site supervisor

A Day of Archaeology at Mission Escambe

Today was pretty much a typical day of fieldwork at Mission San Joseph de Escambe in Molino, Florida.  We are in our fourth field season out at the mission site, which between 1741 and 1761 was home to a small community of Apalachee Indians and a Franciscan friar, along with a small Spanish infantry garrison of 4 men for a decade, and a larger 16-man Spanish cavalry garrison for just over a year. Our crew, consisting of ten students and one professor, gathered as usual at 7:30 a.m. on site to begin work.  The photo essay below will illustrate some of our normal daily activities as we gradually gather more and more information about the mission and its residents during the colonial era.

As shown below, upon arrival at the site, our first task is to unstitch our excavation units from the plastic sheeting covering them, which is carefully sealed with rows of sandbags every afternoon before we go home in order to avoid water damage in case of Florida’s common afternoon and evening thunderstorms.

At the same time, the total station is set up and resectioned for use during the day, fixing the instrument at a known point with respect to our established site grid, and allowing us to take vertical and horizontal measurements in all our active excavation units throughout the day’s work.  Sometimes this must be performed again during the day, especially after lunch when heat and simple gravity may have altered the tilt of the total station.  The photo below shows graduate supervisor Michelle Pigott working with her sister Eileen, volunteering this week at the site.

Before beginning any new work, each unit must be carefully cleaned of all loose dirt that may have fallen in from the walls or ground surface during the stitching operation, and then bags and tags must be labeled for each separate provenience to be excavated, and paperwork filled out before any new dirt can be excavated.  Tools are unpacked and field notebooks updated to record daily site conditions, crew members present, and the objectives of the ongoing work.

Once everything has been properly staged for the day, excavation can begin in each unit, sometimes using flat shovels designed to slice off thin layers of sediment across each unit and provenience, hoping to see soil stains or in situ artifacts before proceeding any deeper.  In the photo below, graduate supervisor Katie Brewer uses a flat shovel to excavate the uppermost deposits in a unit designed to track the course of a stockade wall constructed in 1760 at the site.

More careful excavation requires the use of a trowel in order to exercise greater control over depth and speed of excavation.  The Marshalltown 5-inch pointing trowel is the instrument of choice.  Below, site supervisor Danielle Dadiego excavates a portion of the stockade trench already exposed in her unit.

Below, undergraduate student Nick Simpson uses his trowel to remove loose dirt next to a profile excavated through a burned clay floor, possibly associated with the 1761 Creek Indian raid that destroyed the mission community.

Our next post will show more scenes from our day.

Sorting Photos

It looks like I’m going to be spending most of today sorting photos and writing indices to add to a report on survey work I did on Monday. Already I’m struggling to remember which building footings are which in a large, spread post-mediaeval township in Strathdearn which, although a SAM, is under threat of being surrounded by commercial forestry. that includes enclosure and removal of grazing. At present the township is well managed by the grazing sheep and has a lovely cover of wild flowers ( a great distraction during survey) but the client is giving up on sheep and is diversifying into conifers. So, like so many other fantastic sites in the Highlands, this ine will, if the scheme goes ahead, gradually disappear under coarse grasses, bracken and ultimately shrubs. What landowner is going to commit to, and keep to the commitment of, a long-term programme of management of their archaeology within forestry?
What else is occupying me today? Whether or not to apply to be site supervisor on a local comunity dig. It’d be great to scrape the rust off the trowel, but all the comercial clients still awaiting completion of evaluation reports will not share my pleasure. Speaking of which, back to those photos. Now which building was that?

‘The Commercial’

So I’ve been hard at work for half a day now, putting my 7 hours in my ‘day job’. At the present I am writing the text for a publication of a site that was excavated in late 2008.  Whilst due to privacy reasons I can’t tell you where the site is, or who the work was done for, I can tell you about the amazing archaeology that we found. You might be thinking that it has been quite a while since we excavated the site, so why am I just working on the publication now?

Well, there is a huge amount of work to be done in what is called the ‘post-excavation’ stage of a project. Firstly the supervisor of the site must organise all of the records done on site and send all of the finds and samples away to the specialists to look at and make their reports. This, depending on the amount, can take months. After this stage an ‘Post-Excavation Assessment’ is completed by the site supervisor, which looks at the records and the specialist reports, and works out preliminarily what was found and what this may represent. It also outlines the publication to be undertaken later on. After this stage, this report has to be approved by the client and the county archaeologists which may take a few more months. A lot of time and further specialist analysis later, and here I am, three years later, writing the final text.

So what did we find? On a relatively small site we found evidence of occupation for 10,000 years! At first the site was occupied in the Mesolithic by hunter gatherers, shaping flint tools to hunt with. The site was revisited multiple times by different groups of families over hundreds of years. Later the site took on a ritual focus with the establishment of a large ringwork (a ring ditch) which may have been of a ceremonial function and was later expanded on by two smaller versions. This site would be have been revisited by people in the Neolithic as a spiritual site. There was further evidence for occupation in the Anglo-Saxon, and Post-Medieval period too. It’s an exciting project that should hopefully be published next year!!!

I’ll come back later to update on the PhD work done today,,,,