Archive for the ‘shell midden’ Category

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!


Meet the Archaeologists, Part V   Leave a comment

Theresa recording data during excavations of the Mound House site, Ft. Myers Beach, Florida.


MCAP is very fortunate to have Theresa Schober as a consultant. Theresa is a seasoned veteran of shell mound/midden archaeology and has a decade or more of experience with public outreach and education. Read on to learn more about Theresa Schober, MCAP Archaeology and Public Outreach Consultant.




Theresa shares the wonders of archaeology with students from the Ft. Myers Beach, Florida, community.



Theresa received her master’s degree in anthropology from University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign in 1998 and is currently a PhD candidate at University of Florida. Her primary research interests include the use of skeletal biology and bone chemistry to assess patterns of diet and nutritional status of prehistoric societies. Her research has included the evaluation of human bone collagen and bone apatite carbonate from Archaic through Mississippian populations in the lower Illinois River Valley to assess the timing and pattern of maize introduction in Woodland diets and more recent investigations of maritime resource consumption by prehistoric hunting and gathering populations of Baja California.

Working in south Florida since 1998, Theresa has also documented and conducted archaeological excavations at a variety of south Florida shell mound, midden, and mortuary sites. Much of this research focuses on the settlement and use of the Estero Bay estuarine system by the Calusa Indians including extensive investigations into how and how quickly mound sites were constructed. Her research focuses on understanding how local social development is connected to broader patterns in the southeastern United States.
To support enhanced public access to archaeological education, Theresa directed research, restoration and interpretive development to provide a public museum at historic Mound House on Fort Myers Beach from 2002 to 2011, authoring numerous grant proposals that secured over $3.5 million for various preservation initiatives. Two projects she directed were honored in 2010 with meritorious achievement awards from the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation in the areas of education/preservation media and adaptive reuse.
An active member of the preservation community, Theresa serves as second Vice President of the Florida Anthropological Society and is a member of the Lee County Historic Preservation Board. She recently served as chair of the 2010 Florida Anthropological Society conference and workshop chair for the 2010 Florida Trust for Historic Preservation conference, both held in Fort Myers. Theresa has also consulted on interpretive signage at other Florida sites and served as Project Director for the development of materials supporting 2010 Florida Archaeology Month, funded through the Florida Division of Historical Resources.

Meet the Archaeologists, Part I   Leave a comment

This will be the first of several posts introducing the archaeologists that are involved with the MTSU Middle Cumberland Archaeology Project. First up is Dr. Tanya Peres, Project Director.


I received my BA (1995) and MA (1997) in Anthropology at Florida State University and my PhD (2001) in Anthropology from the University of Florida 2001.  Immediately following graduation in August 2001, I moved to Lexington, Kentucky to work at the University of Kentucky. While there I was  an Assistant Director of the Program for Archaeological Research and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Kentucky (2001-2005). I joined the Sociology and Anthropology faculty at Middle Tennessee State University in 2005, where I am currently an Associate Professor of Anthropology.

My research interests are concerned with the relationships between humans and their environments, and how these relationships impacted both the humans and other organisms around them in a variety of times and places. I have conducted extensive research on ancient environments in the southeastern United States, and at several sites in Gulf Coastal Mexico, Central Pacific Panama, and the Scottish Highlands. The goal of the recent NSF-funded field project that I co-directed, RAPID: Emergency Shoreline Assessment and Sampling of Archaeological Sites along the Cumberland River in Middle Tennessee, was to assess the natural and anthropogenic damage to archaeological sites along the middle Cumberland River following the May 2010 floods in Nashville, Tennessee. I have been the Project Zooarchaeologist of the Castalian Springs Archaeological Project, directed by Kevin E. Smith, since 2005. I have worked at a variety of sites across the Southeast while employed by private CRM firms, the University of Kentucky’s Program for Archaeological Research, and the National Park Service’s Southeastern Archeological Center. My publication record includes articles in Historical Archaeology, Tennessee Archaeology, and Current Research in the Pleistocene, as well as Integrating Zooarchaeology and Paleoethnobotany (co-edited with Amber VanDerwarker), a forthcoming edited volume on Southeastern Zooarchaeology, a forthcoming guest co-edited issue of Tennessee Archaeology, numerous chapters in edited volumes, and as an author or co-author of over 30 technical reports.

I have been the recipient of several research grants and awards from the Royal Society of Edinburgh International Scholar Exchange Fellowship, the Charles H. Fairbanks Award (University of Florida), a Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Fellowship, National Science Foundation, and the Tennessee Historical Commission. In addition to being active in research and teaching I hold, or have held, positions in the Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology, Kentucky Organization of Professional Archaeologists, Southeastern Archaeology Conference, and Society for American Archaeology.

I consider myself a third generation southeastern zooarchaeologist. I began my zooarchaeology career in 1994 as a student of Dr. Rochelle Marrinan at Florida State University (FSU). Dr. Marrinan (or Dr. M as we all refer to her) was a student of Dr. Elizabeth Wing at the University of Florida (UF) in the 1970s. During my years at FSU (where I received both a B.A. and M.A. in Anthropology) Dr. M. mentored and taught me, and scores of other undergraduate and graduate students, the rigors of taxonomic identifications and zooarchaeological data analyses and interpretations, just as she was mentored and taught by Dr. Wing. During that first zooarchaeology course we students were assigned our very own faunal assemblage to analyze. The assemblage was excavated in the 70s at the Snow Beach Site, a Swift Creek Period shell midden site. There came a point during the 1994 zooarchaeology course when a number of us had specimens that could not be identified using the comparative collection at FSU. The only thing we could do, and I am sure lobbied hard for, was to load up in Vanna White (FSU Anthropology’s white Chevy 12 passenger van) and head to the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF.

In 1997, after receiving an M.A. in Anthropology at FSU, I followed in Dr. M.’s footsteps and moved south to Gainesville to begin work toward a doctorate in Anthropology, emphasis Zooarchaeology, guided in part by Dr. Wing. While my actual dissertation focused on a site in Panama, I never strayed far from the Southeastern US. While in Panama I applied the field and lab methods I learned at FSU and UF to my research of a Preceramic coastal shell midden. When analyzing the faunal assemblage for my dissertation I relied on the Zooarchaeology comparative collection and the expertise of Dr. Wing and Dr. Richard Cooke (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute) to identify difficult specimens. During my tenure at UF I worked at the Florida Museum of Natural History on several faunal assemblages from southeastern projects including: Aucilla River Prehistory Project (Vertebrate Paleontology Range), Everglades National Park Environmental Reconstruction (EA Range), and Snake Island Zooarchaeological Analysis (EA Range).

I have since worked on other shell midden and mound sites, namely Dog Key (SW Florida), Mound House (Ft. Myers Beach, Florida), and a very brief field stint at Pineland (SW Florida). I feel I have come full circle with the Cumberland River shell-bearing sites. I think my heart has always been in understanding these types of sites and I am so happy to have several in my proverbial backyard.

Posted March 14, 2012 by drtmperes in archaeologist, shell midden, Uncategorized

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read the MTSU Magazine Story on-line!   Leave a comment

The feature story is now available on-line, with the entire magazine in digital format to be posted soon.

You can now read the story about our efforts to document these important and little understood sites along the middle Cumberland River.

Posted January 30, 2012 by drtmperes in Media, Middle Cumberland, shell midden

MTSU Magazine features the Middle Cumberland Archaeology Project   2 comments

The Winter 2012 (Vol. 16, No. 4) edition of “MTSU Magazine” features “Shell Shocked” — a story about the erosion and looting of the Middle Cumberland River shell midden sites after the May 2012 floods. The article’s author, Allison Gorman, is to be congratulated on conveying the seriousness and urgency of the situation. Archaeologists, government agencies, affected descendant groups, and concerned citizens need to raise the public awareness for the drastic loss of our shared history — this article, with the widespread distribution of the magazine and diverse readership, is an amazing start.

The next step for the project is to focus on fundraising. We need to better document several of the shell midden sites so we can understand exactly what is there — both horizontally and vertically — so we can better protect it. We will begin processing radiocarbon samples over the next few weeks, and collecting further information over the next few months. Our ultimate goal is to have as many of these sites as possible listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This gives them one more added layer of protection and places them into the national memory.

If you would like to know more about our on-going efforts towards education and preservation, please sign up for “Research Updates.”
If you would like to donate to the project, please contact me at

Posted January 23, 2012 by drtmperes in Media, Middle Cumberland, shell midden

Cover Photo Shoot Coming up!   Leave a comment

The MTSU Middle Cumberland Archaeology Project will be featured as the cover story in the next edition of MTSU Magazine!  Aaron and I are heading out with a photo crew and the magazine’s chief editor on Monday for a photo shoot for the cover. This story has been in the making since March 2011! I can’t wait to see the final product and to share our project with 100,000 readers of MTSU Magazine. Talk about public archaeology! I will be sure to post links to the issue when it is available in January 2012.

Posted December 10, 2011 by drtmperes in Media, Middle Cumberland, shell midden