SMASH 2017 Week Three Update: Chasing the evidence of a structure

In the 2016 field season, a group of undergraduate students and I (Adam Coker) began investigating a potential structure identified in magnetometer data (Carter et al. 2016). We uncovered a hearth feature bounded by white daub and three post molds representing an external wall. This evidence suggested that we did in fact have a structure, but further excavations would be required in order to confirm this hypothesis. This is the aim of this field season.

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Adam (left), Flynn, and Julie delineating the hearth feature.

To accomplish this goal, we set seven 2×2 m units over the entirety of the anomaly in order to achieve maximum horizontal exposure of the structure and any intact features. If our hypotheses are correct, this block would encompass the northern half of the structure. Thus far, we have encountered an interesting differentiation of soils in the floor of the excavation block. Along the northern walls of the block, an area we expect to be external to the structure, we have encountered a red soil with increased clay content. In contrast, towards the southern and central portions of the block we have encountered a dark brown sandy soil that contains a greater number of artifacts. This could potentially be the result of infilling a structural basin following the abandonment of the structure. We initially identified this difference in soil types in 2016 as a post-use midden.

 

As of yet, no additional posts have been identified, but if the differentiation of soils is related to the filling of a structural basin, then post molds may be obscured. Further excavations will likely reveal more information, and it remains likely that post will be observed below this depositional layer.

As excavation continues, we are getting closer to our goal of confirming the presence of a structure and interpreting its function within the greater context of Singer-Moye as a whole.

 

– Adam Coker

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SMASH 2017 Week Two Update: From the field to the lab

Week two of the SMASH project is well underway, and despite some rainy weather we have been able to make great progress in our work at the Singer-Moye site. We finished excavating Strata II, Level 3 for the two units we opened last week, and are putting them on hold for the time being to begin two new units. Our goal is to expose as much horizontal ground space as possible in order to determine the bounds of a potential structure.

Our excavations have produced large amounts of artifacts, including pottery sherds, chert, lithics, daub, and faunal material. As we dug deeper into the units there was greater artifact density, and we believe that we encountered a midden layer. The possible structure being excavated is thought to have been abandoned and used as a trash heap, which helps explain why we are finding so many artifacts in this area.

The ceramics that we found have varied in shape, size, and color, and numerous pieces are incised or include other forms of decoration.

Dirt from the units is screened at the site, and artifacts are picked out and bagged according to unit, strat, and level. Once a level is closed, we can begin washing the artifacts back at the house. With the exception of daub and faunal material, artifacts are scrubbed with water and a toothbrush and left to dry on screens outside, under the sun.

Daub is clay that is smeared onto the walls of a structure and is used to keep out drafts and smooth the surface. It usually only appears in the archaeological record if it has been baked or fire-hardened. In our excavations so far, we have found pieces of daub in all units and in chunks of various sizes. These findings suggest that some type of structure existed in this area.

We found several pieces of bone (faunal material) that have been tentatively identified as mammal and bird bones. Most are too small for the species to be determined, but in one unit some long bones have been uncovered that require further digging. Some bone fragments show signs of being burnt, and can appear blue-black or orange-white.

The units that were opened this week are still in progress, but as we dig deeper we hope to find more signs of the structure. One unit is believed to have been the entrance of the structure, and we expect to find an abundance of artifacts in the lower levels….

… but will we? Stay tuned to find out!

-Tiffany and Julie

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Kicking off the SMASH 2017 field season

The Singer-Moye Archaeological Settlement History (SMASH) field season for 2017 began Monday, June 2. We have a great group of students from the University of Georgia, one high school junior, and two graduate students from the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan working with us.

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Field School students, L to R: Mara Holandez, Tiffany Yew, Julie Stephens, Flynn Vogt, and Eli Huszagh

Our goal this season is to investigate a possible Mississippian structure encountered in the field in 2016. Last year’s excavations revealed a hearth feature and a line of post molds. Read see Adam Coker’s post summarizing this work here.

Our first week in the field was a wet one. Heavy rain kept us back at the field house on Tuesday morning, where students organized field equipment and learned how to take measurements using line levels. In the afternoon, we got out for a tour of the site before the rain chased us away again. That evening, some very heavy thunderstorms rolled through Lumpkin, which made for a very soggy Wednesday morning. While the road to the site dried out enough for us to get out there, students sketched the site plan and the local grid where we will be excavating this summer into their notebooks. By mid-morning we were able to get out to the site and begin setting up excavation units. Students used the total station to find the corners of 2×2 meter units which will form our block excavation this summer.

Around lunch, heavy rain chased us out of the site once again, though not until everyone had been thoroughly soaked to the skin. A field school rite of passage! That afternoon, Stefan Brannan gave students a lesson in ceramic analysis.

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Soggy field clothes drying out in camp

Thursday dawned bright and finally dry, so we were able to get in a full day of work at the site. We finished stringing units and started excavating! Students used flat shovels to remove the first strata of organic material from two 2×2 meter units placed adjacent to the 2016 excavation units. Our hope is to open up a block that encompasses the north side of this potential structure. On Friday they continued this work, excavating levels within the plowzone. Stay tuned for more updates throughout the field season as our work continues.

Posted by Jennifer Birch

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Stringing units for the excavation block. Our 2016 excavation units are in the foreground. These were covered with black plastic and 3/4″ plywood at the end of last season to protect them so we could continue opening up this area this year.

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Students screening. We are already finding a large volume of material in the humus and plowzone. More details to follow once we start processing finds in the lab.

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Application deadline extended

deadline-extendedWe still have a few places open for this summer’s field school at Singer-Moye.

Applications will be accepted through May 1 on a first-come, first-served basis until the program fills up. The program runs June 2-July 16. There are no fees involved besides tuition and in-state students can apply the HOPE scholarship.

To fill out an application visit our field school page.

 

 

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Where are they Now?: Gracie Riehm

Since taking the Singer-Moye field school in 2012, Gracie Reihm has completed an MA at the University of Alabama and has moved on to a PhD at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She has also been the teaching assistant for another field school at Moundville. Read more about her academic trajectory in this week’s edition of “Where are they now?”

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The 2012 UGA field school at Singer-Moye at the field house and lab in Lumpkin. Gracie is under the yellow arrow. It was a big crew that year!

Where are you now?

I did field school at Singer-Moye in the summer of 2012. Has it really already been five years? I spent the next two years working at the Georgia Archaeological Site File and graduated from UGA in May 2014. I went on to a master’s program at the University of Alabama with Dr. John Blitz, graduating in May 2016. And now I’m at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill working on my PhD with Dr. Vin Steponaitis! (A perennial student right here…)

What are you studying?

My master’s thesis was a seriation of Pensacola ceramics. It was a nice, straightforward project that really refined my ceramic analysis skills and has already found its way into gray literature (report writing) use! I plan to continue working with Pensacola ceramics on the side. For my PhD, I’m interested in the pre-Creek sociopolitical landscape. Zones of early coalescence consisted of heterogenous communities. I’m exploring the use of ceramic assemblages to assess identity and social transformation in ethnically diverse “protohistoric” villages.

 

How did field school help prepare you for this trajectory?

I remember that someone told me before that summer that field school makes or breaks an archaeologist. To whoever told me that, thank you. Sometimes I think sheer stubbornness got me through that summer, because it certainly wasn’t natural talent. The Singer-Moye field school gave me a strong foundation for a still-growing skill set. Stefan didn’t go easy on us and said that his whole goal was to prepare us to be able to work in CRM; he did that and so much more. I’ve been able to translate my field school skills into work as a CRM field tech, a teaching assistant at the Moundville field school, and a researcher in charge of my own projects. I wouldn’t be who I am without that summer in Lumpkin, Georgia. There’s nothing I love more than trying to convince my students that this is the best field school they could attend!

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Where are they Now?: Derek Butler

This week’s post features Derek Butler. Derek was a field school student at Singer-Moye in 2012. That year, under the direction of Stefan Brannan, the field school shovel-tested the entire site core and all adjacent areas. This work allowed the reconstruction of the site’s occupational history as we know it. In the years since, Derek has utilized and expanded the skills he gained at field school in a successful career in cultural resource management.

Where are you now?

I am currently working in the field of cultural resource management (CRM) and have been for around 3 ½ years. I became involved in CRM by using sites such as acra-crm.org, archaeologyfieldwork.com, and shovelbums.org to find jobs all over the country.

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Derek digging shovel tests on a CRM project in coastal Florida.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am currently working on the project 4985 D/E Eglin on the Florida coast. The project I’m on is mostly phase I survey, but does have a week or two of phase II excavation work. We’re digging 50×50 shovel tests at 25 meter intervals in areas of high probability and 50 meter intervals for medium probability. (Probability refers to the possibility of finding archaeological sites.) The phase II survey will involve excavating 1×1 meter units.

 

How did field school help prepare you for this trajectory?

The Singer-Moye field school was instrumental in me being prepared for the CRM world. One of the most important skills I was taught was how to use a sighting compass and how to dig a proper shovel test. It sounds like trivial and basic skills, but I have encountered far too many archaeologists that do not know how to use a sighting compass and were never taught. Those individuals are hardly hired by the same company again. Also, knowing my pacing for walking anywhere between 15 and 50 meters has been a huge relief to every crew chief I have ever had. Lastly, knowing the hypotenuse of a standard 1×1 meter unit and how to lay a unit in are invaluable skills that I gained from this field school. All in all, the Singer-Moye field school taught me every skill I needed to perform archaeology at the professional level.

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Where are they Now?: Emily Lew

This week’s post features Emily Lew who completed the UGA Field School at Singer-Moye in 2015.

What have you done since field school and where are you now?

After field school finished, I had one more semester to finish off my other degree in Criminal Justice before graduating in the fall of 2015. In spring of 2016, I interned with the American Museum of Natural History in New York, then immediately followed that up with an internship in Virginia with The Germanna Foundation working in historic archaeology for the summer. And since last October I’ve been working with the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology and just wrapped up work with them at the end of February, and now I’m not entirely sure what will be next!

What kinds of projects are you been working on?

When I was working for SCIAA, I was mostly doing site surveys on Fort Jackson in Columbia, SC for the Army and National Guard. I will probably start applying for graduate schools for the fall of 2018, and I’m hoping to either focus my research on enslaved populations or Spanish colonization / Spanish contact in the southeast. In the meantime, I plan to enjoy having some time off staying in one place for a little bit and applying to some CRM jobs as they pop up.

How did field school help prepare you for this trajectory?

Field school really helped me decide for sure what I wanted to do with my degree. I think before I did field school, I was still on the fence about pursuing criminal justice or archaeology, and being in the field honestly made that decision really easy. I got to conduct my own research, experience my first professional conference, and hang out in nature for five weeks, every second of which was exhilarating. It was in part because I had experience working in Georgia from field school that I was able to get my internship with the AMNH, something I thought I was overwhelmingly underqualified to do. Through Dr. Birch, I was able to get my job with SCIAA and meet even more amazing archaeologists in the southeast and be involved with what they’re working on. On top of that, I run in to many of the same students I took field school with as professionals now, and I actually worked at SCIAA with another student I took field school with, Andrew Blank. Singer-Moye really showed me what to expect out of this profession, both in terms of what I needed to be able to give and what I would get in return, and helped put me on a journey into the professional world of archaeology and meet others who were on a similar path. I would recommend it to anyone!

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Emily working on St. Catherine’s Island with the American Museum of Natural History.

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