Archive for the ‘shell’ 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!


MCAP Field School Day 4: How deep can we go?   5 comments

Today we continued on with our auger survey — and I hope you aren’t getting bored of updates about it yet!


We weren’t able to meet our goal of 20 auger tests today because several of them went very deep — which takes a lot of extra time and crew members. One of the Murphy’s Law of Archaeology is that anything interesting will turn up at the end of the day or on the last day! Near the end of today we were finding very interesting sediments — interesting from a paleoenvironmental standpoint. We want to learn more about ancient flood and deposition events along the Cumberland River, and deeply buried soils are the key to understanding those. In this particular auger test we wanted to see how deep the sandy deposits were, so we kept adding extensions on to the auger. In the end field school student, Zack Whitehead, drilled it over 6 meters (just over 20 feet!) deep!

Zack holding up the auger (over 7 meters with extensions).


For the past two days we have tested what we consider to be the main part of the site. The artifact concentrations and soils above and below them are very interesting and given us a lot to think about.

Here is all of the soil from one 2 meter (approx. 6 1/2 feet) deep auger test, laid out in sequence on a tarp.

Auger test soils.

To me that soil picture looks like a mirror image of the 10YR page out of the Munsell book:


As expected, we have recovered a lot of shell and fire-cracked rock (or FCR as we like to call it).  Fire-cracked rocks are lithics/stone that were used to line earth ovens or hearths (or in some cases heated up and put in containers to cook food or heat water). The stone’s repeated exposure to high and prolonged temperatures caused it to change color, texture, and in some cases crack. We interpret these as evidence of human occupation, typically of a daily/domestic nature. If you really want to know more about FCR you can find some good sources in this bibliography.

Fire-cracked rock.


It is too soon to tell what any of this really means, but we definitely have some interest in exploring these areas further later this season.

Today’s student blog post is written by Pam Hoffman, a current Senior at MTSU.

Pam Hoffman emptying a bucket auger into the screen.

I get the privilege of graduating in December with my degree in Anthropology and minors in Archaeology and Criminology.  I have envisioned this since seeing an active excavation site in Williamsburg, VA. I have thoroughly enjoyed my studies at Middle Tennessee State University.  Field school has been every thing that I hoped it would be and so much more.   We have learned about soil types, different artifacts and how they play an important part in our archaeological record.  Every piece no matter how small is significant.  I have definitely gotten more efficient at setting up a site, augering holes and screening through the various soils.  Clay soil can really slow the process down but you just push through, literally.


Today we were visited at lunch by Dr. Valerie McCormack, one of two  archaeologists with the Army Corps of Engineers in the Nashville District.

Dr. Valerie McCormack gives a brown bag lecture to the MTSU Field School.

She elaborated on her daily duties and responsibilities of her position.  We learned the differences between working with the Corps and working with the Forestry Service and the federal laws that come into play with each.


Finally, we had an Apache helicopter fly over the site (twice)! They are impressive!

Apache helicopter fly-over.

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.

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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