Thursday, May 30, 2013

May 22: You Got to Flag ‘em to Bag ‘em, by Daniel Scott

After an evening filled with rain we arrived at our new field site with childlike enthusiasm. The owner of the field had just recently plowed and planted this season’s corn making our systematic survey easier – as the recently plowed ground clearly exposed ceramic sherds, lithics, bone, shells, and fire cracked rock. With conditions right we spaced ourselves – three corn rows dividing each individual – and began the process of slowly walking North East through field marking the beginning and ending of “hot spots” (which provide invaluable information as to the manner in which the town was organized while also guiding us to the best location where we might place our units and begin excavation). The previously mentioned surveying conditions along with the relatively flat field allowed us to locate, identify, and finally flag artifacts with ease, with the only hiccup in the day coming when all the flags were expended.

Upon the completion of the flagging process – the following day – the epicenter of the site revealed itself to be the most level ground on very east of the field, nearest to the Nolichucky River – a common location as discovered through previous field projects in the region – while smaller scatters of artifacts were found outside this main concentration.

Once the flagging process was completed we began to collect the artifacts by way of dog leashes. This method is executed by placing one’s self in a group of flags and collecting everything within a five meter radius of their center – we began at the south western tip working our way across the field, avoiding isolated finds as often as possible. The center of each dog leash circle was given a designated number, flagged, and plotted on a map sketch of the area in order to keep the integrity of the town’s organization. The vast area along with the large amount of findings prohibit a swift completion of the gathering of all artifacts. Scenarios such as these are often conducive to looters, however, our daily presence at the site along with the benefit of its location on private property has allowed us to avoid becoming another chapter in the long book of looted archaeological sites.

Prior to the onset of the Iraq war in 2003 archeologists in the area and throughout the Middle East were brought home without the ability to clean up or finish that season’s work. Martin Gottlieb’s article in the New York Times on June 12, 2003 quoted the University of Chicago Dr. Gibson as he described the aftermath of the looting of several active archaeological sites as a “devastated landscape” which resembled “Swiss cheese” due to the deep holes dug by looters. This example is just one of the many challenges that archaeologists face during a successful and prolonged dig. [1]

Figure 1. Aerial view of the devastated site of Umma, southern Iraq, in September 2003. Looter pits eclipse scientifically excavated areas identifiable by walls and mounds of spoil in their immediate proximity. Courtesy of Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale.[2]

[1] Martin Gottlieb, Looters Swarm Over Remote Sites, Study Finds, New York Times, June 12, 2003:
[2] Kathryn Tubb, Irreconcilable Differences? Problems with Unprovenanced Antiquities, Papers from the Institute of Archaeology, Vol. 18 (2007):

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

May 27: A little work, a little celebrating on Memorial Day

Our very ambitious plans for research goals this summer do not allow for much time off. We started Monday morning bright and early with more systematic survey work at 40WG11.

After the initial survey of the fields completed last week, we began systematic collections of the artifacts visible on the surface. The locations of these collections will be plotted on the site map and the artifacts will be analyzed to look for patterning in the number and kind of artifacts in different sections of the settlement.

Towards the end of the day, we also selected the location of excavation units. The excavations are located in a vulnerable area of the site, where the Nolichucky River has flooded sometime in the distant past and washed away an unknown amount of the settlement. The units are located near this area that has the potential to be further damaged by river flooding.

After this very busy day, we got together for a barbeque. The Field Director, Beau Carroll, was also the master of the grill and campfire:
We enjoyed a delicious dinner together and were glad to have a little time to reflect upon the service, sacrifice, and commitment of all those who have served our country.

Mini-Video: Meet Bronwyn Schell

Bronwyn Schell is a student at University of New Mexico.

May 20-26: A busy week to start the fieldwork!

The 2013 field school had a great beginning. Usually we spend the first day getting oriented to lab procedures and the archaeological collections. This year, we set off to do survey work, as well. We began by surveying 40GN13,  site recorded in Greene County. The field is currently being used as a pasture and was covered in buttercups. Because the visibility of the ground surface was difficult because of the dense vegetation, students used a small auger to take column soil samples to see if we could recover evidence of human occupation

We placed these auger tests in an even spacing of every 15 meters and had tested most of the hillside by Tuesday. The clay was tough and it was a challenge to get each sample! We recovered several pieces of chert flakes and carefully chipped tools.

On Wednesday, we began surveying in a very different setting: a plowed cornfield, the location of 40WG11, a site recorded in Washington County. As you can see in the photo, the corn plants were very small.

The survey conditions were excellent due to recent plowing and recent rains. The rain, in fact, prevented us from going to the field on Thursday morning, and when we ventured out to the site to work, the ISU van got stuck in the mud. I am glad to say that we extracted the van through a great team effort.