Saturday, June 4, 2011

June 1: From Walking to Crawling

Once we completed the systematic survey of the field, we had a good idea of the areas where people once lived and worked. Within those zones of artifacts, we started what is known as a crawling survey—a highly detailed review of the kinds of artifacts and changes in amounts and kinds of artifacts. Students criss-crossed small areas, and in some cases literally crawled! A fairly common part of early historic southeastern Native American towns appears to have been a plaza. The plaza was a large open space where many people could gather to meet and perform important activities such as dances. How would a plaza be visible archaeologically? A lower density of artifacts might occur in the plaza because they were usually kept clean of debris. The plaza was usually surrounded by different kinds of structures, including houses, so we would expect to see more artifacts at the edge of the plaza where structures were. By searching intensively for every visible artifact, students began to define areas of higher and lower concentrations that give us an initial idea of the town plan. This is very careful work, and students made some great finds of artifacts that were not observed during the systematic survey.

Diana Fuller searches
carefully for artifacts.

In the lab, students started looking at different ways to alter the surface of a vessel. The ceramics of this region often have smoothed surfaces and are smudged. Smudging is the use of a smoky fire to darken the surface of a pot. Early English accounts of traders and visitors to this region recount how the ceramics were a dark color. Other kinds of decoration include incising and paddle stamping. Different kinds of incising were done to the pottery—sometimes sharp, deep slashes, other times wider grooves that were partially smoothed over. A large area of the southeast US has a long tradition of using paddles to shape, decorate, and seal the exterior of vessels. Many times, these paddles were carved with designs, which then left an impression on the vessel surface. The beautiful, complex designs are, in a word, “impressive”!

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