012 MCAP Field School. We will finish the last bit of our excavations and data recordation, have a practical skills test for the students, backfill the units, and celebrate our accomplishments with a picnic!
— post by Dr. Tanya Peres
In a perfect world all archaeological projects would proceed in textbook fashion with full funding. My ideal archaeological project would include a team of experienced specialists working together on the research design, fieldwork, lab analysis, and interpretations. I would say that this years MCAP Field School has come pretty close to that ideal — minus the full funding!
One of the important parts of our project was to conduct a geophysical survey to determine where we would locate our excavation units. Remote sensing is a term that covers a variety of techniques and applications of non-invasive site survey. The types of remote sensing we built into our research plan are all sub-surface and basically act like a CAT scan of the earth, allowing us to see anomalies below ground without digging.
In my perfect archaeological world, remote sensing activities would take place before any actual digging occurred. As life is never perfect, and rarely goes exactly according to plan, MCAP unfortunately did not receive the grant funds we applied for. However, we have been most fortunate to have generous colleagues that have donated their time, equipment, and in the case of remote-sensing, the cultural resources management firm Brockington Cultural Resources Consulting, sent two archaeologists and their GPR know-how! The archaeologists at Brockington felt this site is so important and well preserved, and GPR survey has rarely been done this type of site, that they donated the archaeologists’ time and effort to our cause. We are so excited and thankful for their generosity and expertise.
Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR) allows us to “see” anomalies under-ground and then to ground-truth them. Since we conducted this survey this week, at the end of our current field season, we will do a few preliminary tests on some of the “hot spots.” If we are able to return to this site in the future, we will use these data to inform where our excavations will go.
The preliminary “in-the-field” results are exciting and have piqued my curiosity. The other great think about this survey was the chance for the MTSU MCAP Field School students to be involved. Dave Baluha and Niki Mills were excellent teachers — the students thank them for the experience and opportunity! The archaeologists with Brockington will analyze the data and put it into map form. We will then discuss the implications of the data and hopefully present our findings at a regional professional archaeology conference in the fall and publish it in a professional journal. Stay tuned for more information on the results!
MTSU MCAP Field School student, Kyle Deitrick, operates the GPR.
MTSU MCAP Field School students Kyle Deitrick and Cori Crenshaw get a lesson in GPR survey from Dave Baluha, Brockington and Associates Archaeologist.
MCAP Field School student Sean McKeighen operates the GPR equipment.
Brockington Archaeologists Dave Baluha and Niki Mills show the field school students how to operate the GPR equipment.
Today is the summer solstice which marks the longest day of the year. It was also the hottest day of our field season — topping out at a blazing 98°F. We are starting the slow process of finishing excavations in our units, bisecting and excavating features, profile mapping finished units, and working on a GPR survey (to be discussed in a separate post). We are all excited to be this far along in the fieldwork, but surprised at how fast it has gone. Today we had several visitors to the site. Mike Moore and Aaron Deter-Wolf, Tennessee Division of Archaeology, came by to check on our progress. Dr. Derek Frisby, MTSU History Professor and MCAP Historian, spent the afternoon learning about our digs, talking to the students about their experience on-site, and telling me about the preliminary findings of his historical research on the property.
Photo round-up of some our daily activities.
MCAP Field Assistant, Kelly Ledford, deep in a 1 x1 m unit.
Field School Student, JoBeth Simon, helps to run the GPR unit.
Field School student, Erin Floyd, was in charge of the Field Specimen log on Tuesday. We all agree this is the toughest job on-site.
Field School students, Tee Gildemeister and Sean McKeighen, work in Unit 9. Blake Meador examines the backdirt.