Field School

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.

 

Making Archaeologists

Matt Hagar, Beth Pruitt, and Lauren Hicks on the East Cove screen.

Matt Hagar, Beth Pruitt, and Lauren Hicks on the East Cove screen. Source: Kate Deeley

The weather report says that today is hot and humid. High 101° F.  Heat index near 110° F. The students of the 2012 Archaeology in Annapolis field school from the University of Maryland know that it will be a sweltering and tiring day as they walk through their morning haze to collect their equipment from storage. They also can’t wait to see what they will find today.

Two weeks ago, we were in Annapolis. In view of the Maryland state capitol building, we excavated in three backyards, exploring the connections of past tenants to the Naval Academy and to nineteenth century immigration to the United States. For the second half of the field school, we moved to the Wye House plantation on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, home to a line of Edward Lloyds stretching back to the mid-seventeenth century. Here, the students chase the foundation walls of two slave quarters discovered last year.

South Long Green students.

South Long Green students. Source: Ben Skolnik

The site is separated into two parts. The South Long Green is located on the yard of the plantation, within sight of the Great House, and the home of the remains of a two-story brick slave quarter. The East Cove, where the students search for a building called the “Brick Row Quarter” on a historic map, is sheltered by a thicket of trees across the creek from the Long Green.

In running the field school, co-directors Kate Deeley, Ben Skolnik, and I recognize that we must perform a balancing act—prioritizing in turns the education of undergraduate students, our PhD dissertation research, and the communication of information to the public. It is a mixture of a classroom and training grounds. The instruction is as much somatic as it is intellectual, and the students have come a long way in their movements within the units, techniques with the trowel, and familiarity with the artifacts and their significance.

Richard Nyachiro with his measuring tape.

Richard Nyachiro with his measuring tape. Source: Ben Skolnik

The other element to add to the juggling show is motivation and good spirits, especially on a day like today.  The excitement grows as the brick rubble, glass, nails, and ceramic sherds coalesce into interpretations about where these buildings are situated on the landscape and in time. Despite this, the work is hard and the knowledge that Monday will be their last day to dig their units is beginning to settle in. Conversation is informal and playful—ranging from the childhood nostalgia of Pokémon to everyone’s top desert-island reading choices—and it helps the buckets of dirt go swiftly by.

Duncan Winterwyer with his root clippers.

Duncan Winterwyer with his root clippers. Source: Ben Skolnik

After lunch, the students are joined by Dr. Mark Leone and gather on the East Cove for the site seminars, which are held every Friday. The shade of dense trees is a relief.  One by one, the crew of each unit describes to the rest of the class the accomplishments and interpretations of that week. Using an extended folding ruler as a pointer, the crewmates take turns to indicate features, explain level changes, and point out soon-to-be-excavated artifacts.

It is a chance not only for the students to connect their unit to the others within the larger landscape, but also to proudly demonstrate their knowledge and achievements. They grow accustomed to fielding questions about the steps they took and the conclusions they continue to draw from their findings. After the students on the East Cove complete their tour, we move across the creek to the South Long Green.

Brittany Hutchinson with her shovel.

Brittany Hutchinson with her shovel. Source: Ben Skolnik

The students applaud their peers and create a rough circle in the shade of a tulip poplar tree. Though the environment is quite different, this is still a college class. There are weekly reading assignments, and each Friday afternoon the students discuss what they have read. The articles for today, focusing on race, class, gender, and identity in historical archaeology, are Barbara Little’s “She was… an Example to Her Sex” (1994), Maria Franklin’s “The Archaeological Dimensions of Soul Food: Interpreting Race, Culture, and Afro-Virginian Identity” (2001), and Theresa Singleton’s “Race, Class, and Identity among Free Blacks in the Antebellum South” (2001). The students direct the conversation, working through the topics of race, critical theory, politics, and the differences between an archaeology of gender and a feminist archaeology.

Like any other class, writing assignments provide a means for the students to individually articulate what they have learned. To balance this academic obligation with the project’s emphasis on  public outreach, the students contribute to the Archaeology in Annapolis blog. They demonstrate their comprehension of the work they complete in their units while also practicing their abilities to communicate this information to a general audience. Undergraduate Paige Diamond’s post, written today, highlights the discovery of the east wall of the two story quarter.

Julia Torres Vasquez and Molly Greenhouse create the American Plantation Gothic.

Julia Torres Vasquez and Molly Greenhouse create the American Plantation Gothic. Source: Ben Skolnik

Throughout the day, Ben pulls students aside to pose for “dirty archaeologist portraits.” He encourages them to take pride in their sweat-soaked, filthy appearance and take pictures with their field equipment. They take possession of this identity—archaeologists in the field. The portraits show the students as they are now at the end of the field school: trained archaeologists armed with the methods and knowledge that will allow them to contribute a unique perspective to this or any other field.

To see more archaeologist portraits from today, please visit our Flickr account. For more information about our excavations, please visit our blog.

100 Degrees, High Humidity — Field School in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley

Carole Nash writing to you from Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley, where I’m finishing up a week-long field school at a ca. 1760 Rhenish stone flurkuchenhaus, the White House, on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.  I teach at James Madison University in Harrisonburg and co-direct the Archaeological Technician Certification Program, an effort of the Archeological Society of Virginia, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and the Council of Virginia Archaeologists.  This week’s field school was created for Cert students — we have over 70 grads and almost 90 active students who commit to 60 hours of lab work, 60 hours of field survey, 60 hours of excavation, 20 hours of public education, 12 courses, and a reading list a mile long.  Our students range in age from 16-83 and all share a remarkable dedication to archaeology.  The White House field school is but one of our 2012 Cert programs.

What started as a very clear, cool week ended with a blast of summer — today’s temps reached 100 degrees at the site — and we have one more day to go.  Anyone who has spent a summer digging in Virginia knows what this means:  start early, drink lots of water, and take a LONG lunch!  Fortunately for us, we’re working in an amazingly beautiful location in the shadow of Massanutten Mountain, we have shade trees and canopies, and we have a clean portajohn.  We have an outdoor lab set up to wash artifacts.  Actually feels pretty luxurious.

So….the White House:  built by a German immigrant family in ca. 1760; now part of the White House Farm Foundation, which has put 270 acres of land in conservation easement and is working toward a National Register nomination for the structure.  A flurkuchenhaus is a Rhenish (German Rhineland) design, with three rooms downstairs and two rooms upstairs, plus a vaulted basement.  They are sometimes referred to as ‘stone forts’ because they were constructed during the French and Indian War years on the Virginia Frontier, but they were not defensive structures.  They’re beautiful stone houses, though.  This one was covered with skim and stucco at least three times.  We have been reading Valley documents and know that the house was called “White House” as early as 1769 and used as a Mennonite and Baptist meeting house.

Our goals (in addition to getting our students solid archaeological training):  confirm the date of construction; learn about the evolution of the house; determine the impact of flooding on the landform (first terrace, South Fork of the Shenandoah); and learn whether the terrace was occupied by Native Americans prior to the Kauffman family.  A tall order for a week of work!  Gotta aim high, right?  We did, indeed, find evidence to assist with each of these goals, although admittedly, the heat slowed us down today.

I am so proud of our team — today’s crew included six Certification grads (Laura Wedin, Marsha Summerson, Maxine Grabill, Janice Biller, Linda Waggy, and Kay Veith), a Certification student (Philip Mulford), our local ASV Chapter President (Cindy Schroer), and a new archaeology student (Cullen Byers).  Our smaller crew today was down from 18 on Wednesday.  GO TEAM!  You’re the best!

Our findings from thirteen 2.5′ x 2.5 units and one backhoe trench:  our arms aren’t long enough to dig on the South Fork floodplain!  We have a .4′ flood deposit on top of a 1′ plowzone filled with late 18th/19th century artifacts, with Native American lithics and pottery included.  Under the plowzone we have flood deposit 1, flood deposit 2, flood deposit 3, flood deposit 4, flood deposit 5 — and that’s where we stopped.  The bucket auger is our friend.

Cool artifacts:  a piece of eight from the reign of Charles III (Carolus dollar); two French gun flints; English brown stoneware; Westerwald stoneware; a kaolin pipestem; creamware; a remarkable variety of pearlware; cut nails and more cut nails; Middle and Late Woodland pottery.

Our plan:  come back in the Fall when the weather is cooler.

Happy Day of Archaeology from Virginia, all!

East wall of White House

 

Digging with Kids: Historic Archaeology, Education, and Fun

The Kids Are Scientists Too (KAST), Archaeology Field School for Kids has been held annually since 2004 at the Farwell House site in Storrs, CT, USA on the campus of the University of Connecticut.  Children between the ages of 9 & 15 are able to learn the scientific methods of archaeology by excavating a real archaeological site.

Farwell House

The Farwell House was built in the mid-18th century and occupied by the Farwell family until 1908.  The house was sold in the early 20th century, and shortly thereafter the University acquired the House.  The House served as a dormitory until the University determined maintenance costs were too high. The House was burned down in a fire training exercise in 1976.  At that time the house was the oldest in town.  The foundation was filled in, and the only research conducted on the site has been by children participating in the KAST dig.

The site is ready for Field School

Each summer new units are excavated in what once was the front, back, or side yards of the House.  Much of what the students discover in the upper layers relates to the burning episode.  Below the burn layer are artifacts dating to the occupation of the House and date to the 18th-19th centuries.

All excavations are overseen by a professional archaeologist, and reports are filed with the State Historic Preservation Office.  Now that the program is in its 8th year with its 5th staff archaeologist, questions about excavation strategy, professionalism, and the future of the site and the KAST program are coming to the fore.  This year has been especially introspective and self-critical.  As we move forward we want to insure not only an enjoyable experience for the students, but a professional investigation of an historic archaeological site that answers real research questions and makes a contribution to not only the archaeological community, but to the larger community.

The KAST Field School has run for the last week and concluded Friday the 29th of July 2011.  After 4 days of excavation the students spent a day in the “lab” at the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History.  Activities included washing and identifying artifacts and creating a display of their finds that will remain on exhibit at the Museum.

KAST excavators looking for artifacts in the screen

 

A KAST Student Washes Artifacts

KAST Display

The program has been well received by not only the students, but also their parents and local media.  A local news program visited the site and interviewed students for a short interest piece on the evening news.  It is my personal hope that programs and publicity like this will reinforce the importance of historic preservation and archaeology even in a precarious economic climate.

ADS Peatland Excavations – some highlights from the season on the Final Day…..

The 2011 Day of Archaeology marked the final day on site for the ADS Peatland Team after a six week season.
Despite a late night last night the full compliment of 18 were out at Killaderry Bog, Co Galway at 8am this morning to carry out the final sampling, recording and tracing of sites. Led by myself, Jane Whitaker, Peatlands Project Manager with support from a second site director Nicola Rohan and a fantastic team of experienced archaeologisst we excavated 20 trackways ranging in date from the Bronze Age to the Medieval Period in three Bord na Mona Bogs in Co Galway.
Gowla Bog was first on the list and here our excavations were located within a small cluster of brushwood trackways, hurdles and platforms. A couple of different hurdle constructions were noted in very close proximity and as levels in the drained industrial bogs can be deceiving we will be relying on dating to assist us in untangling this particular spaghetti junction.

Some dates were already available to us following our fieldwalking survey a couple of years ago which is always a bonus when heading out on site.

Meanwhile, across the road in Killaderry Bog our team had been joined by 10 Field School students from the University of Florida and Prof Florin Curta. While bemused by the joys of a typical Irish ‘summer’ the students got stuck in and were let loose on the excavation of a plank, gravel and stone trackway dating to AD660-770.

This site is one of several that traverse the narrow neck of the bog. In this particular case the site runs alongside and in some places crosses over a substantial Bronze Age plank and roundwood trackway.
As noted above, todays work involved the final tracing and linking of the excavated sites. Re-cutting of the drains to facilitate the peat harvesting process and indeed the harvesting itself revealed additional sightings along trackways identified during our initial fieldwalking survey works. These were all cleaned, recorded and a GPS reading taken while other team members were furiously lifting, bagging and logging the final samples. Bord na Mona Project Archaeologist Charles Mount came out for a final visit.
All too soon it was time to count tools, load the jeeps with samples, bid farewell to the team and the ever patient staff in Bord na Mona and hit the road for the long dive home.
While we are all looking forward to scraping the last of the peat out of our fingernails, after thirteen seasons, 250 excavations and thousands of miles of Bord na Mona bogs walked we’re still looking forward to the next season already!
Next task is to write up the preliminary reports, select samples for dating and patiently await the results from our paleo collegues from Reading University……..

NPS Fort Vancouver Public Archaeology Field School 2011

This is the last day at the 10th National Parks Service (NPS) Fort Vancouver Public Archaeology Field School  based in Vancouver, Washington. Over the past 7 weeks the 18 students from Washington State University Vancouver, Portland State University and a few graduate students from all over the United States have come together to excavate a multicultural village, called Kanaka Village by the Americans due to the large Hawaiian population brought in by the English traders, that served to support the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post on the Columbia River in the 1830s and 40s.  We have been well trained in field techniques and methodology while investigating the purpose of a fenced-in open area in the middle of the village. We have also been interacting with the public on a daily basis. Interpretative training is a part of our curriculum and an essential part of our mission to raise awareness and foster public involvement in the history of the Columbia River and the Oregon-Washington coast. In addition to all this we have been attending regular lectures from visiting archaeologists on topics ranging from Saloon Archaeology to Fur Trade Archaeology in the Great Lakes region, and race and ethnicity in a constructed landscape in the American South.

The Hudson’s Bay Company Village was built along side the fort in the late 1820s as a place for non-officers or ranking company officials to live. The population dwarfed the fort population at its smallest with around 250 inhabitants and could swell into the thousands during the brigade season. It was the most culturally diverse area of the Western coast of North America for a significant portion of the 19th century with workers being brought in from across the globe by the Hudson’s Bay Company trading and interacting with over 30 distinct Native American  tribes at a major trading hub along the Columbia River. Most of the historic record of this era concerns itself with the lives and dealings of the officers and officials of the company and their perspectives of the villagers. Almost nothing is known about the daily lives of the villagers that is not revealed to us through archaeology.

Each of our trenches were investigating a different aspect of the open area in the village and students were rotated from trench to trench and would hone their interpretive skills informing any visitors who came to see what we were finding. Many times we would learn more from the public than they did from us but this is part of the beauty of Public Archaeology, each party walks away with a new outlook on the site.

This last week in our field school has been spent working on survey techniques. We have been camping at the Yeon Property, a new Parks Service acquisition by the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park on the Oregon Coast. New properties must be first archaeologically surveyed in order to identify any sites of significance in the area and to set up an archaeological baseline to protect and preserve any cultural resources on the property. We have been split into three groups of 5 or 6 each and over the past few days have rotated between digging 1m deep shovel probes at regular 30m intervals, conducting pedestrian surveys through the woods and sea grass to the ocean, and mapping the property with hand held GPS devices and today is no different.  It will be sad to say goodbye to all of our new friends and the Fort and its Village which we’ve all come to know and love but this will be tempered by the knowledge that we got to participate in something special – a uniquely designed Public Archaeology endeavor that involves and educates the public and trains all of us students to enter the field as well-rounded professionals and future leaders in archaeology.

 

If you’re ever in the Vancouver/Portland area please come and visit the Fort and experience part of the rich colonial and frontier history of the Hudson’s Bay Company and US Army eras on the West coast of the Oregon Territory, you won’t be disappointed. For more information about the field school, Fort Vancouver, or Kanaka Village, please visit our website.