Dr. John E. Worth is associate professor of historical archaeology in the Department of Anthropology at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, where he specializes in archaeology and ethnohistory focusing on the Spanish colonial era.

A Day of Archaeology at Mission Escambe, part 2

Continuing from our previous post, after dirt is excavated into labeled wheelbarrows or buckets, it is transported to one of our screening stations in order to recover all artifacts and other natural materials larger than a designated mesh size, normally 1/8 inch, although we use finer mesh, 1/16″, for pit and post features, and 1/4″ mesh for large volumes of bulk clay that has already been demonstrated to contain little cultural material.  Below is an image of soil ready to be dry-screened on a tripod screen.

The next image shows the same screen after all the dirt has been sifted and pushed through the 1/8″ hardware cloth screen.

Sometimes, dry screening is either too slow or difficult to get soils with high clay content or extensive roots through, so we use a waterscreening station set up for this purpose.  Below is graduate site supervisor Danielle Dadiego waterscreening a sample from her unit.

Documentation and record-keeping are more than pivotal for archaeological fieldwork; they are the whole reason we are doing this in the first place.  In addition to a series of field forms, maps, and catalogs, all students take detailed notes each day in their field books, recording every detail from the weather conditions and their work partners to the excavation strategies they employed and their personal interpretations of what they are seeing in the field.  Below is undergraduate student Brooke Joseph taking a moment to write in her field book.

Photography is employed at every stage of excavation, from the beginning to the end of excavation in a unit, taking images of plan and profile views for each level and feature encountered.  The image below shows Michelle Pigott taking an opening image of a new unit laid in today.

In the heat and humidity of Florida summers, our crew is fortunate to be able to have lunch each day at a nearby pavilion overlooking the Escambia River, where breezes are more frequent and the mosquitoes less intense.

At the end of each week of excavation, we take all students around the excavation areas of the site to provide a guided tour and overview of the findings and ongoing work that week, as shown below.  We conduct similar tours for other visitors to the site, which gives our field director and graduate supervisors an opportunity to get familiar with summarizing information for lay audiences.

We hope you have enjoyed this photographic essay of a day of archaeology at Mission San Joseph de Escambe.  Not all days result in equally exciting discoveries, but the slow, cumulative process of conducting archaeological science is immensely rewarding, especially knowing that our daily and weekly fieldwork will contribute to our overall understanding of the Apalachee and Spanish community that existed here more than 250 years ago in the Florida panhandle.

For regular updates on our project, which lasts through the end of July, or to read about our previous three field seasons at the site, please visit our project blog.


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.

Spanish Mission Archaeology near Pensacola, Florida

Students photo-cleaning the floor of an excavation block showing criss-crossing wall trenches from mission structures rebuilt over the course of the mission’s 20-year occupation between 1741 and 1761.

In recognition of the 2012 Day of Archaeology, the University of West Florida terrestrial archaeological field school at Mission San Joseph de Escambe will be spending the day as we have been for just over five weeks now, heading out to our site in Molino, Florida to begin yet another day of fieldwork in this mid-18th-century Spanish mission. With ten students and a professor, our crew works between about 7:30 am and 3:30 pm each day, confronting heat, humidity, and mosquitoes while peeling back the layers of time at this pristine mission site along the Escambia River. We will be taking lots of pictures today to post later on, but in the meantime, our project blog can be found at the following link, with many daily posts describing our activities and finds:


Please check back for an update on our day today.