Inspiring the Next Generation (Or Working On It…)

The truth is, the closest I got to archaeology today was watching my 4-year-old and her dance class perform in their “Jurassic Arts” Dinosaur dance show. But this weekend will be different as I turn my attention to archaeology for children. A few weeks ago, one of my daughter’s friends earnestly explained to me that “paleontologists dig for dinosaur bones, and archaeologists dig to learn about Egypt.” (OK, a little limited geographically, but that is pretty good!) These kids, and many others like them, have inspired me to take on this small, “easy” project of creating an archaeology excavation / activity table for a local children’s museum that will open soon. We only have essentially a 2 m x 1 m box in which to convey the main points of archaeological excavation to the 3- to 10-year old crowd, while providing fun and entertainment as well. And what would an archaeological project be without the smallest of budgets!

Of course even a simple project is not without its challenges. Finding inexpensive, kid-friendly artifact replicas has proven to be more time-consuming than finding the coveted fluted point at my last Paleoindian dig. And after my 4-year-old drew blood from my 7-year-old with my Marshalltown, I’m still on the search for suitable tools. I think I’ll go get some whisk brooms and toothbrushes next. It has been an adventure just working out the logistics of this one exhibit, especially in trying to find the common ground between what’s important to us, and what’s interesting for kids…

We’ll be working on installing the activity table this weekend, and I hope to post more about our progress. Fingers crossed that it goes well, and that we give future generations, one child at a time, an appreciation for learning from and preserving our archaeological heritage!

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.