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MCAP Field School, Day 3: The Survey Continues…   Leave a comment

One of the main goals for this field season is to determine where the site is and where it is not. If you have been following along all week you know that we are conducting a bucket auger survey of a sizable portion of the property available to us. That means each team of 2 (or sometimes 3) is digging 4 to 5 of these auger tests a day. That may not seem like very many, but these tests are dug to a minimum of 2 meters (6.56 feet) deep. Each auger bucketful of dirt is about 10-15 cm (4 – 6 inches) in length. Every bucketful of dirt has to be screened for artifacts and the sediments described for color, texture, and structure. It can be slow going.

(Left to right) Pam, Ryan, and Cat discussing the data they are recording.

Several times today students were still finding artifacts at the 2 meter mark – so they were instructed to keep digging. This led to several tests going 3 meters deep (that’s nearly 10 feet!).

Dr. Peres helps out with a deep auger test.

There are a number of important daily jobs that are assigned to a different student each day. Each of the students should have a chance to do each job twice over the course of our 7-week field school. Jobs consist of recording data about artifact finds, maps that we draw, photographs we take, an equipment manager, a bathroom supply and garbage manager, one student shadows Dr. Peres and keeps a running notebook consisting of all site activities. The last job is a daily field blogger. As part of the course requirements and to fulfill our public outreach goal the students are helping to update the blog. Each of them will write about their experiences in the field and some of the interesting things they are learning. Today’s student blogger is Abigail, a rising senior at MTSU. This is her blog:

I am an anthropology major with minors in history and archaeology. This is my first experience with field school and so far, I’m loving it!

Abigail starting an auger test.

Today has been an exciting day, we’ve gotten into higher density deposits of lithics in our auger tests. The more deposits of lithics that we find can tell us, essentially, how close we are to the main areas of occupation. It’s sort of like how you can be traveling down a road and start to notice more and more homes the closer you get to a city.

The types of lithics we have found really interested me. I kind of just assumed that it would all look the same but there is quite a bit of color variation and size differences; even within a single bucket auger test. My group took four, two meter deep, bucket auger tests and we were finding lithics from the first bucketful to about four bucketfuls before two meters. It was really fun being able to identify these pieces of things within the dirt (going into this I was kind of worried about being able to tell chert from dirt).

Not only were the colors different with reds, pinks, and greys, but their textures were different as well. When screening, you’re essentially just de-clumping the soil peds (or “clumps”, in layman’s terms), so one would think that with big work gloves on, you wouldn’t be able to feel the difference. However, a piece of lithics on the screen makes a very distinct sound against the screen (think glass on metal), so once you hear it the first time, it’s engrained in your mind and easy to spot.

I can’t wait to see what we dig up tomorrow and I’m looking forward to getting my trowel dirty.


Meet the Archaeologists, Part II   1 comment


Aaron Deter-Wolf

Aaron Deter-Wolf (red hat, center) discusses an important lithic find with fellow archaeologists.

Aaron Deter-Wolf has been an important part of the MTSU Middle Cumberland Archaeology Project since 2010. Today we learn more about Aaron’s background and research interests.

Aaron earned his BA from Duke University in 1998 and his MA from Tulane University in 2000, where he studied Mesoamerican archaeology. From 1995 – 1999 he conducted fieldwork in Central America with teams from Williams College and the Belize Valley Archaeological Project, including excavations designed to reconstruct preliminary chronologies and delineate major occupations at two previously uninvestigated late Classic Maya sites in Guatemala. Aaron’s MA thesis examined the Late Classic ceramic figurine assemblage from the site of Motul de San José in Guatemala’s Department of Petén.

After completing his MA, Aaron entered the Cultural Resource Management industry, and from 2001 – 2007 designed and supervised CRM projects throughout the southeastern United States. His work during that time included numerous archaeological surveys, data recovery projects, cemetery delineations, and burial removals conducted on behalf of federal agencies and both private and commercial developers. In 2003 he directed excavations and burial removal at the Ensworth High School site (40DV184), a major late-Middle Archaic occupation along the Harpeth River near Nashville.

In 2007, Aaron joined the Tennessee Division of Archaeology as a Prehistoric Archaeologist. In this capacity he is responsible for managing prehistoric sites on State-owned lands, investigating disturbances to prehistoric human remains, conducting archaeological excavations and research, and informing the public about archaeology.  He regularly gives presentations on Tennessee’s prehistoric past and other archaeological topics for university, school, community, and avocational interest groups throughout the state. His recent projects have ranged from investigating looted rockshelters with the Tennessee Methamphetamine Taskforce to conducting excavations at a Late Pleistocene mastodon butchering site in Middle Tennessee. He has worked closely with archaeologists and students from MTSU conducting reanalysis of several old collections, and since 2009 has taught at MTSU as an adjunct professor.

Aaron Deter-Wolf speaks to members of the local media about the renewed looting efforts of the Cumblerand River shell middens post-May 2010 floods.

Aaron has recently been involved in various research collaborations with Dr. Peres, including serving as co-director for the 2010 National ScienceFoundation-funded emergency assessment of prehistoric sites along the Cumberland River, co-authoring a series of conference papers, journal articles, and book chapters on shell symbolism and shell-bearing sites, and acting as guest co-editors for the forthcoming issue of Tennessee Archaeology. In 2011, Aaron and Dr. Peres received a grant from the Tennessee Historical Commission to refine the radiocarbon chronology of shell-bearing sites along the Middle Cumberland in support of a National Register of Historic Places nomination for the site where the 2012 MTSU Field School is taking place.

Aaron’s individual research has recently focused on examining the archaeological evidence for prehistoric tattooing. He organized a symposium on ancient tattooing and body modification for the 2009 meeting of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference, and subsequently participated in several international symposia devoted to that topic. He has contributed chapters on the material culture of ancient tattooing and experimental testing of prehistoric tattoo technologies to a forthcoming  European publication, and is presently editing a volume on ancient tattooing in North America’s Eastern Woodlands, to be published in 2013 by the University of Texas Press.