MCAP Field School, Week Five, Part I: More of the same   Leave a comment

Apologies for the lapse in posts. As I feared, 16+ hour days are starting to take their toll in Week 5. Lack of energy to blog is the result. As we near the end of the field season (2 more weeks to go after this week), the pace of excavations picks up and we have many more tasks to complete before we close down the site. Archaeologists are nothing if not avid note-takers, thus we have lots of in-the-field data to record via field notes, field forms, photographs, and maps. The students are excited to learn all of the aspects of fieldwork during this “apprentice-ship” phase.

The weather has been more than fantastic the entire season, and we have been fortunate to not have had a rain day yet. This week started on the wet side, and Monday promised to be a day of off-and-on rain. I was not willing to take a chance on the units getting wet/muddy, paperwork and equipment getting soaked, etc. I sent the word out on Sunday night that we would meet at the lab for a much-needed day of organization and artifact washing.

Monday was a complete success! Not only did we organize the archaeology teaching lab, but we were able to tackle our storage lab and the research lab. The students caught on to the concept of artifact washing quickly (which takes a bit of skill) and powered through a third of the artifact bags!

Washing artifacts in the MTSU Archaeology Teaching lab.

Tuesday we were back in the field continuing excavation of our units. Erin Floyd and Pam Hoffman completed excavation of Unit 3. We still have to map the wall profiles, but once that is done we can focus their attention and energies elsewhere. Every day we gather more information that will help us better understand the people that lived along the Cumberland River so long ago.

Erin working diligently to expose the top of the shell deposits.

Today (Wednesday) was more of the same. Schnitting, screening, photos, etc. A sense of urgency is starting to kick in as we all realize we have fewer and fewer days left on site. Kelly and Mimi are working in a 1 x 1 m column within Unit 1 to explore the dense shell deposits.

Mimi (left) and Kelly (right) excavate the shell deposits with trowels. To protect the walls and floor of the 1 x 1 column, they are perched on a 2 x 10 board.

Articulated/paired freshwater mussel identified during excavations.


Dewberries on the edge of the field.





Posted June 13, 2012 by drtmperes in Uncategorized

MCAP Field School, Week 4: Wrap-up   Leave a comment


Week 4 was a full week of excavating,  lectures, and visitors. Everyone is into the groove of the daily routine.  As the professor, it is nice to step back at different times during the day and watch the students going about their business as if they have been doing this forever. I have to admit, it is a relief not to hear “Dr. Peres…where is the (clipboard, stadia rod, line level, fill-in-the-blank)” every five minutes. They probably know which tub or box these things are in better than I do now!

Here are some highlights from the second half of Week 4:

  • The shell deposits were completely exposed in the floor of Unit 1 at a depth of 1 meter. This unit will now continue as a 1 x1 meter column through the shell deposits. Kelly Ledford has taken over this excavation as it is part of her URECA Scholar grant-funded research. Mimi Glass is working with her on this. They are excavating the column in 5 cm-thick levels and keeping a 100% sample.
  • Erin Floyd and Pam Hoffman continued excavating Unit 3 as a 1 x 2 meter unit. The top of the shell-bearing deposits were exposed at just over 1 meter in depth. Erin and Pam will finish exposing them early next week and will photo, map, and record elevations on these deposits.
  • Unit 6 (caddy corner to Unit 1) is quickly getting deeper. There are four students working this unit so that there are always two people schnitting and two people screening. They should hopefully be at the level of the shell early next week.
  • The team at Unit 7 (Kyle, Kate, and Wesley) continue their excavations, but are slowed by the amount of FCR and shell they have to pick out of the screen. Not a bad reason to go slow, I say!
  • Callie, Cori, and Karen are diligently working at Unit 8. They have a similar issue as Unit 7, with lots of FCR and shell. On Friday we set up a second screen at their unit to speed up the work.
  • I am pleased to report that Units 4 (Blake, Cat, and Madison) and 5 (Arthur and Tee) were closed up late in Week 4. The artifact content dropped off, and a number of soil probes and a bucket auger test showed there was no shell in either of these units. I decided to terminate excavation of them so we could focus our efforts on other parts of the site. Both teams had to spend some time cleaning the floors and walls for photos and maps. Ryan took soil samples and completed a soil profile/sediment description for Unit 5. By the end of Friday the entire class was involved in backfilling both of these units. It is always a good feeling to close up a unit once it has answered your question (and the answer is…..).
  • Visitors: Late Wednesday afternoon we had a brief visit by Mr. Vince Durnan, Director of USN. On Thursday Mr. Steve Smail, High School Geology teacher at USN stopped by. We enjoy sharing our work and what we are finding, especially when others are as interested as we are.
  • Lecture: On Thursday the majority of the class was able to attend a free public lecture on Tattoo Archaeology given by Aaron Deter-Wolf at Bells Bend Outdoor Center. It was a fun outing as we were able to go out to dinner before the lecture. It was a late night, but definitely enjoyed by all that were able to attend.


The forecast for next week is calling for 60-70% chances of rain. We’ve beat the odds so far this field season. After four weeks, we have not had one single rain day. I don’t know if our luck will hold up, but I am definitely okay if we spend a day or two in the lab. We have some organizational things to deal with, and oh yeah, lots of FCR that needs to be washed! (Any volunteers?)




Posted June 9, 2012 by drtmperes in Uncategorized

MCAP Field School, Day 16: Cool breezes   1 comment

— post by Abigail Hyndman and Dr. Peres

Today was a great day! The sun was been out but not nearly as hot as the past few weeks and a cool breeze blew in from the northwest. Everyone was ready to work.

A gorgeous June day! Too bad you can’t see the breeze in the picture.

Unit 6 is the one that I (Abigail)  have been screening for and it has been a love/hate relationship from the beginning. While in Units 1 and 3, the soil is very wet and clay-like, Unit 6 is hard and compacted.

Abigail Hyndman carrying a bucket of dirt to the screening station.

While easy to screen, it is not at all easy to dig at this point. We are still in the “plow zone” (the upper sediments disturbed by mechanized agriculture in historic and modern times), which seems to never end. We are excited and ready to see what we recover in the coming days.

In the other units, it is business as usual. We have reached the top of the shell deposits in Unit 1.

Top of shell deposits exposed in Unit 1, approximately 95-100 cm deep.

Today JoBeth, Mimi, and Dr. Peres continued troweling off the last few centimeters of dense dark midden trying to determine where the shell stops within the unit. It is slow work, but the effort is rewarded by interesting finds and the joy of watching each other get in and out of this, very deep, unit.

Mimi trowels herself into a corner uncovering the top of the shell deposits.

Today two interesting artifacts turned up in this deep midden layer above the shell deposits. On the left is a possible sandstone pendant or gorget (broken of course). On the right is a piece of crinoid fossil, which may or may not have been used as a bead or charm. We will need to analyze it further under a microscope to see if there are any indications of use wear around the center opening.

Possible sandstone pendant (on the left) and crinoid fossil (right) from the deep midden.

Field Assistant, Kelly Ledford, leads the team working in nearby Unit 3.

Field Assistant, Kelly Ledford, continues excavation of Unit 3.

This unit started as a 2 x 2 m, and is now continuing excavation as a 1 x 2 m unit. We did this knowing there are no shell deposits in the eastern half of the unit — working on only the western portion will save us time. Kelly and her team (Pam Hoffman and Erin Floyd) will continue to excavate this until they reach the top of the shell deposits. We anticipate this to be in the next 20 cm or so. Then they will excavate a 1 m x 1 m column sample and bag every level (the same will be done for every unit that reaches the shell) — thus we will have a 100% sample of the shell deposits.

The team working in Unit 7, located in the southernmost extent of the site no covered by trees and undergrowth, continues to excavate through mixed deposits of gravel/fill, historic trash (glass, metal cans, etc.), and prehistoric artifacts (pieces of rocks, a broken projectile point). We hope they will be through this debris tomorrow morning and into intact deposits. You might wonder how all these things got so mixed up. Dr. Peres thinks that some of this is junk left behind by a previous tenant (when it was a working farm), some is mixed up from plowing, and some is debris left behind when the flood waters receded in May 2010.

MTSU Anthropology majors (L to R): Wesley Vanosdall, Kate MicKinney, and Kyle Deitrick. Kyle perfects his shovel toss, Kate cleans up the unit walls, and Wesley screens for artifacts.

Along with continuing excavations in the units, Ryan Robinson  has returned to do continue his deep bucket auger testing program. With the assistance of two students, he is doing some additional deep auger tests.

Ryan Robinson instructs field school students Sean McKeighen and Karen Patterson in the fine art of augering and describing soils.

They encountered the expected shell deposits at about 120 cmbs (which is what we expected). Under this there is an interesting sand to soil composition, with the two alternating to a depth of over 5 meters.

We are almost to the halfway point of the field season and there is a lot more information left to recover so back to the trenches…or units!

Posted June 5, 2012 by drtmperes in Uncategorized

MCAP Field School, Day 15: Back to business   1 comment

— post by Callie Lopeman

Today we have been busy as usual, if not more so. Since the weather was so bad at the end of last week, we were thankful to find the sun out and clouds gone for a long day of work. Everyone has resumed the work on Units 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 after a nice weekend break. Unit 1 has (FINALLY) hit the shell and they have been hard at work removing the remaining dirt from on top of the shell.

Exposing the shell in Unit 1.

All morning Dr. Peres had screeners from Units 1, 3, and 6 screening this extra dirt so that by lunch the entire level could be cleared from atop the shell.

You screen, I screen, we all screen for shell!

Units 3, 4, 5,6, and 7 are also working toward the shell and finding more lithics, flakes and ceramic. We take a lot of notes and document everything we find. All provenience information (i.e., where it all came from) is recorded on forms, artifact bags, in notebooks, and various logs. It is so important to know exactly where everything came from so we can piece it all back together once we are in the lab and working on analysis and interpretations.

Provenience information recorded on artifact bags and flagging tape (for flotation samples).

While the other units were further excavating their levels, I was assigned to a new Unit, Unit 8, that Joey and Aaron busted the sod on last Friday before we left for the day. Cori, Karen and I were assigned this unit, which we can already tell is going to be quite the task since Dr. Peres plans for us to excavate 30 levels on it before the end of field school.  Although we began with enthusiasm, it was soon tempered by the large rocks and gravel we had to try to schnitt through. We finally managed to level out Level 1 before we left our unit to help the Unit 1 screeners screen before lunch.

When we returned to Unit 8 from lunch, we discovered that Level 2 was going to be even more of a challenge with larger and more frequent rock. Luckily, although we absolutely could have (slowly) done it ourselves, Joey took pity on us and helped us complete schnitting on most of Level 2. Level 2 has so far revealed lithics, more flakes, and even shell-tempered ceramics.

All in all, today has been extremely productive for all the units! Check back tomorrow, we are sure to have more shell to discuss!

Posted June 4, 2012 by drtmperes in Uncategorized

MCAP Field School, Day 14: Dig, dig, dig. Screen, screen, screen.   2 comments

— post by Dr. Peres

Today’s weather was a refreshing change from the sweltering summer-like days we have had. The forecast called for cloudy skies, NW wind of 10-15 mph, and a high of 69F. I packed extra clothes, vests, and jackets just in case.

A blanket of clouds over the site.

The students continued in Units 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7. We focused a lot of time, energy, and effort on Unit 1 today. We are trying to reach the shell deposits, but the midden that is above them is dense, wet, and clayey, thus making it difficult to screen.

MTSU Field School Student, JoBeth Simon, and Teresa Ingalls excavate Unit 1.

As the students closed up their units for the weekend, each team set-up their screens in the large screening station and everyone focused on the sediments from Unit 1. We were able to close out Level 9 (80-90 cmbs) by the end of the day.

All hands on the screens!

As Murphy’s Law of Archaeology would have it, we uncovered the tip of the shell deposit in the SW portion of Unit 1 as the day was drawing to a close.

Teresa points to the top of the shell deposits at the base of Level 9. It doesn’t look like much, but next week it will be more shell than we have seen all season long. (Note our soil probe hole on the lower edge of the photo.)

We also laid out Unit 8, which will likely be the final unit we open this season. Many of these units need to be excavated to over a meter deep, and given the time and effort it took to get to 90 cm deep in Unit 1, we will need most of the remaining four weeks to finish our existing unit excavations, documentation, photos, and maps. And we have to backfill.

Field Assistant Joey Keasler and Aaron Deter-Wolf (TN DOA) bust sod on Unit 8.

The majority of the units were positioned to give us a picture of the northern and eastern-most edges of the site. This unit was placed to give us a window into the site from the highest point. We are interested to see how this area compares to the others in terms of depth of deposits and shell species represented.

Finally, tomorrow (Saturday) is our own Kate McKinney’s birthday. “Cupcake Kate” made delicious vanilla cupcakes for the entire class and brought them at lunch today to celebrate. Happy Birthday Kate!

Happy Birthday Cupcake Kate!

Have a relaxing weekend. We will be back at work on Monday!

Posted June 1, 2012 by drtmperes in Uncategorized

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!


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.