Structuring an Argument and Posting the Results: Investigating a possible Mississippian household

By Adam Coker

The goal of our team this field season was to investigate a possible structure identified in magnetometer data. This data presented itself as distinct anomalies that corresponded to what could be a central hearth and rectangular walls. We placed a 1 x 6 m trench, oriented east to west, over the central hearth and two sections of the walls. While we did not identify a wall in this trench, we did identify a large circular feature bounded by fired white clay and fire cracked rock.

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Hearth feature composed of fire-cracked rock and fired while clay (daub).

To the east of this feature we found a dense concentration of artifacts along the floor of the unit, and to the west we found a relatively clean area. In order to place this circular feature within the context of a structure, we expanded our survey coverage with a 1 x 1 m unit off of the east wall of our existing trench. We encountered the boundaries of a unit excavated in the 2013 field season early on and ceased excavation.

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Post molds in the base of the team’s excavation unit. 

The next step was to follow our anomaly north in order to capture a section of undisturbed wall. To accomplish this, we extended our excavation coverage with a 1 x 3 m unit oriented north-south. We countered another dense concentration of artifacts in the floor of the southern half of this new unit. Beneath this layer of artifacts, we encountered an interesting change in soil represented in the northern third of the unit. This change was represented by a more compact layer of red soil that was distinct from the softer dark brown soil in the southern half of the unit. Our excavations this season ended with the identification of three possible post-molds. As our field season draws to a close, the next step for our team is to return to the lab to analyze our data and to structure our interpretations.

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The House team, clockwise from top: David, Jaimie, Adam (the author), and Shelby, with their unit at the end of this season’s excavations

 

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Stuck In the Midden With You: A Field Season In Review

By Kimi Swisher

For the last five weeks, our team of Nate Hale, Turner Hunt, Judge Jones, and myself have been excavating a midden deposit located in the southeastern portion of the Singer-Moye site core. The midden is part of a residential area situated to the east of Mound A and to the south of Mound H. In 2012 and 2013, the shovel testing and subsequent excavation of a test unit revealed part of a large midden deposit with a high concentration of artifacts, including ceramics, lithics, and well-preserved faunal material. Such concentrations of fauna are unusual for the southwest Georgia area, since the soils of the Interior Coastal Plain do not normally preserve bone well. Our excavations this field season focused on gaining a better understanding of that midden deposit and a larger sample of faunal and, perhaps, botanical material.

In order to better understand this deposit, including its extent and composition, our team excavated a 1x2m unit to the east of the 2013 excavations. We placed our unit after extracting soil cores to see what the stratigraphy was like before excavation. Through our excavations of this unit we were able to clearly see soil changes in the walls of the unit which represented changes in occupation of Singer-Moye over time. This helps us to better contextualize the midden deposit with the occupational history of the site. We recovered large amounts of decorated and undecorated pieces of ceramics, lithic artifacts including both formal tools and evidence of tool manufacture, and bone fragments from animals that had been consumed and/or utilized by the people who once lived at the site. In order to more clearly understand the shape of the midden deposit since our 1×2 meter  excavation had caught the deposit’s edge, our team then conducted a second excavation of the space that was between our 1x2m unit and the 2013 excavation. By doing these excavations, our team was able to gain a better understanding of the extent of the midden deposit, its shape, and the types and densities of artifacts that were within it.

As mentioned above, it is very unusual to have well preserved faunal material in the southwest part of Georgia since the acidic soils normally makes the bone deteriorate very quickly. During the excavations, our team took soil samples from each level for both flotation and nested screening, in order to obtain samples of smaller pieces of floral and faunal material than would be identified in the quarter-inch screen normally employed at the site. By taking soil samples at every level of excavation and then further processing and analyzing these samples, we will be able to better understand not only the composition of the midden deposit but also see how different methods may be affecting the types of archaeological material that we are recovering.

Since we have finished our excavations for the field season, our team now plans on looking more closely at the varieties and types of artifacts that were recovered by comparing their weights and ratios to one another throughout our different excavation levels and the different occupations at the site to better understand how social practices and activities may have changed overtime at Singer-Moye. We will be eager to share our results at SEAC this fall!

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Team Midden, L to R: Nate, Judge, Turner, and Kimi (the author).

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Excavation team summary: The Palisade

*Note from Dr. Birch: This week, SMASH 2016 wrapped up fieldwork. This is the first in a series of posts which will provide a preliminary summary of each excavation team’s findings.

By Sarah Luthman

Our team spent three weeks opening two excavation units in an effort to answer several research questions concerning the settlement patterns at Singer-Moye. These results are being synthesized with data from 2015 to help archaeologists better understand the extent and purpose of the palisade that may have separated Mound A (and possibly Mound H) from other activity areas.
In the previous year, a single excavation unit confirmed that a linear magnetic anomaly was caused by a trench of mottled fill running northwest to southeast between Mound A and the plaza. Because this anomaly seemed to disappear in the magnetometer data just a few meters away, we placed another excavation unit 2 meters to the southeast this year to investigate the extent of the palisade. After about a week of digging, often through hard red clay, we uncovered a level with the same colored mottling, running in the same direction. Although the soil changed color slightly as it ran from northwest to southeast, the trench did continue all the way across our unit with increased flecking and five post molds.

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The bottom of our first excavation unit, showing the direction of the trench fill and five post molds

Curious now that this wall might go even further, we decided to place another unit, 7 meters south and 12 meters east, hoping to find out if it continued in a straight line. We also wanted to find a second palisade that had once run under Mound H, excavated in the 1990s. Our 1m x 3m unit was placed over the possible intersection of these two palisades, to see if they would cross. After a week of battling tree roots, we uncovered the white mottling that signified the top of the palisade trench running from northwest to southeast, but were unable to find evidence of the other palisade from under Mound H.

                                 

Was this second wall constructed earlier, and is it still hiding in deeper levels? Did it turn east or west, and perhaps we missed it with the placement of this excavation unit? Further testing in this area might answer our research questions about this second wall. For now, though, we can feel more sure that our first palisade does surround a large area to the southeast of Mound A. Future research questions might be developed to understand the purpose of this wall that may have enclosed, excluded, or delineated special spaces at Singer-Moye.

 

 

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Drawing Plan Views

By Jaimie Carter

Over the course of this field school, I have learned the multiple steps it takes to complete a project. From the initial measuring and stringing of the unit to shoveling and troweling, it is a lengthy process that needs time to ensure it is completed properly. Of these aspects, I have come to love one particular aspect more than the others: drawing archaeological plans. In order to properly display exactly what is happening within your unit, you have to record all the artifacts and features that are present in a level, on the floor of your unit. Drawing plan views is a team effort because while one person is sketching and recording, their teammates are using measuring tapes and a plumb bob in order to tell them the precise location of the artifacts and features present.

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Our unit team drawing a plan view. L to R: Shelby, Adam (standing), Jaimie (the author, seated and drawing), and David. 

This process requires a delicate hand and large amounts of patience because sometimes you will have to do hours of sketching, which I have learned in sketching a 1 x 6 unit, 5 centimeters at a time. In the end, you and your team have an extremely detailed and intricate map of your level and unit, making the attention to detail and hours placed into the plan worth it, because you have a nearly perfect reconstruction of all of your hard work and effort. To permanently seal its place in the archaeological record, the plan view can be scanned and digitally inked so that even when the pencil fades, there is a record of the unit at that moment in time. I can only hope that the plan view that I completed for my unit will only add to our understanding of this amazing site and the way of life of its previous occupants.

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Plan of 2016 excavation units (XUs) 1 and 6. It shows a concentration of artifact east of a hearth feature in a probable structure.

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Close-up of a section of the same plan view drawing

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Flotation

By Judge Jones

Last Thursday and this Thursday, instead of going out into the field to excavate, my unit team and I stayed back at the house.  We performed flotation screening on ten and five liter soil samples that we have been collecting from every level we have dug. Our unit is investigating a prehistoric midden and the intent of this testing is to collect small floral and faunal samples that might otherwise be missed or discarded in the field using our regular quarter inch screening. The flotation device is a brilliant and efficient design created by Patty Jo Watson, modified by Christine Hastorf, and built for our use by Stefan Brannan and a local welder. It consists of a fifty-five gallon barrel, two aluminum buckets with the bottoms sawed off with screens put in their place, a hose connected to the barrel by a nozzle to fill it with water, and a common garden sprayer placed strategically under the largest bucket in the barrel to agitate the sediment.

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L to R: Judge (the author), Nate, and Kimi processing soil samples by flotation.

We emptied our samples, about three liters of dirt at a time, into the larger of the two buckets; then using our hands along with the garden sprayer underneath, we separated the sediment from the light and heavy fraction remains. The light fraction, which was mostly floral remains, would separate from the sediment, float to the surface and follow the overflow from the barrel into the smaller aluminum bucket and come to a rest in a well affixed cheesecloth. The heavy fraction, which contained many small and fragile bone fragments, would remain on the screen in the larger bucket in the barrel. As the sediment was removed and, settled to the bottom of the barrel all that is left was sand, grit, root mass, and bone. Removing the buckets carefully, so as not to lose the remains to the water and silt we had so carefully separated it from; we left the light fraction hanging in the cheesecloth and the heavy fraction out on a screen in the sun to dry. While we do not have time in the field,  once back in the lab the samples will be analyzed and hopefully the lives and means of the people who constructed and occupied Singer-Moye can be better understood.

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Kimi watches the light fraction being collected in cheesecloth placed over a bucket attached to the flotation barrel.

 

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The Shovel’s Song

By David Howington

At an excavation site, an archaeologist is only as good as those with whom they are working, and the tools that they are using. At Singer-Moye, our main tool for moving dirt is the flat square shovel sharpened to the point it could shave a man’s face. While anyone can simply pick up a shovel and dig a hole, it is the ongoing conversation between the shovel and the operator that allows the excavator to move from a post hole digger to a scientist excavating a site.

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Field school students learning how to sharpen shovels. The author, David (in black cap), stands right of center.

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Flat shoveling the start of an excavation unit aimed at investigating the extent of a palisade.

If you do your part in utilizing the shovel, keeping it sharp and keeping the blade flat to the surface, it will tell you everything you will need to know. As I have been learning over the past two weeks, if you pay attention to the feedback of the shovel you can be alerted to what lies beneath the soil that has yet to be revealed. With more experience, you begin to be able to distinguish the difference between rock and root, ceramic and rock (I have yet to master this one), and when you are coming into a new soil texture. This feedback has aided me in being able to notify our unit supervisor to possible areas of interest prior to fully cutting through feature layers so that we can be more cautious with the archaeologist’s second favorite tool, the trowel.

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Adam and David troweling the surface of a hearth feature. 

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In the lab: Artifact analysis

By Chris Dial

When people think of Archaeology they conjure up images of the great pyramids or of a whip toting, gun-slinging b-film heroes but the reality of archaeology isn’t quite as glamorous. Archaeology is fun, don’t get me wrong, but it’s more than what Hollywood would have you believe.

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The author, Chris, washing artifacts prior to analysis.

Archaeology is a series of processes that ensure good scholarly work, and they must be followed to make sure the work being done is scientifically valid. To begin with you have to actually put a trench into the ground however that is a different blog post. This blog post is going to focus on what happens after you put a shovel in the ground and the sifting is done for the day.

So what happens to artefacts when they come in from the trenches?
When artifacts come out of the field they are given a special lot number that is tied to where they were excavated, or their provenience. They are then washed and put on drying racks. Then, they are put into bags on which their lot numbers are written, the units and levels they were dug out of, and the date as well as the initials of the excavators.

After that process the real work begins. In this stage of the process the artifacts are taken out of their bags and sorted by type of artifact, such as ceramics, lithics, or bone (faunal material in archaeology-speak). The ceramics are then divided by size and temper. Here at Singer-Moye there are two main types of temper that are present in the ceramics: sand/grit temper and shell temper. There are fiber tempered ceramics here at the site but they are from an earlier stage of occupation and not as prominent within the context of where we are digging. The ceramics are further separated by whether or not there is decoration on the ceramic. There are a few types of decoration that appear here at the site including punctated, stamped, and incised. Punctated decoration is when a person pokes holes in the ceramic before it is fired. Stamped decoration is when a person uses a paddle that has a design on it and presses the paddle into the ceramic when the clay is still wet. Inscribed pottery is when a person uses a stick or stylus to inscribe designs into the clay while it’s still wet. There is also rim decoration as well. Once all the sorting is done the ceramics are counted weighed in their groups and as a whole and then put into new bags and labeled with the quantity and weights. They are then done and ready for the final stages of analysis.

Lithics are done in much the same way. They are sorted, weighed, and labeled, but the categories are different. The main category here is the coastal plain chert lithics. They come in two different subtypes, white/yellow opaque and honey transparent. These categories are color categories. We have also been finding ground stone artifacts.

In all, the analysis process is but a step in a much larger process that archaeologists use to help us answer our questions of the past. It’s tedious, but it’s a necessary step in our research.

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