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.
The second full season at 38FA608 is in the books. Last Friday, we backfilled the block (almost) and finished up with Unit 13 (excavated one last level and re-drew the profile to include the lower deposits). Chris Moore and Mark Brooks visited the site to enjoy JJ's fish fry and collect a column of sediment samples from the profile. We recovered a Morrow Mountain point in context in the last level of Unit 13, in the "correct" position below the Guilford component.
We didn't have time to get everything buttressed up, so DuVal and I will spend tomorrow putting the site to bed and schlepping equipment back to campus.
Cheerwine is now the official drink of the Broad River Archaeological Field School.
At some point I'll probably edit all the videos together to make a feature-length film to show to next year's students.
This was a good group of students and I'm proud of all of them. Enjoy the video of our last day in the field!
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 had an eventful day in the field last Friday, so this week's video is longer than usual. Every project like this reaches what feels like a "hinge point" where you can start accurately sizing up what you can and can't get accomplished. We won't be able to do everything I wanted to do at 38FA608 this semester, but we'll be able to do a lot of it. Fingers crossed the weather continues to cooperate.
We finally took the large rocks out of the floor of Unit 5. One of them turned out to be something unexpected (I won't spoil is so you can enjoy the moment with us on the video). The other turned out to be . . . well, watch the video for that also.
My arms and hands began blooming with poison ivy rash at about 2:00 on Saturday morning. Last week it took a couple of days before I started to feel the irritation. My folk theory is that the lack of rain allows the oils to build up and concentrate. Spring is aggressive and early here: plants and animals move into the excavation areas during our week-long absences from the site.
Enjoy the video!
Last Friday was our second day in the field. We had another sunny day with temperatures starting around freezing but warming up to the mid-60's by the afternoon. As far an January working weather goes, I'll take it.
Other than educating students and directing the excavation, I had one main job: bring ground coffee and filters. I botched it. I won't fail again. I promise.
We started the day going over the basic components of our record-keeping system: the Field Specimen (FS) log, the unit/level forms, bag labels, and individual notebooks. I explained to the students how all of these things work together to match the materials we collect to the contexts from which we have removed those materials. The FS system I use is a kind of single context recording system that assigns unique numbers to unique proveniences of artifacts and samples. Redundancies built into the information that goes in the FS log, on the forms, and on the bags provide a way to catch and fix errors.
There was a little bit of water in the block that we bailed while removing the plastic. The main activities for the day were resuming excavation in Unit 5 and getting started on a unit extending the block to the north (Unit 12).
At the end of last year's excavation, the floor of Unit 5 was 20 cm higher than the floor of Units 4 and 6. Unit 5 was the only unit in the block where we maintained a consistent piece-plot strategy all the way down after the first plowzone. That, along with a large number of roots, slowed things down. My plan is to maintain the piece-plot methodology in Unit 5 in perpetuity, as it will provide us with a consistent column of high resolution data down through the deposits.
Removing the landscape fabric from the floor of Unit 5 revealed some minor damage from ant tunnels. Sam and a crew of two students got to work cleaning the surface with trowels and beginning excavation of level 7.
Unit 12 is a 2m x 2m unit abutting the north edge of Unit 4. My goal in opening and excavating this unit is to get it down to the level of the floor in Units 4 and 6, exposing the northern portion of a cultural feature (probably a Late Archaic pit feature) that extends outside of Unit 4. As in the first unit/levels last year, we started Unit 12 by excavating arbitrary levels in 1m x 1m quadrants of the unit. This gives the students a chance to get some experience with controlled excavation while we're still up in the plowzone, where mistakes don't actually cost you any data.
.After the students get some reps digging arbitrary levels in near-surface contexts, we'll strip the remainder of the plowzones (there are two plowzones, remember) as natural levels and get down into what's underneath. In some places in the block and the machine profile, there appeared to be lenses of unplowed sheet midden and/or a natural A horizon beneath the lower plowzone (Zone 2). We'll be on the lookout for those as well as for truncated features extending from base of the second plowzone.
The floor and walls of Units 4 and 6 remain covered by backfill for now. While having that dirt in there makes for some ugly pictures, its presence protects the unexcavated deposits from our feet and from the water that will get in the block (and the bailing to remove the water). It also provides support to the fragile cut wall between Unit 5 and Unit 6, and allows us to have a ramp to get in and out of the block. It's better to have some ugly photos than to lose the archaeology through weeks of trampling.
As promised, I made a video of our activities in Week 2. Enjoy!
Last year, I wrote a blog post after every day of field school. This year I'm going to try something different. My plan is to create a short (5-10 minute) video that shows and describes our activities each day in the field. While the blog posts were useful for both research and public communication (and I plan to write when I need to talk about particular things in more detail), I think I might be able to expand my audience by making our work accessible through video.
I hope to have a video from each Friday posted by the following Monday on my YouTube channel. Here's the first installment. Enjoy!
I recently announced the return of the Broad River Archaeological Field School for the spring semester of 2018. Student registration begins in November, and the logistical and strategic wheels are in motion.
This week I received radiocarbon dating results from two samples I submitted to Beta Analytic. Radiocarbon dates are not cheap (about $600 for an AMS analysis that returns an age estimate from a very small sample), and I am grateful to a private donor who supplied funds to date one of the samples from 38FA608.
Here are the date results on a generalized figure of the stratigraphy at 38FA608 as I currently understand it (based on profiles of Units 1, 2, 9, 11, and the original machine cut):
The date for Zone 7 -- from a single piece of charcoal that Jim Legg picked out of the profile of Unit 9 -- came back right at the Middle/Late Archaic transition. It's a date that's consistent with Zone 7 being related to the Guilford point fragments that we've gotten from the site (only one of which has actually been found in situ). Thus my original suspicion of a Middle Archaic age for Zone 7 is supported.
The date for the Zone 19 sample, however . . . was a bit of a surprise. It also came back as Middle Archaic in age, about 700-800 calendar years older than Zone 7.
I only wrote briefly about Unit 11, which I and several volunteers put in after field school to get our first good look at what is beneath the deposits exposed by the original machine cut. There wasn't much material until we neared the boundary of a seasonal water table. Right above that, there were some large cobbles and a very light scattering of small, angular quartz fragments. As I wrote back in May, none of the cobbles appears to have been modified (at least based on a macro inspection), and none of the pieces of angular quartz is a slam dunk for a human-made stone tool. Other than human deposition, however, I can't think of a good explanation for how that material got there -- it is so unlike its sandy matrix in terms of size that it could not have been transported by the same mechanism.
I dated a single piece of charcoal plucked from the wall of Unit 11 (FS 1318) from a zone beneath the "cultural" material in an attempt to learn something about where those deposits might be in time. Given what seemed to be a fairly regular accumulation of the sand from the Middle Archaic though the Woodland period, I was expecting an Early Holocene rather than a Middle Holocene age -- I thought we might be looking at the edge of an Early Archaic deposit.
There are two main possibilities for the date: (1) it accurately dates the age of Zone 19; or (2) it doesn't.
It's possible that that piece of charcoal worked it's way down through the sand from a higher elevation, perhaps through bioturbation (movement by animals or roots). There's no obvious signs of intrusion from where the sample was taken, but that doesn't mean much in these old sands: we wouldn't necessarily expect that subtle signs of intrusion would be discernible in these kinds of sediments after 6000 years.
So the date could be "bad" in the sense that it isn't giving us the age of the deposit. I think it's entirely possible, however, that it is accurate. While the idea of a slow and steady accumulation of sand over the course of the Archaic is appealing, there's no reason to assume that that's how it went down. It's possible that rates of deposition varied. The levee could have aggraded more rapidly during the Middle Holocene, perhaps as a function of both Middle Holocene climate and the lower elevation of the existing surface at that time (making it easier for the landform to be over-topped by flood waters).
If Zone 19 really dates to around 4700 BC, the deposits in Zone 15 could be related to a deeply-buried Morrow Mountain occupation.
Investigating the deep deposits at 38FA608 is a top priority for excavations in the spring. Stay tuned!
I'm happy to announce that I'll be teaching an archaeological field school again during the Spring semester. We'll be returning to site 38FA608 in Fairfield County, South Carolina, for a second season of fieldwork. The course will be listed as ANTH 322 (722 for graduate students) and the basic details will remain the same: every Friday from 8:00-4:00, transportation provided. You can learn all about last year's adventures through blog posts on the Broad River Archaeological Field School website and through a summary article in Legacy.
The Spring 2017 field season helped us learn a tremendous amount about the natural and cultural deposits at 38FA608. The discovery of a buried Mack (Late Archaic/Early Woodland, ca. 2000 BC) component was one of the big surprises. There is also evidence of a slightly earlier Savannah River component (perhaps represented by several intact pit features). There are tantalizing suggestions of a deeply-buried component that could date to the Early Archaic period. The basic laboratory processing of the materials from 2017 has been completed, and I'm working on an analysis as time permits. I sent to radiocarbon samples off to Beta Analytic last week (one from the deeply buried zone that I'm betting is Middle Archaic in age, and one from the lowest zone exposed in our post-field school Unit 11 excavations last May).
The 2017 field season has set us up very nicely for work in 2018. My two main goals are to: (1) excavate several of the pit features that almost certainly belong to the Mack and/or Savannah River components; and (2) make a more extensive exploration of the deep deposits. The feature excavations will involve both re-opening and expanding the "upstairs" block as well as working along the profile wall to salvage the features that were exposed by the old machine cut. Investigating the deep component will require some engineering to protect ongoing work from water, both from above and flowing into the air. I've got a plan for that and it involves sandbags. We are, after all, not lacking in sand.
I've got some strategic, monetary, and logistical issues to work out before January. I'll keep you posted as my plans develop and as analysis of the 2017 materials moves along. In the meantime, here's a quick diagram illustrating what I have in mind.
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