I wanted to pass on the online version of this article ("The Fine Scale of Time" by Megan Sexton) that ran in the USC Times earlier this fall. It's a short piece about my work at 38FA608. The photo is me examining some of the conjoining lithic debris from the Guilford-age deposit at the site. Enjoy!
Back in June, I wrote about a week spent along the Broad River with colleagues from the South Carolina Heritage Trust and some of my own students doing fieldwork associated with a research grant I received from USC. I have finally completed a video showing some of that fieldwork. I plan on doing another one explaining the analysis and results (which will be completed this calendar year or soon after). Enjoy!
For those of you that enjoyed the weekly videos from last spring's Broad River Archaeological Field School, I wanted to make you aware of this compilation of the entire season into a single 2:16 presentation. It will be a good refresher for me to watch the whole thing, as I'll be spending much of this semester working on analysis and write-up of the data from the first two seasons of work at 38FA608. Enjoy!
I spent this week along the Broad River with colleagues from the South Carolina Heritage Trust and some of my own students doing fieldwork associated with a research grant I received from USC. The grant, titled "Finding the Family in South Carolina Prehistory," was focused on exploring the potential for buried archaeology in alluvial landforms in the vicinity of 38FA608. Several seasons of hand excavations there have revealed about 3 m of stratified cultural deposits spanning at least 6000 years, all protected within a sandy "natural levee" deposit.
I believe I've mentioned the grant before, but only in passing. In brief, the strategy was to use a backhoe to excavate a series of short trenches spaced about 100 m apart along about a mile of deposits. The sediment sequences revealed in the walls of those trenches provide information about how the alluvial landscape along this section of the river formed and developed and which areas have (or have the potential to contain) well-preserved archaeological sites. We cleaned, drew profiles, described sediments, and photographed a wall of each trench. Carbon was scarce, but I obtained a few small samples from buried strata that I think will help me construct a preliminary depositional chronology. I'm most interested in locating sites with good potential for preserving evidence of family- and group-level behaviors in the Early and Middle Holocene (hence the name of the grant), but I want to be able to tell the rest of the story as well.
The weather was not our friend early in the week. We got soaked by heavy rain all day on Monday, and intermittently on Tuesday afternoon. The remainder of the week was better, perhaps even relatively pleasant by the standards of South Carolina in late May.
It was a hectic week, but we got everything done and learned a tremendous amount in a short time. I owe a huge debt of thanks to Sean Taylor at the South Carolina Heritage Trust for kicking in resources (both human and machine) and expertise at his disposal. I'm also thankful for the continued generosity and hospitality of the landowner. The analysis of the materials and information will begin immediately, starting with cleaning/cataloging the artifacts we collected, digitizing the profiles, and selecting samples for radiocarbon dating, etc. I still have a day or so left in the field to map in some trench locations and take a few final notes. I'll write about it as I have time, and will produce one or two videos showing what we did. In the mean time, I hope you enjoy some photos from our week and some of my initial thoughts on what we saw:
Tuesday: Trench 3 shows what appears to be a sediment sequence similar to that at 38FA608 (A horizon underlain by sandy loam with increasingly thick lamellae) buried beneath a thick "cap" of alluvium. If this landform was used by human groups, the entire record may have been buried prior to historic use the area (resulting in a well-preserved buried record with no surface archaeology).
Tuesday: the Trench 8 profile shows well-developed lamellae but no buried A horizon. Sediments in this area appear to have been truncated, removing the upper zones. Artifacts are common on the surface here, but probably represent a palimpsest of materials left behind as the upper deposits were deflated.
Friday: there was no evidence of human occupation in Trench 5, but there was a sequence of 16 zones that mostly alternated between coarse, loose, sand and more clayey, more compact lenses of sandy loam. I collected two small chunks of charcoal (marked with pink flagging tape in this photo) from zones in this profile that were separated by about a meter, hoping that dates from those will give me some idea of how much time is represented by depositional sequences like this. Other trenches had shorter sequences of alternating sand/clayey sediments sitting on top of what might be "good" sediment sequences that could contain archaeology.
Tomorrow will be our last day in the field at 38FA608. Last Friday we finished excavating the features in the block and got Unit 13 almost down to where it needs to be. Tomorrow we'll backfill the block and collect final information from the profile exposed by Unit 13. We may not have time to get everything done during the day, so I'll probably have to finish up when I go out next week to break down the toolbox and grab the screens, etc.
If you like snakes, you'd love 38FA608 this time of year.
Enjoy the video!
Video from Week 11 of the Broad River Archaeological Field School: Features, Possible Posts, and the Invention of Tailgate Archaeology
We've only got two more days left in the spring 2018 season at 38FA608. The weather looks good for this Friday, so I may end up threading the needle with yet another season with no time lost to rain.
While we're in good shape to finish up in the block on Friday, Unit 13 is going slower than I'd hoped. It just won't stop being interesting. As you will see in the video from Week 11, I took two students out for an extra day to work on the Late Archaic deposits and try to keep things moving along. There is still work to be done before we reach the Middle Archaic zone, and there's no telling what we'll run into down there. If the broad pattern of field archaeology holds, we'll find something extremely interesting this Friday that will bring the whole endeavor to a screeching halt.
The video for Week 11 is a long one, as it includes footage from an extra field day. I resisted the temptation to pose on a lawn chair in the back of the pickup truck. Enjoy!
We're officially in the "end times" of this season's fieldwork at 38FA608. After last Friday, we have just two more days to actively excavate at the site (the students will be doing lab work while I'm at the SAA meetings, and the last day will be reserved for buttoning things up and backfilling).
We made good progress last Friday, ending the day with Features 11 and 12 exposed in profile. Feature 11 is a relatively deep, midden-filled pit, while Feature 12 is a shallow basin associated with some large pieces of fire-cracked rock. As I'll discuss at some point in the future, both of these kinds of features are well-known from sites of similar age. Analysis of the contents of the features will help us understand activities at the site as well as refine the chronology of site occupation.
As you can see in the video, Unit 13 refuses to stop becoming more interesting. Both of the Savannah River points from Friday came from an area of slightly darker sediment that is probably a feature. I'm planning on spending tomorrow working at the site with a couple of volunteers to keep things moving along in Unit 13.
I'm happy to report that my campaign to raise money to support next year's field school has passed a quarter of the goal of $4000. My sincere thanks go to Mike Morgan, Ken Kosidlo, and two anonymous donors for their generous contributions and support.
Enjoy the video!
I've started a GoFundMe campaign to support the planned 2019 season at 38FA608. If you've been following along with my blog posts, the students' blog posts, and the videos from this year, you have some sense of the value of sustaining the work at this site. We've shown that site 38FA608 preserves an extraordinarily fine-grained record of human behavior dating back at least 6,000 years. The archaeological deposits protected within the levee provide a rare opportunity to understand the activities of individuals and small groups deep into South Carolina’s past and integrate those data into the larger narrative of Eastern Woodlands prehistory. They also provide a wonderful opportunity to educate students and the public in the use and importance of careful and systematic field methods to understand the human past.
The site is the real deal.
I would like to keep the field school going as a yearly spring offering through the University of South Carolina. To do that, two main things need to happen:
(1) student enrollment needs to be sufficient;
(2) I need to have funds to support the work.
After two seasons of work at the site, I have a pretty good idea of what it takes to be successful out there in terms of supplies, equipment, time, energy, and strategy. An important component of what I've been doing is hiring some experienced help to manage working in the two areas of the site (the block and the wall) at the same time. This year I hired one of the students from the 2017 season to act as a kind of "field sergeant," helping with direction, basic instruction, and quality control in one of the excavation areas. It helps with continuity, and also helps that student get some supervisory experience. I plan to continue that in the future (with different students).
I set up the GoFundMe with a goal of $4000. That money will be used to :
(1) pay a student field assistant ($1190);
(2) pay student lab workers ($1280);
(3) purchase expendable equipment and supplies to continue stabilizing the site ($557); and
(4) rent a vehicle to transport students to/from the site ($973).
Specific research goals for the 2019 season will be developed as materials and information from the 2018 season are processed, analyzed, and integrated with those from the 2017 season. My suspicion that there is a Late Archaic (ca. 2000 BC) house at the site grows stronger as the 2018 work continues (more on that later).
Sustained, publicly-accessible research on sites like 38FA608 has the potential to address numerous interesting questions as well as engage the community and help educate the next generation of southeastern archaeologists. Please consider contributing to these goals if you value our work and would like to see it continue.
Last Friday's fieldwork was eventful. With just a few days left in the field, we are down into the nitty-gritty of the feature excavations intended to recover detailed data about the Late Archaic (ca. 4000-1000 BC) occupations at the site. Last year's work in the block revealed the presence of a significant Mack component (dating to around 1000 BC) and hinted at the existence of an earlier Savannah River component (dating to around 2000 BC) in close vertical proximity. Although we won't know which features go with which component until we excavate and analyze them, Friday's work gave us some important clues. Enjoy the video!
You can find all the videos from the 2018 season on the Broad River Archaeological Field School website.
Excavation of Late Archaic Pit Features at 38FA608: Video from Day 8 of the Broad River Archaeological Field School
Last week was spring break at USC, so I put off producing the video from Day 8 of the field school until today. We had a small crew but beautiful weather, as usual (at some point I'm sure my luck will run out). Work focused on the excavation of Feature 3 (exposed in the machine cut wall), Feature 11 (encountered in the block), and Unit 12 (still piece-plotting down through the intact deposits to reach Feature 13. Enjoy the video!
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