Saturday, June 4, 2011

May 31: Blazin’ Trails

On the second day, we were greeted with blazing heat again. Nevertheless, we began a systematic survey of the field in which the site is located. Previous work in the area had recovered Spanish artifacts from excavations, but the exact size and nature of the site had not been recorded in detail. One of the best ways to get the “big picture” of the site is to do a pedestrian survey. Students spaced themselves about 12’ (4m) apart and walked along an east-west orientation from one end of the field to the other. We covered every inch of the field in several transects (traverses from one end of the field to the other). Some areas had excellent visibility because a crop of winter wheat had been harvested recently. Other areas had a thicker growth of fescue grass and weeds. In these areas, students brushed plants to the side to look for bare ground.

Valerie Hall points out a reed punctate sherd

The goal for each surveyor was to note the presence and kind of artifacts visible on the surface. One of the most common indicators of human activities in the area was fire-cracked rock. These rocks were reddish and were irregularly fractured, possibly from heating in a hearth or for cooking. Students also observed ceramics, lithics, bone, and shell. Students marked the presence of artifacts with surveyor’s flags or flagging tape.

We observed a typical levee-backswamp formation for the Nolichucky River channel and that the highest concentration of artifacts occurred on a relatively flat plain between the natural river levee and the backswamp. Also, smaller scatters of artifacts occurred well removed from the main area of occupation, though at a much lower density. By the end of the day, we still had one hilltop and the edge of the field to survey.

In the lab, students began to work with pottery, learning about wares—the mix of clay and temper to make ceramics. Clays vary quite a bit from one source to another because of local differences in geology and weathering. Most clays also need temper—additional materials such as sand, grit, or shell to help the clay withstand the heat of firing without cracking or shattering. The amounts and kinds of temper can be different in different regions. The ware gives archaeologists one way to look at change over time or from region to region.

Lorelei Schak makes
friends with a butterfly

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