Archive for the ‘Middle Cumberland’ Category

MCAP Field School, Day 12: Sherds but no shell (yet)   1 comment

— post by Dr. Peres and Blake Meador

Middle Tennessee was entrenched in fog this morning as we made our 42 mile commute to the site. There were reports of a cow on one of the interstates, but luckily it had been rounded up before we were in that area. The first things we noticed when we arrived on site this morning were lots of leaves down on the driveway and water in the units. This meant the students would get a lesson in bailing out the units!

Our well covered units with very little water on them.

Our not-so well covered up unit. Guess which one needed the most bailing?

It didn’t take long for them to get the hang of it!

MTSU Field School student, Karen Patterson, bailing Unit 4 while Callie and Tee try to get all the water to one end of the unit.

Today turned in to a really busy day with lots of different activities on-site. First we had the bailing of the units — always fun first thing in the morning. Then Ryan Robinson and four field school students began the deep auger program. Ryan and the students will excavate a series of auger tests, set perpendicular to the river channel, to a maximum depth of 10 meters. They will record soil descriptions, screen and recover artifacts, and collect sediment samples for post-field processing. Because the auger tests will go extremely deep, we are recording a lot of information, and Ryan is teaching the students about sediments, they are slow to excavate (several hours per test).

Field school students readying the auger for the first in a series of deep tests.

In Units 1 and 3 the search for the shell layer continues. The sediment has a high organic content (though preservation of bone is not great), and we continue to recover fire-cracked rock, lithics, etc. Out of Unit 1 at nearly 60 cmbs we recovered these:

A beaver tooth (Castor canadensis), recovered from approximately 60 cmbs.

Baker’s Creek Projectile Point (dates to the Early/Middle Woodland Period).

We still have approximately 15 cm of this midden to excavate through before we reach the depth where the shell should be. That is on our to-do list for tomorrow.

In the units to the northwest, Units 4 and 5, we continued to find ceramic sherds. The increase in density and friability of these artifacts necessitated troweling the remainder of the level instead of schnitting. The ceramics are very interesting, with some sizable body and rim sherds. These appear to be Mississippian Period ceramics, though we are uncertain at this time of the tempering agent, but may be grog (crushed up ceramics that are mixed into the wet clay to make a stronger final product).

Plain discoidal (base of a pot) sherd. (Dr. Peres’ favorite!)

Rim sherd with possible punctate or fingernail impression (?).

We also had several site visits today. The first was from Jim Pritchard (Vice President of Brockington Cultural Resources Consulting). We hope to collaborate with him on future projects. John Broster and Aaron Deter-Wolf (Tennessee Division of Archaeology) stopped to check on our progress.

Today’s student blogger: Blake Meador is a Senior Anthropology major at MTSU. He has chosen Archaeology and Biology as minors, field school fulfills a requirement for the former. Blake is working in Unit 5, and is learning the fine art of schnitting, troweling, and controlled shoveling.

MTSU Anthropology major, Blake Meador, getting his schnitt on.


MCAP Field School, Day 6: Rain, rain, go AWAY!   Leave a comment

— by Dr. Tanya Peres and Kyle Deitrick


We woke  up this morning to predictions of 60%+ chances of rain, with some severe storms. The weather folks promised we wouldn’t see anything major until around 4:00 pm. As we drove out to the site, the western skyline became darker, and puffy clouds turned ominous. I (Dr. Peres) felt certain we would not get rained out (I didn’t bring the really expensive equipment just to be sure), but those dark clouds had me doubting the decision as we drove through thick stop-and-go Nashville morning traffic.

We arrived on-site 10 minutes early and proceeded to unpack the equipment and set out to the first set of auger tests for the day.

Field School students set up the shelters and unload equipment.

The morning flew by as the students dug auger after auger (9 before lunch), the cloud cover held, and a cool breeze blew in from the west. During lunch the clouds parted, and all we saw was blue sky, sunshine, and vultures catching the thermal updrafts higher than I have ever seen. The weather held, the rain stayed away, and we had a very productive day in the field.

The student teams were more spread out today, filling in gaps in the grid and extending our survey lines further east. Survey work is tedious and tantalizing all at once. The repetitiveness of augering 2-meter deep holes, describing soils, and screening dirt for artifacts can seriously curb enthusiasm. However, these small windows into the sight have revealed some really interesting clues to the past peoples that lived on the Cumberland River for millenia, and the environments they interacted with.

Field School student JoBeth Simon attempts to remove a rock impeding the progress of an auger test — 80 cm deep.

We had two really interesting auger tests today. Both were placed so as to delineate the extent of the shell deposits. One was excavated by Kyle Deitrick (MTSU Anthropology Senior) and his partner, Wesley Vanosdall. It actually started out rather ho-hum, with about 15 cm of gravel fill from a long-forgotten access road to the river. From there the soils became darker, with increasing artifact content the deeper we went. At just about a meter deep we started recovering thick deposits of freshwater gastropods (river snails), which didn’t end until nearly 2.5 meters deep! We kept digging to make sure we were out of the cultural deposits and finally ended at just over 3 meters!

The second test was 10 meter from the one discussed above. The students also found this same thick deposit of river snails, but that is not the only reason this particular auger test was interesting. At nearly 4.75 meters, a rather large flake was recovered (see below). The students continued to dig this auger test deeper – with help from Kyle and a few other students. We eventually encountered extremely wet sand (heck, it was mud at this point) at 804 cm (26.4 feet) below surface! That is the deepest auger test to date at this site.

Large flake recovered ca. 4.75 m.

Tomorrow we will likely finish the auger survey, take elevation readings at the 90+ auger points, and layout and open our first excavation units!

Student Blogger for Monday, May 21, 2012: Kyle Deitrick

Kyle Deitrick with the auger extended to 8 meters.

Hello, my name is Kyle Deitrick, and I’m a senior at MTSU, majoring in Anthropology. This is my first time participating in an  archaeological project. I need to thank my mother for sparking my interest in the discipline by taking me to an archaeological site when I was six. It has interested me ever since. The two auger tests performed by my team resulted in a better understanding of the limits and depths of the shell deposits. We also conducted the deepest auger test of the survey, which terminated just over 8 meters deep (see above). We all work great as a team and have excellent leadership on the ground. I can’t begin to explain all of the things I learned in just one week, so let’s just say…it’s a lot!

MCAP Field School 2012: Day 1   Leave a comment

Today was the official start of the MTSU Middle Cumberland Archaeology Project 2012 Field School. We had 12 students, 2 field assistants, the project geoarchaeologist, and the project director in attendance. We had visits by one of the property groundskeepers and two archaeologists with the Tennessee Division of Archaeology.

John Broster (TDOA) (standing) looks on as Ryan Robinson shows a field school student how to clean out the bucket auger.

One of the goals of the project is to determine the exact boundaries of the archaeological deposits (i.e., the site). There are a number of ways to do this, and for this season we have chosen to use bucket augers placed at 20 meter intervals across portions of the property. This survey is being led by Field Assistant Joey Keasler, with guidance from Dr. Peres and Ryan Robinson. We chose this method for a number of reasons, but especially because the holes are small (which means less destructive to potential site deposits) and with the proper equipment can go really deep (over 5 meters).

Deep augering with Ryan Robinson.

Everyday one of the field school students will write a blog post, so the rest of this post is written by Kate (in the yellow jacket, below).

Ryan Robinson, MCAP Geoarchaeologist, tells the students about sediments and soils

Hi! My name is Kate and I am a junior at Middle Tennessee State University. I am majoring in Anthropology, with  minors in Archaeology and Outdoor Recreation.  I am the lucky one to write the first blog post, so bear with me as I figure this out! We started out the day with Ryan Robinson, a Geoarchaeologist, teaching us about different land forms relating to our site, how they are formed, and the types of deposits we might find. He then showed us how to use a bucket auger and how to tell what type of soil we were bringing up. We learned how to determine color, structure, and composition using the USDA guidebook. I found it very interesting how different soil can be even when it is only centimeters apart. My group continued working on the same bucket auger hole while another group went with Dr. Peres to set up the positions for other samples.

Kyle records the color, texture, and structure of the soil in an auger test.

By lunch time my group had augered 360 cm down and found only one small piece of shale. Even though we have yet to find much, I am having a great time just getting my hands dirty and learning about archaeology.  After lunch we will begin digging other holes, hoping to get a little more sampling in before the end of the day. I am looking forward to learning about archaeology this summer and experiencing it first hand. I have been told that field school is make or break for most people and so far I haven’t been scared off! Hopefully this experience will just increase my interest in archaeology because I really don’t want to change majors!

Unofficial Start of Fieldwork — Site Datum and Grid   Leave a comment

Today a small group met at the field site to establish the main datum and grid baseline. It was a near-perfect day, mostly sunny with big fluffy rain clouds floating overhead and a nice breeze in advance of a cold front. The river levels were low enough to allow for shore line excursions.

View to shore line

For those folks out there that know something about archaeology, they know all site excavations start with a grid of some fashion. For those new to archaeology, we use a grid to help us place ourselves in space, both horizontally and vertically. It is kind of like laying a big piece of graph paper down over the site, except we use rebar stakes and pin flags. There are a number of ways to establish grids and several different types of equipment we can use to assist us.

Emily Beahm and Kevin Smith, total station set up


We were fortunate today to have Dr. Kevin Smith, MTSU, and Emily Beahm, University of Georgia on site. They brought a total station and had our north and east baselines in before lunchtime. They even had enough time to spare to take readings for a baseline site topographic map! MCAP Field Assistants Joey Keasler and Kelly Ledford were instrumental to the process. Kelly held the prism/rod at each point. Joey was in charge of driving the rebar so they were flush with ground surface — we don’t want to lose any to the mowers! Our grid is all ready for the bucket auger survey to begin on Monday.

Left to right: Aaron Deter-Wolf (Tennessee Division of Archaeology), Kelly Ledford (MCAP field assistant), Joey Keasler (MCAP field assistant)

Ryan Robinson (MCAP Geoarchaeologist) and Shannon Hodge (MTSU, MCAP Bioarchaeologist) were also on site to survey the area and plan for fieldwork. Check back next week when the field school students will start daily updates from the field!






Happy Mother’s Day to all the working moms out there!

Meet the Archaeologists, Part IV   1 comment

MCAP welcomes Ryan Robinson as the project Geoarchaeologist. Ryan has worked as an archaeologist in theCultural Resource Management (CRM) industry for more than 14 years.

He also has an academic background in geomorphology.  Ryan is particularly interested in fluvial geomorphology and alluvial geoarchaeology.  He has extensive experience testing and excavating archaeological sites in alluvial settings   and conducting geomorphological and geoarchaeological assessments for CRM projects.

Ryan earned his M.A. in geography from West Virginia University in 2009.  While a graduate student, his research focused on geomorphology, sedimentology, pedology, and natural (i.e., noncultural) site formation processes.  Ryan used sedimentological, pedological, and archaeological data recovered from a deeply stratified site in the Ohio River Valley as the basis for his thesis, Holocene Landform Evolution and Natural Site Formation Processes at the West Blennerhassett Archaeological Site (46WD83-A), Wood County, West Virginia.  The information presented in the thesis contributes to an understanding of Holocene fluvial environments and archaeological site formation processes along landforms in the Ohio River Valley.

Ryan will assist the project team with describing and sampling sediments and soils along the Middle Cumberland River.  He will also use data from the project to infer changes in the depositional environment over time as well as to determine the natural formation processes that have affected archaeological deposits at the site.

Meet the Archaeologists, Part III   Leave a comment

The MTSU Middle Cumberland Archaeology Project welcomes the newest member of the MTSU Anthropology Faculty to its ranks.

Dr. Andrew Wyatt is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Middle Tennessee State University. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2008. His interests include human-environment interactions, agriculture and land use, and archaeobotanical studies of plant use in ancient societies. He has conducted archaeological and archaeobotanical research in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Belgium, and the Midwestern U.S. His research at the ancient Maya site of Chan in the Belize River Valley investigated the process of agricultural intensification and the role of farmers in the political economy. He is currently conducting ethnographic and ethnohistoric studies of Lacandon Maya household agricultural practices at Lake Mensabak in Chiapas, Mexico, and he is also conducting archaeological and paleoenvironmental research at the ancient Maya settlement of Lake Mendoza in Guatemala.

Dr. Wyatt will use his expertise and experience working with archaeological plant remains to help answer questions of seasonality, settlement patterns, environmental change, and early horticulture and agriculture along the banks of the Cumberland River in Middle Tennessee.

MTSU Middle Cumberland Archaeology Project — 2012 Archaeology Field School Information   2 comments

This year the MTSU Middle Cumberland Archaeology Project will host a field school at one of the most important multi-component shell-bearing sites along the Middle Cumberland River. Due to the sensitive nature of the site I cannot include exact location details here, but it is located approximately 45 miles northwest of the MTSU Campus in Davidson County. This will be our first (of hopefully several) field season at this particular site; however it was part of the NSF-funded Cumberland River Emergency Archaeology Survey in 2010-2011, and we did take samples for baseline data.

Dr. Tanya Peres and Aaron Deter-Wolf assess damaged caused by the May 2010 floods and post-flood looting.

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