Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day 13 and 14 - Getting to the Bottom of Things

The last couple of days in the field have proven to be rather eventful - students have finally reached the bottom of the plow zone in their units, and have descended onto the cultural layer that is the focal point of this archaeological investigation. Although this layer is a sort of "living surface" with culturally sterile soil not far below, this is the layer where features such as post molds and structural foundations are going to turn up and is thus vitally important. Students will from this point onward trowel very carefully and deliberately through their levels.

Most units have shown a mottled soil still consisting of some plow zone soil. Some even have distinct trenches cut into the cultural layer filled with plow zone soil - a clear sign of a plow scar that long ago dug into that layer. One unit, however (20 South 22 East), does appear to have a post mold. It is nothing like the numerous post molds found in last years 20 South 15 East (which we uncovered again over the past couple of days for reanalysis and point of comparison with other units), but shows promise that an extensive number of structures once existed at this site.

The post mold in unit 20 South 22 East

Not surprisingly, artifact finds are proving to be more and more interesting. Some of the highlights include a couple of lithic cores, a few large pottery sherds with surface decoration, and one large piece of iron seen below.

The mysterious piece of iron.

Other than its material, we are unsure what sort of object it may have been. Based on its flat shape, we have speculated that it may have been attached to a wooden surface. The likelyhood of proper identification remains to be seen.

Most decorated pot sherds found over the last few days have either been check stamped or cord marked, both of which are surface treatment styles common to the Woodland Period of East Tennessee, but not necessarily unheard of in Mississippian and/or historical contexts.

A check stamped sherd, in situ.

One sherd uncovered during the last couple of days, however, appears to be a rectilinear complicated stamped. Complicated stamped surface treatments are typical of Mississippian cultures found throughout what is today Georgia, South Carolina, and parts of northern Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee. This stylistic attribute is definitive of Mississippian and historic cultural sequences in western North Carolina and upper East Tennessee.

Though badly damaged in the plowzone, this sherd above shows the telltale stamped lines and corners typical of a rectilinear complicated stamp motif.

One of our field school students, Katie, proudly showing off the sherd, which was found in her unit.

The next few days of field excavation will only reveal more exciting artifacts and features, as students carefully excavate through the undisturbed cultural layer in their respective units. Tomorrow, however, the crew will be taking a field trip to the Berry site in North Carolina, where excavations are currently underway. Come Monday, students will be back to work for their final week of field work. Stay tuned to this blog for more updates!

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