Archive for the ‘MTSU Archaeology’ Category

MCAP Field School, Day 13: Augers, units, & storms, oh my!   2 comments

– post by Dr. Peres

I was up at 4 a.m. to watch the weather forecasts and get caught up on some tasks before heading to campus at 6 a.m. (the glamorous life of the archaeologist begins well before the early bird). Different local news stations had slightly different predictions for the timing of the severe storms that are supposed to come through Middle Tennessee, but the one that caught my attention had us slated for storms by 2 pm. No archaeologist ever wants to call it a rain day when the sky looks like this:

The sun before the storm.

 

However, no professor ever wants to put their students in harm’s way (Safety First!).  Severe weather predictions + 43 mile commute in a 12-passenger van + 18 students that are my responsibility = packing it up early! With this plan in mind, we agreed to work really hard through lunch then head back to campus around 1:00. I have to give the kudos to the crew — they did not disappoint.

  • First we had some housekeeping to tend to. We are not using wheelbarrows at the site so are carrying the dirt to the screening station in 5-gallon buckets. The screening station works out nicely since we can cover the area with a canopy to provide shade for the screeners. We have moved enough dirt that the backdirt pile was getting a bit unruly. Today was the day to corral it in. We put up a silt fence to contain any slump, and the students practiced a little experimental archaeology by moving the dirt to one end to make a large platform mound.

MTSU Field School students doing some preventive maintenance on the back-dirt pile.

  • We were able to finish a deep auger test that went over 8 meters deep (that’s over 26 feet)!

MTSU Field School student Sean McKeighen assists Ryan Robinson with the extended bucket auger.

 

  • We used an Oakfield soil probe to test for the presence and depth of the shell deposits in two of our open units (we still have a ways to go).
  • Every unit in active excavation today was taken down another level.

From Unit 1, we recovered these two projectile points

Projectile points recovered from Unit 1, likely Woodland Period. Apologies for the dirt, these are “field photos” not “publication photos.”

  •  We triangulated in two more units, in search of the elusive edge of the shell deposits.
  • In one of the new units, this little do-bob showed up at ground surface of Unit 7.

    Do-bob from ground surface of Unit 7. It is likely an artifact of the 2010 flood.

 

Tomorrow we have a full day planned with lovely weather topping out at 70 degrees F!  Check back for the round-up of our final day of Week 3!

 

Advertisements

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 11: Back at it   Leave a comment

— post by Dr. Peres and JoBeth Simon

Today we returned from our lovely three-day break with an additional five students, a third water cooler, and renewed determination to perfect our new skills and find the edge of the site! After the intense heat of the Memorial Day weekend (100.4 F in the shade at my house!) the clouds and cool breeze in the morning were a welcome, if short-lived, respite. We knew our chances of rain were high, so we only worked in the two most northern units for the first bit.

 

Lovely cloud cover that greeted us this morning.

We were able to work for a few hours before our alert Field Assistant, Kelly Ledford, brought this to the attention of Dr. Peres.

 

Impending doom.

 

Dr. Peres made us close up the units, stash the equipment, and head to the on-site safe spot. Of course, this pretty much guaranteed the storm would fizzle before it reached us (which it did). Apparently there is an invisible force field around the property that causes storms to disintegrate upon contact (or so one our friendly grounds crew members joked).  Back to work we went, with a special interest in  opening our southern units.

Battened down Units 1-3.

 

Much to our surprise, and our noses’ dismay, the intense heat of the weekend caused a lovely dusting of white mildew to grow along the edges of the units. We also had to evict several spiders and beetles that had set up house in our absence. Thankfully, the critters beat a hasty exit.

The joys of black plastic covering units in the summer.

 

The students continued in Units 1 and 3, completing Level 5 (to 50 cmbs) and nearly completing Level 6 (to 60 cmbs) before the soils became more structured and the clay and organic content increased — i.e., they became harder to screen. In Unit 1, Level 6, Dr. Peres carefully excavated the scapula (bone from the shoulder blade) of a white-tailed deer with trowels and dental picks. The midden at this level is dark, but the soils are acidic so bone preservation is poor. The bone was removed in several pieces, and appeared to have been cut in antiquity. The amount of fire-cracked rock appears to have increased. If the shell deposits are in this area, we should reach them tomorrow.

 

Today’s student blogger is JoBeth Simon, a Junior MTSU Anthropology major. JoBeth is minoring in Archaeology and Forensics, and would not sit still long enough for a proper photo.

MTSU Anthropology student, JoBeth Simon, getting her schnitt on in Unit 1. Disclaimer: This photo was taken last week, Unit 1 is much deeper!

 

MCAP Field School, Day 9: Learning new skills   1 comment

Hello, my name is Zackary Whitehead.  I am a rising Senior at MTSU’s Anthropology department.  My minors are Archaeology and History.

MTSU Anthropology Major, Zackary Whitehead, ready to learn new archaeological skills.

I enrolled in the MTSU Archeological Field School to learn the methods used to conduct excavations and further my knowledge in archaeology. Based on the results of the bucket auger testing program of the first week we were able to open our first excavation units on Tuesday. These were placed so as to locate the boundaries of the shell deposits. Today we worked on Levels 3 and 4 (20-30 cm below surface and 30-40 cm below surface, respectively). At the base of Level 3 in Unit 3 Dr. Peres identified our first feature — Feature 1.

Unit 3, Base of Level 3 (20-30 cmbs). Feature 1 is indicated by blue dashed circle.

We know we will have to go twice as deep to locate the shell deposits. The units are providing an incredible amount of dirt despite the small increments that we are schnitting in (schnitting is the act of shoveling out layers of dirt to sift through the screens.)

Field School students practicing their schnitting skills.

MTSU Field School student, Kyle Deitrick, gets a lesson in photo-cleaning from Aaron Deter-Wolf (Tennessee Division of Archaeology).

The students at the screening station have recovered many pieces of lithics, fire cracked rock, and pottery. Most of these were in the upper 20 centimeters, or roughly the plowzone.

The happy screeners! (L to R: Callie Lopeman, Lauren Schorr, Wesley Vanosdall)

We also have some awesome devices to play with out here in the field!  I have been helping set up a laser level over the main site datum which allows us to take accurate elevation measurements of the surface levels in our units. The laser level can be a bit tricky to set up and it will complain if you tilt it.

The Topcon laser level set up over the site datum (N1000 E1000).

Once we set it up, we can use stadia rods which have tick marks on them along with the laser sensors to help us measure the elevation change relative to our datum.

Laser sensor attached to stadia rod to allow millimeter accuracy on elevation readings.

Today during lunch, Aaron Deter-Wolf (Tennessee Division of Archaeology) gave a lecture on the Benton Mortuary Complex.

Aaron Deter-Wolf (far left) gives an informal lunch-time lecture on the Benton Complex.

He talked about the different Benton points which are large points with a variety of ends that range from easily haft-able notches to flat bottoms.  The Benton points feature multiple parallel chipping patterns as well.  He then passed around several casts of the Benton points for a visual reference before we headed back to work.

More happy screeners! (L to R: Blake Meador, Pam Hoffman, Arthur Reed)

All in all it has been a great day and an awesome field school!

MCAP Field School, Day 8: Site Visitors   Leave a comment

by Cat Zamniak and Dr. Peres

This morning we arrived on site with much anticipation for the day. We are continuing the excavation of our first two units, and we were to be visited by archaeologists for the Division of Archaeology (DoA). Visiting us today were Mike Moore (State Archaeologist, DoA), John Broster (Prehistoric Archaeologist, DoA), Aaron Deter-Wolf (Prehistoric Archaeologist, DoA), and Jesse Tune (PhD student, Texas A &M University). We showed them around the site, and described what we know so far about the extent of the deposits. A few small pieces of ceramic sherds were recovered during excavation of Level 2 in Unit 3, which was a nice coincidence since that is Mike Moore’s specialty.

Left to right: Mike Moore (Tennessee State Archaeologist), Jesse Tune (PhD student, Texas A & M University and MTSU Alumnus), John Broster (Prehistoric Archaeologist, Tennessee Division of Archaeology) visited the MCAP Field School today.

We were also visited today by the director of the University School of Nashville and a board member/parent. They were interested in what we were finding and we were happy to be able to share our early results of our testing program. Today also happens to be USN’s Field Day, and some of the parents of USN students were interested in our work. This gave our students a chance to work on their public outreach skills.

Today we set up a total of 4 screens at our screening station. We have 2-3 students per screen, and 2 screens per unit.

The screening station.

Field Assistant Kelly Ledford (left) looks on as JoBeth Simon and Kate McKinney work in Unit 1.

Each screen is double layered with a 1/4″ screen that is made to fit on top of a 1/8″ screen. As the other students in the excavation pit schnitt (gently shoveling dirt into buckets) we will take the buckets and individually screen them. First we pour them over the 1/4” screen and a team of 2-4 students will then carefully sift through the dirt until it has completely fallen through to the smaller 1/8” screen. Any artifacts we recover will then be retrieved for further study. Once all the dirt is sifted from on top of the 1/4″ screen we then will remove it and re-sift the soil which fell through the 1/4″ screen. This is done to ensure that we don’t miss smaller artifacts which could easily fall through the first screen.

While screening may sound like a simple task there is an amount of skill to it. Normally using the 1/4” screen is fairly quick (unless your soil has a lot of clay) but once you get down to the much smaller 1/8″ screen it becomes more slow-paced. While working with different students on different screens we have discovered that we all have our own “techniques” for moving through it. Regardless of how you prefer to screen you the result is normally the same. Today while screening we found more chert flakes, ceramic sherds, small pieces of bone, and what appeared to be fire cracked rocks.

I am proud to say I am one of those lucky screeners. My name is Cat Zamniak and I’m an Anthropology student at MTSU. I’m double majoring in Anthropology and German with a minor in Business Administration.

MTSU Student, Cat Zamniak, blogging in the field.

This is my first experience in the field. I wanted to be part of the field school because Archaeology is truly not something you can learn in the classroom. For example, while you can try to describe how frustrating or valuable (depending on the situation) it can be to work with a 1/8″ screen instead of a 1/4″ screen you won’t be able to understand it unless you do it yourself. Also, while the main objective of Archaeology is the archaeological record (which pertains to human activity in any time period) it also provides us with valuable information concerning past flooding periods and weather patterns.

There is an increasing number of butterflies flitting about. This one took a fondness to Dr. Peres’s ring.

Dr. Peres’s lepidopteran friend.

MCAP Field School, Day 7: Let the excavation begin!   2 comments

by Dr. Tanya M. Peres and Cori Crenshaw

Today 9 of the students finished the last five auger tests (for a grand total of 98!), 2 students assisted Joey  with elevation readings, and the rest of the group worked with Dr. Peres and Kelly to set up the laser level, lay out three 2 m x 2 m excavation units, and set up the screening area.

Kate McKinney and Field Assistant Joey Keasler take elevation readings on the auger tests.

 

Working the screens, field school students (L to R): Cori Crenshaw, Pam Hoffman, Blake Meador, and Callie Lopeman.

I warned the students yesterday afternoon that in the coming week we needed to remain flexible, patient, and open to learning as we transitioned from the auger survey to actual excavation units. They have asked me many times where we would open units, and I always answered “I don’t know yet.” This might seem vague, and probably the students think I was a bit exasperating, but honestly, I did not know. Since no professional excavations have ever been conducted at this site, we really know very little about the size, depth, and type of deposits. One of our goals is to figure these out. How much area do the previous occupations cover? How deep are they buried (i.e., how much sediments will we need to excavate before we find intact evidence of past occupations) and how deep do they go? Will we only find evidence of past peoples via the shells they left behind, or will we find remnants of houses, fire pits, and other residues of daily life? The auger survey helped us to collect preliminary data on some of these questions. So, with these data in hand, we placed our first excavation units.

Our first excavation units were placed in an area where we know we have dense shell deposits that completely disappear within a 5 meter area. What we do not know is where they exactly end, and how they end (do they just stop completely, or do they fade out?).  So, we triangulated in three units, but opened only the two on the ends.

Opening of excavation units. Dr. Peres and Callie Lopeman work with JoBeth Simon (holding the stadia rod) to take opening elevations on Unit 3. Zack Whitehead and Abigail Hyndman (foreground) continue busting sod on Unit 1.

 

We will excavate in arbitrary levels — in other words, we determine how thick each level is. By convention we are using 10 cm-thick levels. This means all artifacts and features from this 10 cm level will be recorded together. Depending on what is revealed we may modify the strategy to smaller levels. All of the soils we excavate are screened through 1/4-inch and 1/8-inch mesh. We have some super-sweet double-decker screens custom-made by Stoney Knoll Archaeological Supplies. We will use smaller screen sizes (1/16-inch and 1/32-inch) when warranted (special features, column samples).

MCAP’s double-decker screens.

 

At the end of today this is what our Unit 1 looked like:

Kelly and Abigail clean Unit 1, base of Level 1 for photos.

While we are not very far, we are sure to have many exciting days ahead learning about the rich history of the people that lived on this beautiful stretch of river long ago.

Student Blogger: Cori Crenshaw

Field School Student, Cori Crenshaw, at the screen deck.

Hello everybody! My name is Cori Crenshaw and I’m a junior at MTSU. I’m in the process of double majoring in Anthropology and French with a minor in Biology. I get the pleasure of blogging on our very first excavation day! Exciting, I know! I have waited for this day since my childhood. At the beginning of the day we finished with our last couple of BATs (bucket auger tests) and were able to start opening our very first Unit! We gridded three units (1,2,3) and started schnitting (aka, shovel skimming) in Unit 1 and Unit 3. I did not schnit today, but instead helped screen with one of our much larger screens that are used specifically for screening through sediment that we collect from excavation units. It’s actually a very interesting contraption, it consists of one screen on top of another, the top screen containing 1/4 inch hardware cloth and the bottom containing 1/8 inch hardware cloth to catch the much smaller field specimens. I spent my afternoon going through buckets of sediment with my fellow students Callie Lopeman, Jobeth Simon, and Pam Hoffman. We had a great time screening together while finding some sizable pieces of lithic! All of this combined with our luck of having such fantastic weather formed the makings of a pretty great day in the field!

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!