University of West Florida

Diving into the Past: Public Archaeology and SCUBA Stewardship

This summer, the Florida Public Archaeology Network and the University of West Florida have been hosting archaeologist-guided public dives on the 16th-century Spanish Emanuel Shipwreck II to help educate local SCUBA divers and promote submerged site protection. These tours have been a wild success and have helped encourage new levels of community appreciation for Florida’s many historical shipwreck sites!

To see all of our wonderful “Archaeologyin3” videos, visit our YouTube page. To learn more about the Florida Public Archaeology Network and the many outreach resources we’ve made available to other archaeologists and educators, visit our website!

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.


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.


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.