Prehistory

Into the Bronze Age, commercial excavations at Llanfaethlu Anglesey

Since 2014 C.R Archaeology have been the principle archaeologist at the new school development at Llanfaethlu Anglesey on behalf of Anglesey council. A desk based assessment, geophysics and trenching uncovered a large amount of late #Neolithic pit and a possibly #Neolithic house. Further evaluation in 2015 led to the discovery of three #Neolithic houses,the largest Neolithic settlement in Wales.

As of June 2016 C.R Archaeology have been carrying out a watching brief on behalf the construction company. To the south of the #Neolithic settlement this watching brief uncovered a large group of early #Bronzeage pits and a classic #Bronzeage feature in #Wales a Burnt mound.

A break in construction this week has given the opportunity to start processing the large amount of pottery and stone artifacts.

8000 Year-old Hazelnuts in a Prehistoric Landscape

The outskirts of Liverpool may not be the first place that springs to mind for a phenomenological exploration of prehistory – but Lunt Meadows in Sefton offers just such an opportunity. On Friday 24th July visitors had the chance to walk out across a wetland landscape little different to almost 8,000 years ago, when groups of people lived here in some of the first houses ever built in Britain.

The site, on a sandy island nestled into a bend of the River Alt

The open landscape at Lunt Meadows is a haven for wildlife and archaeology

The site cleaned and ready for visitors

The site cleaned and ready for visitors

The day begins with a small team of archaeologists opening up and cleaning the site, revealing a fresh surface of damp sand with subtle signs of long-past occupation. The outlines of three houses can be seen, together with pits, stone tools and debris, burnt hazelnut shells, preserved reeds and carefully arranged groupings of pebbles, including iron pyrites or fool’s gold – striking to modern eyes when sparkling in the sunlight, but even more so to people who had never seem a metallic object. (more…)

Monrepos – the museum is open!


Since the Day of Archaeology on Friday and my last post, a lot has happened – in particular, a lot of work! During the whole weekend, many of us continued being busy with final preparations such as arranging exhibits, painting texts on the walls, labelling artefacts, glueing QR codes to the show cases and supplementary booklets, and an awful lot of cleaning!


The funny thing is that even though prehistory is often covered with dirt – well, at least the artefacts… and, occasionally, our field plans and equipments… and most of the time our clothes –, exhibits need to be perfectly clean.

Yet, cleaning is one of these works most people don’t expect when thinking of prehistoric archaeology but actually it’s a huge part of our job: On excavation we constantly clean profiles, the planum, the camera lenses and other equipment such as our glasses, afterwards the finds are cleaned, the data is cleaned from errors, outliers, false recordings, then we clear our minds to look at the result in a least biased way, well, and then we make everything extra clean and clear to exhibit the lessons we have learned… Hence, archaeologists are basically born cleaners!
For example, Dr. Elaine Turner usually studies hominid subsistence patterns based on faunal assemblages from Middle Pleistocene sites such as Schöningen or the Czech Kůlna Cave to Late Pleistocene Moroccan cave Taforalt but on this weekend she wiped the floors.

Dr. Alejandro Garcia Moreno, the GIS-specialist of the Schöningen and Neumark-Nord projects, polished the vitrines together with our trainee Nicola Scheyhing M.A. and also tidied the entrance together with Dr. Radu Ioviță. So by mid-day Monday, Monrepos was spick and span!

However, besides the exhibition, the official opening ceremony had to be prepared:

Tables and chairs had to be put up, huge umbrellas had to be opened outside the main entrance of the museum due to the disappointing weather forecast, decoration had to be made and spread, the buffet arranged, concession stands equipped, glasses filled, bottles with more wine, sparkling wine, water, rose syrup, birch syrup, and elder syrup, that Juliane Weiß M.A. had made, had to be spread on the stands, a speaker’s desk had to be set up, microphone and speakers had to be synchronised for the hall and so on and so on…


But it was not just our staff and our colleagues from Mainz or the supporting actors who are going to be the guides – family members and friends were also helping such as Aritza’s wife Dr. Pauline Buthaud and our future fellow, Dr. Karen Rubens (currently at Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig).

We are still not sure how we did it. For sure, there were moments of pure exhaustion.

Nevertheless, with joined forces we prepared the exhibition for visitors on Monday 1 pm!

When the “event” began at 1:30 pm, the house became filled up with people! With 100-200 expected guest and almost as many cars to come up the long way above the Rhine valley, Wolfgang Heuschen M.A. and Sascha Sieber had to organise the car park and saw nothing of the official speeches. However, lucky them because due to the packed hall the air really became thin during the official speeches of Prof. Dr. Falko Daim, head of our parent institute, the RGZM, of the minister of education, science, and culture of Rhineland-Palatinate, Mrs. Doris Ahnen, of the vice-president of the Leibniz society, Prof. Dr. Dr. Friedrich W. Hesse, and the head of our institute, Prof. Dr. Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser. She introduced the actor guides who instantly relieved the audience from the ceremonial atmosphere when asking them to participate in a little experiment about human behaviour… the results surprised quite a few of our guests. After this cheerful end to the official part, the storm on the buffet began and the first visitors were guided through the museum. Dr. Olaf Jöris invited people to follow him through the exhibition with an in-depth scientific view on the concept and the content.

Some actors remained at special places within the exhibition to offer visitors insights into their programme. Outside the house trainee, undergraduate and graduate students were serving drinks while post-docs kept the bottles coming from the fridge – and finally, the sun also came out!

However, if you think: “That’s it!” – well, no! Since the museum opened for the public on Tuesday, of course, someone had to clean up after the party…
Dishes, tables, and floors had to be cleaned, chairs and tables put away, decoration spread through the house, and everything put back to its right place…


The opening for the public on Tuesday went quite smoothly then: Even though it was Tuesday and holidays haven’t begin yet, we had several visitors and Frank Moseler M.A. also had to give his first guided tours. Today, it continues quite nicely with the first children’s birthdays.

However, after the final cleaning up on Monday, we could finally begin relaxing after a very long day and a very, very long precedence… So we say: “Cheers! And we hope to see you soon in our new exhibition!”

P.S.: You should definitively use our wishing tree – wishes made to the tree do come true: Germany became World Champion! Hooray!!!

Artefact Reproduction as a Trade

My name is Martin Lominy. I’m a trained archaeologist, a career educator, a self-taught craftsman and the founder of Aboriginal Technologies Autochtones, a Quebec based business with an educational mission aimed at providing the general public with a more practical vision of the past and a better understanding of aboriginal cultures of North America through the experimentation of ancient technologies.  Since 2005 we have provided artefact replicas, educational workshops, interactive conferences, craft demonstrations and consultation services for a variety of institutions such as schools, colleges, universities, interpretation centers and museums across Canada and beyond. We also enjoy collaborating on various projects ranging from experimental archaeology to movie sets. Rather than summarize too much information or present one of many projects, I’m offering here a photo essay of various subjects and activities we have worked on since last year’s post.

Collaboration with a PhD student from the University of Montreal to make and test Aurignacian arrows. Photo credit: Luc Doyon

Photo credit: Luc Doyon

Collaboration with PhD student Luc Doyon from the University of Montreal to make and test Aurignacian arrows on an animal target.

Educational kit designed for Quebec schools to supplement the teaching program on Iroquoian society through activities based on experimental archaeology.

Educational kit designed for Quebec schools to supplement the teaching program on Iroquoian society through activities based on experimental archaeology.

Part of large order of Northwest coast fishing tools for a Hollywood movie set.

Part of a large order of Northwest coast fishing tool replicas for the movie set of Night at the Museum 3.

Stone axe from our collection used by local archaeology cooperative Gaïa for a dwelling reconstruction experiment. Photo credit: Francine Gélinas

Photo credit: Francine Gélinas

Stone axe replica from our collection used by archaeology consultants Gaïa for a dwelling reconstruction experiment.

Set of stone tools made for a public dig simulation at a local interpretation enter.

Set of stone tool replicas made for a public dig simulation at Pointe-du-Buisson museum.

Collaboration with survival school Les Primitifs to teach a group the production techniques of aboriginal fishing technologies.

Photo credit: Mathieu Hébert

Collaboration with survival school Les Primitifs to teach the production techniques of aboriginal fishing technologies.

Set of prehistoric bone tool replicas for educational activities interpretation in a museum.

Set of prehistoric bone tool replicas for interpretation activities in a museum.

Experimenting the production of a prehistoric pitch recipe based on recent discoveries.

Experimenting the production of a prehistoric pitch recipe based on recent discoveries.

Young apprentice collecting raw materials for cordage production. Most of our replicas are made with materials that we harvest ourselves.

Young apprentice collecting raw materials for cordage production. Most of our replicas are made with materials that we harvest ourselves.

Some pottery tools from our collection used in an experimental workshop with university students.

Some pottery tools from our collection used in an experimental workshop with university students.

Assisting a class of grade school students in a model project on aboriginal people.

Assisting a class of grade school students in a model project on aboriginal lifestyles.

Most archaeologists get covered in dirt. We mostly get covered in dust.

Most archaeologists get covered in dirt. We mostly get covered in dust.

It seems most of our projects begin like this.

It seems most of our projects begin like this.

One of our most popular items: cooked knives. Just as we use it for artifact replication, our customers used it to rediscover old woodworking techniques.

One of our most popular items: crooked knife. Just as we use it in our reproduction process, our customers used it to rediscover old woodworking techniques.

A variety of Northwest Coast artifact replicas for a school program on aboriginal culture in British Columbia.

A variety of artefact replicas for a school program on aboriginal culture.

A custom replica for a European collector. Many of our clients order pieces that they could otherwise have in their collection.

A custom replica of a warclub for a private collector. Many of our clients order pieces that they could not otherwise have in their collection.

From mountains to sea…and everything in between: Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service

It is our great pleasure to welcome you on the Day of Archaeology 2014 to the Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service.

Situated in the North East of Scotland, we are a small team (just the three of us!) with responsibility for a large geographic area – not only do we act as the regional archaeology service for Aberdeenshire Council, but also for Angus and Moray Councils, which is equivalent to 10,733km2!

Aberdeenshire, Angus and Moray Council areas in North East Scotland ©ACAS

Map showing location of Aberdeenshire, Angus and Moray Council areas in North East Scotland ©ACAS

Protection, Management and Promotion

For any given area roughly 95% of the historic environment is not protected by national designations, and it is down to Services like ourselves at local government level in the UK to protect it.

The team’s remit is to protect, manage and promote the historic environment of Aberdeenshire, Angus & Moray. A big part of this is maintaining a Historic Environment Record (HER) for each of these areas, an ever-growing database of sites and monuments of archaeological and historical interest hosted on our website.

There are currently almost 32,000 sites recorded in the HER, ranging from Lower Paleolithic auroch horns through Early Medieval Pictish stones to World War II defences. That’s almost 12,000 years of history!

The HER acts as the hub for our primary work within the Councils. We use it as the basis for assessing the potential impact of planning applications, forestry, utility and other consultations on the historic environment. The resulting archaeological mitigation work from these consultations then feeds back into the HER, broadening our (and therefore everyone’s) knowledge and understanding of the historic environment here in the North East, and helping to inform future decisions.

We will provide the best Protection, Management and Promotion of the Historic Environment of Aberdeenshire for the benefit of all ©ACAS

Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service Team Motto ©ACAS

(more…)

2013 Day of Archaeology Festival Thank You!

The D.C. Historic Preservation Office (DC HPO) would like to thank everyone who came out and supported the 2013 Day of Archaeology Festival!  Thank you for stopping by our table and participating in our activities, we really enjoyed having you.   We would also like to thank Archaeology in the Community, for hosting the D.C. festival. 

It was a very successful event!

For those of you who wish to learn more about the DC HPO, within the Office of Planning, please navigate to our website.

The DC HPO presented on Prehistoric Pottery and Historic Ceramic assemblages, found in DC archaeological sites.  Displays were complete with signage and artifacts.  Visitors were engaged in a variety of activities, such as the “What is This?” game, where visitors had to guess the identity and function of artifacts on display.  The Stratigraphy Exercise, where visitors matched artifacts to associated soil contexts.  And, finally, the Pinch Pot making station, where visitors make their own clay Pinch Pots using prehistoric-themed tools and techniques.  It was a huge hit with the kids!

Scroll down to view photos!

Photos and Captions Blog Photos and Captions

 

Les Queyriaux (France) : an exceptional discovery for INRAP

I’m Carine Muller-Pelletier. For my “first” ‘Day of Archaeology’ I would like to present to you a typical day in my life as an archaeologist, on the site of Queyriaux near Clermont-Ferrand in central France, where I have been excavating for more than a year.
5 AM, time to wake up. I have to hand out a scientific update on the site’s findings, or at least finish the chapter I have begun last night. At least, the dig is only about 15 minutes away from where I live. 7:30 AM, time to open up the site, to offload the vehicles. Early rising colleagues are here to help. We set up the office. 8 AM the day’s work begins, and I start with the ongoing troubleshooting.

Serious atmosphere in the office – working on documentation, plans and descriptions. © Julia Patouret, Inrap

Serious atmosphere in the office – working on documentation, plans and descriptions. © Julia Patouret, Inrap

A first round of the site: some 28,000 square metres, with everywhere a high density of finds. The race now begins, talking to everyone, on each excavation sector: those where mechanical tools are used to open the grounds, those where ground structures are dug with a mini-scoop, those where level excavations are carried out, using hand-held tools (wow, its great), and those were stratigraphy is being recorded. I need to keep track of what is going on, it’s so important that I have a clear overview of everything.

Base of the mechanical clearing showing the density of the structures: no respite! © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Base of the mechanical clearing showing the density of the structures: no respite! © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Base of the mechanical clearing showing the density of the structures: no respite! © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Unearthing a middle Neolithic vase from an opened ditch: the trawl takes over the mechanical tool. © Julia Patouret, Inrap

Excavation by square metres of a middle Neolithic occupation floor, with a large heated stone hearth in the foreground. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Excavation by square metres of a middle Neolithic occupation floor, with a large heated stone hearth in the foreground. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Fine-tuning is sometimes called for, in function of yesterday’s results: new question may arise, and we need to find the appropriate methods to answer them. We consult and debate, and then I need to decide quickly – this is my role.
Specialists follow each others on site to collect the data necessary for the scientific report. It is important to clearly highlight the scientific potential of the site: its state of preservation, the nature of the vestiges, their typological and chronological attribution, aspects of technological behaviour, some preliminary functional interpretations of the occupation zones and their spatial organisation – and that, for each chronological phase. And then, all of that needs to be replaced in relation to what is already known and to the answers we can expect given our outstanding questions.

Discussion and consultation. (I am on the right !)  © Julie Gerez, Inrap

Discussion and consultation. (I am on the right !) © Julie Gerez, Inrap

6 PM, time to endorse my young mother’s role …. until 9 PM, when I return to the scientific report and the day’s new information.
All in all, this has been an intense 3 months, during which I was asked to produce two scientific reports (a sum of 60 and 90 pages of work usually done as post-excavation work). But the site certainly merited such an investment!

Clearing fragments of terra cotta with imprints of the clay dome of a collapsed oven from the middle Neolithic. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Clearing fragments of terra cotta with imprints of the clay dome of a collapsed oven from the middle Neolithic. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Indeed a distinctive characteristic of the site of Queyriaux is the presence of densely structured and remarkably well preserved occupation floors, situated in dwellings dated to the middle Neolithic and the middle Bronze Age periods. The abundance, diversity and good preservation of the finds collected further enhance the value of the site. A rare opportunity thus emerged to connect the organisation of circulation on the occupation floors with the associated material culture, highlighting a broad spectrum of human activities. Together, these strands of information led towards a more faithful ‘paleo-ethnological’ reconstruction of ancient daily life. The spatial distribution of the finds shows an organised occupation of space, characterised by well delimited and complementary areas, specialised in different activities around a central zone where large scale buildings were present. The data we are gathering can therefore expand our knowledge on villages from that period, and help us address such questions as the hinterland territories of these communities, their interactions with the environment and the landscape, and their networks of exchange.
At a regional level, the site presents a first opportunity to study the middle Bronze Age.

Photo 7 : Excavating an animal deposit (carnivore) in a middle Bronze Age ditch. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Excavating an animal deposit (carnivore) in a middle Bronze Age ditch. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Sites of  “Chasséen” Neolithic are more numerous, and in most of them occupation floors have been identified. They have not always been studied, however, or exposed on too small surfaces. At Queyriaux, we felt it important to request the scheduling of the site as an exceptional discovery: this would give us at last the necessary means to excavate and study wide stretches of these occupation floors.

Parts of an occupation layer sector being manually excavated. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Parts of an occupation layer sector being manually excavated. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Dismantling and recording a heated stone hearth. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Dismantling and recording a heated stone hearth. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

We have thus worked on the site all through the seasons, always with the necessary scientific rigour and dedication.  Alongside our own site, was also fully excavated the antique necropolis found alongside the nearby Roman way.

Wet sieving sediments onsite never stops, even in rough weather! © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Wet sieving sediments onsite never stops, even in rough weather! © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

The return of nicer weather. © Marcel Brizard, Inrap

The return of nicer weather. © Marcel Brizard, Inrap

And every day, despite the stress and the weariness, I would reach the site with same emotion. We are so lucky, I was telling myself, that we can study such an exceptional site – a great and possibly unique experience in my life as an archaeologist. Results from the specialist analyses are beginning to arrive, and they confirm, to our great satisfaction, the impressions on the field.

: Holes and heaps on the last day of the dig. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Holes and heaps on the last day of the dig. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

 

Carine Muller-Pelletier,  archaeologist at Inrap

 


Eve Boyle (RCAHMS) – Angus

Angus. ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Angus. ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Eve Boyle, RCAHMS

Eve Boyle, RCAHMS

A complex ancient landscape at Wheen, Glen Clova

My name is Eve Boyle, and for over twenty years I have served as a field archaeologist with RCAHMS. This job has led me all over the country, identifying, mapping and describing visible remains of our ancestor’s homes, farms and fields. It comes as a surprise to many people (and sometimes ourselves too!) to learn that there are still many areas of the country, particularly in the Highlands, with an abundance of unrecognised and unrecorded sites. The Angus Glens, on the edge of the Cairngorms, is one area that still has archaeological riches awaiting discovery. As an illustration of this, I have chosen as my favourite site this small area of pasture at Wheen, straddling the public road running into Glen Clova.

Prehistoric and later features at Wheen, Glen Clova, as mapped by RCAHMS in 1999, against modern vertical aerial photograph. South is at the top of the image. Licensed to: RCAHMS for PGA, through Next Perspectives ™

Prehistoric and later features at Wheen, Glen Clova, as mapped by RCAHMS in 1999, against modern vertical aerial photograph. South is at the top of the image. Licensed to: RCAHMS for PGA, through Next Perspectives ™

We mapped all the sites you can see in the picture in 1999, but it was only in the previous year, when this aerial photo was taken, that we realised there was anything of significance to be recorded in the glen. The crisp low light on a November afternoon throws up long sharp shadows that cause the low banks and knee-high footings of stone walls to jump out at us, almost shouting ‘Here I am! Look at me!’

The most exciting features are the prehistoric round houses, dating from the Bronze and Iron Ages. Three of these are clearly visible, one just left of centre in the foreground, another (which is oval rather than truly round) at the bottom right corner, the third in the middle distance, close to the right-hand edge of the frame. But there are others for the sharp eye to find. Our survey map shows seven round-houses in the area of the photo, with another six in the forestry and on the moorland to the north (the survey map has been turned to have south at the top to match the aerial photo). These are big structures, up to 50 feet across, the homes of farmers and herdsmen living in the glen two or even three thousand years ago. Around them the low light picks out small heaps of stone, now overgrown with grass and heather; these were formed as our ancestors threw into piles the stones dragged up by their ploughs.

Oblique aerial view of prehistoric, medieval and later features at Wheen, Glen Clova. Taken from the north. Copyright RCAHMS (SC437236)

Oblique aerial view of prehistoric, medieval and later features at Wheen, Glen Clova. Taken from the north. Copyright RCAHMS (SC437236)

But there are many other structures here – rectangular buildings occupied in more recent times, perhaps no more than three or four hundred years ago. The largest group of these, at the top of the photo, represents the remains of a farmstead from the 18th century, while the other small buildings (all shown in red on the survey map) were once perhaps the homes of labourers. The survey map also shows (in brown) short lengths of ruined walls and earthen banks, the remnants of a system of fields, some of which may be medieval or later, while others perhaps are as old as the round houses.

This photo is a marvellous example of the great wealth of archaeology in our countryside, often no more than a stone-throw from roads we drive along every day.

This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.

For further information you can also contact the local authority archaeologist. Contact details in this case are:

Bruce Mann – Regional Archaeologist
Aberdeenshire Archaeology Service
Aberdeenshire, Moray & Angus Councils
archaeology@aberdeenshire.gov.uk
www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/archaeology

 

Post-Excavation: What happens after you dig a site?

For my PhD research, I have been working on a couple of Early Iron Age sites in northeastern Botswana. To put these sites in a comparable context, they are hilltop settlements from prehistoric farming and herding communities that date to roughly 1000 AD in the Kalahari Desert. The sites I am working on are only a couple of dozens of known sites clustered in the region in which I have been working, and the region (northeastern Botswana) is generally considered part of the broader geographical and cultural region of Southern Africa (including what is now South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique). Southern Africa experienced a substantial influx of settlement by farming and herding populations (who migrated south from Central and East Africa) in the first millennium AD, resulting in many hundreds of archaeological sites that now dot the landscape. Part of what is fascinating about studying communities from this time period (commonly called the Early Iron Age, for the metal-working technology the communities brought with them) is how interconnected they appear to have been, despite the often very long distances and harsh terrain separating various settlement locations. Evidence of shared technology, village organization, ceramic styles, and participation in long-distance trade spans across much of Southern Africa for this time period. But equally fascinating are the sites, or components of sites, that don’t appear to fit the ‘typical’ pattern – certain archaeological sites have yielded ceramics or other types of artifacts with unusual styles or other unexpected material, for example, with radiocarbon dates earlier or later than would be expected for that kind of material.

Southern Africa was not a place void of human occupation before Early Iron Age population began their colonization of the subcontinent. Hunter-gatherer communities had thrived in the many varied ecological zones found in Southern Africa – from the damp, misty Cape to the sunny, arid Namib Desert – for tens of thousands of years before Iron Age communities establishes themselves in the area. Hunter-gatherers continued to subsist alongside the newcomers under a variety of conditions, sometimes coexisting in separate communities on the same landscape, at other times disappearing from the archaeological record (either moving to new territory or becoming subsumed into the more sedentary farmer society), or setting up camp nearby and apparently trading goods and services with the farming and herding villages. Archaeologists believe that the presence of hunter-gatherers in Early Iron Age communities can account for some of the ‘atypical’ sites or site components – the pieces that don’t seem to fit the basic Iron Age ‘pattern.’ It certainly would make sense, if two vastly different socioeconomic groups coexist on a landscape, to expect to see something different going on from when only one socioeconomic group is around. Of course, you can’t get even two archaeologists to agree on everything (where would be the fun in that?), and so a lot of the research being done on the Early Iron Age is to understand HOW much variation comes from the presence of hunter-gatherers, or even what it means to be, or ‘stay’ hunter-gatherer as part of a farming community, as well as understanding that part of the variation in the archaeological record that cannot be accounted for by hunter-gatherers. The Early Iron Age lasted for several centuries. Many archaeologists, myself included, expect that populations during this time period did not have perfectly static behavioral or cultural traditions. We want to tease out and better understand more of the differences among communities – nowadays there is a lot of talk about ‘regional variation,’ based on recent findings. My work, for example, looks to compare geographically broad understandings, or models, of the Early Iron Age with the very site-specific findings of the sites I excavated.

The tricky part of making sense of all of this, as is usually the case with archaeology, comes when one tries to fit the ‘broad view’, or general model of how things are understood, such as I just described above, with a more ‘narrow view’ such as the data one collects during fieldwork on a particular site, or after fieldwork during post-excavation data collection and analysis. The Early Iron Age of Southern Africa looks very, very different when viewed at the level of one site, or one set of artifacts in a lab, than it does as viewed through nice, neat descriptions on the pages of journal articles; it takes quite a lot of work to get from one to the other (more than I myself can even say – as a PhD candidate I have not published anything peer-reviewed yet!). So how DOES one understand what is going on at just one site, or just one batch of artifacts, in terms of how it relates to an entire centuries-long, geography-specific cultural horizon? It is more than just counting and naming the types of artifacts we found during our excavations at the site (though that is a part of the process too), and it is a lot more than simply plugging in one piece to an existing puzzle.

Every archaeologist will probably give you a somewhat different answer to the question I just asked above, and there’s something about that which is crucial to understanding archaeology as a discipline – we don’t all work in the same way, because we not only have different specialties and areas of interest, but we also operate under some different sets of theoretical assumptions and employ some variation in our methods as well.  That said, here’s a rundown of what I have been working on in the last couple of months in the interest of advancing my PhD research:

  • Learning more about archaeological sites that are contemporaneous with the ones I excavated. I know – didn’t I take the time to read and research this before I set out on fieldwork? Of course I did, otherwise the National Science Foundation would have never seen fit to fund my work – but there is a major difference between what gets excavated at a site and what ends up published about it. I’ve been talking, endlessly, to anyone I can pin down in one place long enough to tell me more about the sites they worked on, and their assemblages, how they compare with mine, methods of analysis they used, and other information that I could not have anticipated before I did my fieldwork. Honestly I think some researchers see me coming and hide because they know I’m going to ask them more questions. But nevermind that – I want as much comparative, contextual information as I can (pragmatically) manage in order to understand the finds from my own excavations.
  • Cataloging finds and conducting basic analysis on some categories of finds. Inventory, inventory, inventory. I can’t say much of anything substantive about technology, behavior, diet or anything else from the Early Iron Age unless I know what I’ve got, how much of it I’ve got, and in some cases, what it’s made of or what class of thing it is. For example, how much animal bone and tooth was recovered, and where was it found on the site? Which excavation units contained glass beads or burned seeds, and at what depths? I can’t say how many times I’ve revised and revamped the spreadsheets and other forms that contain my catalogue, in order to make sure my data are being managed properly. The same ought to go for the artifacts themselves – it’s a bigger job in a lot of cases, but the artifact collections likewise need to be stored and managed so that they are properly preserved as well as easily accessible.
  • Networking with other researchers to arrange more in-depth analyses of portions of the artifact assemblage. I cannot do everything myself, especially since I do not right now have the specialized training needed to conduct radiocarbon dating, species-specific zooarchaeological (animal bone) identification, and a full-scale ceramic identification. I also don’t have the time – I am trying to finish my degree in about a year’s time, and each of these analyses can take months! Instead, as the lead investigator on the work at the site, I coordinate agreements with specialists to conduct some of the analysis for me. They get pay, and credit, and I get expert-level feedback which I can then cite in my dissertation. It also builds partnerships and may lead to further work down the road. It’s generally good for everyone.
  • Taking notes. Lab notes, field notes, conference notes, lunchtime notes if I have a sudden inspiration, whatever. Constantly documenting what I am doing and why I am doing it; who I’ve talked to and what they said, etc. Not only will this help me write the methods section of my dissertation, it has also proved crucial for maintaining a consistent and rational methodology while still in the process of collecting the data. It’s really easy to think you’ll remember why you labeled that artifact bag a certain way, but in your memory, that one detail is going to get lost among the millions of others eventually.
  • Asking for help. It goes without saying that I need help – I’m just one person, for starters, and I’m still a student running my first research project, for another. It also goes without saying that the networking, collaboration and feedback I talk about above would not be happening without substantial help from my advising committee, other graduate students, and colleagues who have stepped forward with suggestions and offers of aid. However, I also have had to push myself to ask openly for help, in the form of volunteer assistance, and faculty advice, loans of equipment, and all sorts of other things. No way I’d be pulling off this project without these. I am not the sort of person who instinctively or comfortably asks for help for just about anything, so it has really been part of my education to learn what I cannot do on my own, and how to seek that assistance.
  • Keeping up with the literature. It’s part of any academic’s work, and it doesn’t go away just because I’m actively dissertating! I had to scramble to brief myself on recent research findings just before a conference last month because I’d been so focused on data collection over the last year or so. I couldn’t believe how much I’d missed in just twelve months.
  • Working on other projects. As if all this weren’t enough, right? But it doesn’t pay the bills, unfortunately, and it won’t until I graduate and land a full-time position, so until then I make my way by teaching classes (when I can get them) and applying for small university-level scholarships and fellowships, some of which are stipends for smaller research or education projects. Then there’s also student loans, but I don’t want to think about those…

I am at the point now where I’ve collected the great majority of data I need for analysis, and arranged for the rest to be conducted by specialists. My own in-depth analysis of the data will be the next step: I am planning a multi-scalar spatial analysis of the material components of one site with the intent to compare them to some other contemporary sites excavated by other researchers in the past, with the intent to gain a better understanding of how much spatial patterning is the result of site formation processes and how much is the result of patterned, intentional cultural behavior. How much of this will end up in the dissertation is up for discussion, because that’s a LOT of work. But if there’s one way to sum up archaeological research, it’s this: there’s always more to do!

Survey, Shell Middens, and Ceramics: Pensacola’s Prehistory

Day of Archaeology 2012 falls in the middle of the University of West Florida’s (UWF) 10 week long field school season. The university offers four archaeological field schools—three terrestrial (Campus Survey, Colonial Frontiers, and Arcadia Mill) and one maritime—and I am fortunate to serve as a supervisor at Campus Survey. Under the direction of Dr. Ramie Gougeon and graduate student supervisors, university students transform classroom knowledge into real world experience. Campus Survey teaches students about archaeological methods and techniques related specifically to cultural resource management (CRM). Students learn how to use a compass, read maps, and develop other field techniques while also sharpening their digging skills. After completing the survey portion of the field school, students also excavate a prehistoric site—named Thompson’s Landing– on UWF’s campus.

Campus Survey begins with students learning about archaeological survey techniques by digging countless shovel tests.

To begin this summer, we surveyed a portion of campus near Thompson’s Landing. Campus growth and general improvements may place a road within the survey area. As the students learned how to dig shovel tests, take notes, complete paperwork, and successfully navigate the woods, they also encountered what most people consider the most interesting part of archaeology—the artifacts!

Within the first three weeks, the students discovered and defined the boundaries of four separate lithic scatters. Two shovel tests revealed interesting features—one of shell and the other a burnt pit—that led to the first units of the summer. Unfortunately, the shells appeared modern and the other feature is likely a burnt tree. Despite these faux features, the survey portion provided great information about larger research questions relating to Pensacola’s prehistory. The lithic scatters suggest information about prehistoric peoples’ behaviors and activities while also providing information about site formation processes.

A completed shovel test– proof that a round shovel can dig a square hole 1 meter deep!

Research questions and excavations at Thompson’s Landing, however, focus more specifically on shells and ceramics. Last year, field school students unearthed a substantial shell midden with complicated, ill-defined chronology. This year we hoped to identify discrete shell deposits to better outline periods of use, to understand subsistence patterns, and to improve our knowledge of ceramic differentiation through time within the region. With the aid of auger test results, the completion of five units, and the use of student manpower, the site began to provide answers.

We exposed the shell midden in its entirety before bisecting it and excavating in levels.

Of these five units (three of which included shell midden), one proved essential to answering some of our questions with ease. The shells present included rangia and polymesoda, two different types of clams. Between the two, rangia usually serves as the dominant species, yet the midden primarily yielded polymesoda shells. The dietary shift caused new questions to arise: Did food preferences change? Did environmental factors affect the shells availability? Perhaps changes in salinity or water temperature affected the shells and enabled polymesoda to dominate?

Volunteer, Lianne Bennett, sits next to the exposed shell midden.

As we contemplated the significance of the shells, ceramic sherds began to appear in the midden. The sherds recovered were shell-tempered, consistently dating the midden to the Mississippian period. Despite modern trash, such as glass and iron fragments, resting a few centimeters above the shell midden, no modern artifacts appeared within the feature. The first half of field school enabled students to learn, provided a feature comprised of an intact artifactual assemblage, and the beginning of a fantastic answer to one of our research questions!

The material culture associated with the shell midden– from one level of one half of the unit from one day.

A shell tempered sherd with the incised and punctated decorations suggesting a Moundville Incised variety Bottlecreek. The small handle likely enabled people to hang the vessels while preparing the food.

Shell-tempered ceramic sherds recovered from the shell midden consistently date the midden to the Mississippian period. The sherds pictured above are identified as Moundville Incised variety Bottlecreek.

The archaeological process often follows a pattern in which the discovery of new information leads to new questions. I hope the next year fuses the information we have (or have unearthed) with the data and knowledge that archaeology helps to uncover. If you’d like to know more about our field school, like the UWF Campus Field School Facebook page.