I hope to have a video from each Friday posted by the following Monday on my YouTube channel. Here's the first installment. 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.
The blog has been on the back burner while I deal with the beginning-of-the-semester crunch. I've got a lot going on this year, so I'll probably have less time to write than I did in years past. Keeping all the parts of my three-headed monster of a research agenda moving is more than a full time job.
I wanted to write a quick post about the presentations I've committed to for the fall (SEAC) and spring (SAA) conferences, as they give you a pretty good idea on what's going on with some of my "big picture" work. I gave a presentation about my work on understanding the Kirk Horizon to the Augusta Archaeological Society at the end of August, and I'll be giving an informal presentation to SCIAA next week synthesizing what we know so far about the natural/cultural deposits at 38FA608 (site of last spring's Broad River Archaeological Field School). Here's what I'll be doing at the regional and national conferences:
SEAC (November 2017, Tulsa, OK)
David Anderson and I are teaming up to give a paper titled "Structure, Density, and Movement: Large-Scale Datasets and Basic Questions about Early Foraging Societies in the Eastern Woodlands." The paper will part of a symposium organized by Shane Miller, Ashley Smallwood, and Jesse Tune titled The Paleoindian and Early Archaic Southeast: The Last 20 Years, 1996-2016. Here is the abstract of our paper:
"Distributions of diagnostic projectile points show that the Paleoindian and Early Archaic societies of the Eastern Woodlands were spatially-extensive, occupying vast and varied landscapes stretching from the Great Lakes to the Florida Peninsula. The scales of these societies present analytical challenges to understanding both (1) their organization and (2) how and why the densities and distributions of population changed during the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene. We integrate several large datasets – point distributions, site locations, and radiocarbon dates – to address basic questions about the structure and demography of the Paleoindian and Early Archaic societies of the Eastern Woodlands."
We'll be integrating data from PIDBA, DINAA, and my ongoing radiocarbon compilation. There will be some significant work involved in meshing all this stuff together in a GIS framework that we can use analytically, so that will be one of the main things on fire for me in the coming month.
SAA Meeting (April 2018, Washington, D.C.)
At this year's SAA meetings, I'll be contributing to Scott Jones' symposium titled Forager Lifeways at the Pleistocene-Holocene Transition. My paper is titled "Patterns of Artifact Variability and Changes in the Social Networks of Paleoindian and Early Archaic Hunter-Gatherers in the Eastern Woodlands: A Critical Appraisal and Call for a Reboot." Here is the abstract:
"Inferences about the social networks of Paleoindian and Early Archaic hunter-gatherer societies in the Eastern Woodlands are generally underlain by the assumption that there are simple, logical relationships between (1) patterns of social interaction within and between those societies and (2) patterns of variability in their material culture. Formalized bifacial projectile points are certainly the residues of systems of social interaction, and therefore have the potential to tell us something about social networks. The idea that relationships between artifact variability and social networks are simple, however, can be challenged on both theoretical and empirical grounds: complex systems science and ethnographic data strongly suggest that patterns of person-level interaction do not directly correspond to patterns of material culture visible at archaeological scales. A model-based approach can be used to better understand how changes in human-level behaviors “map up” to changes in both the system-level characteristics of social networks and the patterns of artifact variable that we can describe using archaeological data. Such an approach will allow us to more confidently interpret changes in patterns of artifact variability in terms of changes in the characteristics and spatial continuity/discontinuity of social networks during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition in the Eastern Woodlands."
This is a basket of questions that was the main focus of my dissertation work. My goal is to lay out the case for why we really need to be doing things differently than we are in order to get at questions about social networks and social interaction. With the SAA meetings still months away, I plan to do new modeling work to support my argument. If I'm to do that, I'll have to ramp up my modeling efforts and deal with some issues around adding space back into the main models I've been working with. It needs to be done, so committing to a paper is a way to make sure I prioritize it.
I'll also be participating in a "Lightning Round" about engaging pseudoarchaeology. In this session (organized by Khori Newlander), the participants will each get just three minutes. No abstract is required for this one. As of now, I plan to use my time for "Swordgate: How to Win Friends and Influence People."
I've spent the last couple of weeks on a family vacation to northeast Ohio, southeast Michigan, and the Upper Peninsula. I'm back in Columbia now, armed with a long mental list of things I'd like to do and talk about over the next few months. As I know from past experience that my eyes are often bigger than my stomach, I'll keep the specific list to myself for now. I'll just say it includes some real archaeology, some fake "archaeology," some ecological observations, some politics, some music, some art stuff, and possibly some ponderings about a spaceship cult.
Here's some real archaeology to start.
If I was subtitling these posts, I'd call this one "A Tale of Two Plowzones?"
One of the main things we learned last week is that the upper sediment zone at the site is, indeed, a plowzone. Clear plow scars were present at the interface of zones 1 and 2 at the base of zone 1 in Unit 9 (the 1m x 3m unit being excavated to create a straight profile wall). In Unit 9, the plowzone was about 28 cm thick.
With information from Unit 9 in hand, I hoped we'd be able to easily identify the same light-to-dark interface marking the base of the plowzone in the block units. Level 2 in Units 4 an 6 was targted to end at 50 cm below datum (cmbd), still within the upper zone. For level 3 in both of those units, we were able to easily discern the darker sediments immediately beneath the plowzone and excavate level 3 as a natural level, using trowels and shovels to remove the lighter plowzone sediment. I had the students in Units 4 and 6 finish off level 3 within the transition so that we could see the plow scars. Then they used trowels to remove the remaining light pockets of plowzone as level 4.
In Unit 5, level 2 will proceed to the base of plowzone rather than stop at 50 cmbd. It was almost complete by the end of the day. We'll be able to get into the sub-plowzone deposits in all three units on our next day in the field.
While the presence of a plowzone is clear, the status of the zone beneath the plowzone is not. When I first began working on the machine-exposed profile, I thought the buried dark zone (zone 2) was a buried plowzone. As I worked on the profile more, however, I began to think it was actually, perhaps, a remnant of intact prehistoric deposit. That was still my guess as of last week. We've now gotten a new, closer look at the zone in the straight profile being produced by the excavation of Unit 9, however, and I'm back to thinking it's more likely it might be a buried plowzone. The main detail affecting my thinking is the very crisp interface between the base of zone 2 and the sediment beneath it.
So far, we have no evidence of any intact cultural features in zone 2. As of now, my plan is to excavate through this zone in the block units by shovel skimming. That will give us the opportunity to keep our eyes open for cultural features originating within or immediately beneath zone 2, and will also allow us to piece-plot artifacts that are encountered if it makes sense to do so. Shovel skimming and piece-plotting will be new methods for the students, so they'll learn something by doing it even if it turns out that zone 2 actually is a buried plowzone rather than an intact cultural zone.
Jim Legg's fantastic adventure continues in the "downstairs" portion of the site as the excavation of Unit 9 plumbs the profile wall. After excavating the plowzone as a natural level, Jim and his students have begun excavating the remainder of the unit in 20 cm levels. They're now below zone 2, so they're into sediments that unquestionably contain intact prehistoric deposits. I've got my fingers crossed that they'll hit a feature or two as Unit 9 is excavated, as a couple of absolute dates would be of great help in understanding the deposits. If there's a big feature in there, however, it could really slow down the production of the profile wall. We'll see.
After getting our excavation areas cleared and our units set up on Day 1, we were in good shape to start excavating first thing on Friday morning. I gave the students a brief tour of the unit excavation forms we'll be using and explained how redundancies in the information recorded on their forms, in the field specimen (FS) log, on the bags, and in their notes help catch paperwork/provenience errors early in the process. Each student was issued two Sharpies with the challenge of keeping track of them for the duration of the field school. The first one is free, but replacement Sharpies cost $100/each.
Most of the students worked with me and DuVal Lawrence in the "upstairs" part of the site, excavating the first levels of the units in the 4m x 4m block. Jim Legg and one student worked "downstairs," beginning excavations with the goal of creating a 5m profile wall along the 1000E line. Here is the updated unit map showing the placement of Unit 8 in the "downstairs" portion of the site:
Unit 8 is a 1m x 2m unit, the east side of which is on the floor of the "downstairs" and the northwest corner of which cuts into the existing vertical wall. Legg established the unit outlines using the two permanent datums that I put in downstairs (designated by the circled x's in the map above). He excavated through the deposits in 20 cm levels, screening the sediments that were removed. The darker zone associated with the presumed Middle/Late Archaic component is clearly visible in the freshly-excavated wall.
As you can see in the photograph of the Unit 8 excavation, the profile is capped by a sediment zone that contains abundant roots. That zone provided the students with their first "shovels in the ground" excavation experience as we began excavation of three of the units (Units 4, 5, and 6) in the 4m x 4m block that we laid out on Day 1.
I split the students into three groups and gave each group the task of excavating the southeastern 1m x 1m quadrant of their 2m x 2m unit. We went over the basic procedures of getting paperwork set up, labeling bags, double checking coordinates, and taking beginning depths. For the block excavation, we're controlling elevation using a rotating laser level sitting on a concrete block of known elevation (designated Datum 2017A). Level 1 of Units 4, 5, and 6, will end at 40 cm below datum. I chose that depth to produce a level surface across the block that is still within the upper zone at the site -- these were the first ever levels excavated by these students and it's important to give them some experience with basic unit/level excavation techniques before we get into the intact deposits that (I think) will begin pretty close to the surface.
First levels in progress in the 4m x 4m block. I anticipate that the greatest technical challenge of this project will be keeping the profile walls intact as the units get deeper. We've laid down plywood on the edge to start providing support, and we'll need to set some guidelines for foot traffic and entry/exit points.
As of now, my plan is to concentrate our efforts on Units 4, 5, and 6 for the time being. With two sides exposed in profile, Unit 3 could then be excavated by natural/cultural sediment zone rather than in arbitrary levels, and could also serve as a "step" to get down into the other units. This would let us avoid putting stress on the southern and eastern sides of the block, preserving those walls for profiling.
In terms of artifacts, the first levels in block yielded low quantities of historic-period debris (a shotgun shell, a couple of pieces of iron, etc.). The first level of the NW 1/4 of Unit 4 did produce a prehistoric body sherd, however, which was a bit of a surprise. Based on the profile revealed in the vertical cut, I didn't expect to encounter prehistoric material until we penetrated what appeared to be a recently-deposited "cap" of lighter-colored sediment. I really don't understand the upper zones of the site yet, so these first levels will be interesting. It's possible that there's a well-preserved Mississippian or Woodland component near the surface, and it's also possible that material from deeper has been brought closer to the surface through natural mechanisms (animal burrows, tree falls, etc.). I hope to be at least starting level 2 in the block units by the end of next Friday.
The first day in the field went pretty well. We accomplished all the goals I had for Day 1: getting the screens put together, clearing brush and leaf litter from the excavation areas, laying out the units, and getting everyone acquainted with the site and each other. As a native Midwesterner, it was a truly bizarre feeling to be starting an excavation on a 75 degree day in mid-January. The winter weather here is amazing.
After a few preliminaries at SCIAA ("be here on time, don't be a jerk, everything you do matters") we headed out to the site, arriving before 10:30. As I've briefly discussed previously (e.g., here and here), the portion of the site we're working on contains at least 2 m of prehistoric archaeological deposits stratified within in a natural levee along the Broad River. What we know about the site so far is limited to the information I've gathered by documenting deposits exposed in the existing vertical cut (produced by mechanical excavation at some point in the past presumably to borrow sediment) and excavation of two partial units that I placed to start to produce a straight profile and document the buried (Middle Archaic?) deposit of chipping debris that constitutes Feature 1.
Drawing of the deposits exposed in the irregular, machine-cut profile. The numbers in the image are too small to read, but the (presumably) Middle Archaic zone is the second from the bottom if you look at the left edge of the drawing. Woodland/Mississippian pit features are also exposed in the profile nearer the current ground surface.
After a brief tour of the site, I broke the students into groups and had most of them assemble screens. Jim Legg and one student worked on cleaning up the lower area of the site within the machine cut (which I have started calling the "downstairs") in preparation for work on the profile and the excavation of a 1 m x 2 m unit to give us a look below the profile. We cleared small trees, brush, and leaf litter from the "upstairs" area on the top of the levee in preparation for laying out a block of units to expose some of the deposits in plan.
For the 4 m x 4 m block on the "upstairs" (Units 3, 4, 5, and 6 in the diagram below) I gave the students the task of trying to figure out how to find the unit corners using two permanent datum points (N 1000 / E 995 and N 995 / E 995) that DuVal Lawrence and I installed earlier in the week. Locating and marking the corners accurately requires several steps, so I wanted them to go through the thought process of figuring out how to do it (and check it) using multiple triangulations. That was fun.
The following image is just a photograph of my basic map showing the locations of the units we've laid out. The profile drawing shown above curves along the line labeled "cut." I excavated Units 1 and 2 last spring to start the process of producing a straight north-south profile. Jim Legg will continue those excavations with a series of units to the north of Unit 2, establishing a plumb profile wall along the 1000 E line. Units 3, 4, 5, and 6 will be used to expose the deposits in plan, coming down from the apex of the levee. Unit 7 will be used to investigate what, if anything, is below the deposits visible in the exposed vertical cut.
Weather permitting, next Friday we'll be putting shovels in the ground. Stay tuned!
This is just a quick update on the spring archaeological field school I announced in November. I'm happy to report two things: (1) the class has filled up; and (2) I have received notice that my request for financial support from the Archaeological Research Trust (ART) has been granted. ART grant monies will support wages for a field assistant, wages for a lab worker to keep up with processing artifacts, samples, and paperwork as we produce it in the field, and purchase of expendable field supplies and materials to stabilize the site. Thank you, ART members and board: you won't be disappointed!
I'll write more about the field school as it moves forward. I'm considering including a small online writing requirement in the syllabus, as communicating with the public about archaeology is important both for the education of the students and for our discipline as a whole. I'll keep you posted. In the mean time, enjoy this picture of the Broad River on a crisp fall day (taken last week during a visit to the site).
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