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.


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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Kicking off SMASH 2016

Singer-Moye Archaeological Settlement History Project (SMASH) 2016

By Jennifer Birch and Stefan Brannan

Singer-Moye (9SW2) is a multi-mound Mississippian center located in the Lower Chattahoochee River Valley of southwest Georgia. The site’s occupation has been estimated to span ca. A.D. 1100-1450 (Blitz and Lorenz 2006). The site core comprises a mound-and-plaza complex covering some 14 ha and including five flat-topped earthen mounds, three dome-shaped mounds, and two plazas.

The site has been the subject of intermittent excavation since the 1960s. In 2012, students and faculty from UGA initiated a new program of archaeological research at the site. Brannan’s shovel test survey of adjacent UGA-owned lands, including the site core, indicates that the total site area comprises some 31 ha, with additional residential occupation undoubtedly extending onto landforms beyond the survey area.

Our work at Singer-Moye has two primary objectives: 1. To unravel the occupational history of the settlement, with a particular focus on off-mound residential occupation and 2. To understand how changes in the community centered upon Singer-Moye relate to larger, contemporary patterns in the geopolitical landscape of the prehistoric southeastern United States (for more information about the overall goals of the project see Birch and Brannan 2015). Another objective is for students enrolled in the UGA Field School in Archaeology to become actively involved in research design, interpretation, and presentation of the results of the project. Students are divided into excavation teams focused on different aspects of the site’s history. At the end of the project, each team will design a scientific poster presenting their results.

We are currently in week two of the project. Each week, students will update this blog with posts detailing their team’s excavations and results.

Team hike

The SMASH 2016 field school students hiking to the summit of Mound A. Photo credit: Sarah Luthmann.

The Palisade

By Claire Lutrick

Our team is digging an excavation unit focused on learning more about the segmentation of space at Singer-Moye—specifically understanding palisades at the site. A palisade traditionally is an enclosure built with deep wooden stakes, either for separation purposes or for defensive purposes. In 2015, a linear anomaly was detected by magnetic gradiometry. That same season, another team from UGA excavated a 2×2  meter unit and identified a trench with clay-filled posts which was interpreted as a palisade trench. Our unit, 2016_XU_3, is located 2 meters southeast of those 2015 excavations. Due to the lack of visible bastions, the 2015 team argued that the palisade was not defensive, but rather created a separation between Mound A to the southwest and the plaza to the northwest. Whether we have yet to find the bastions, suggesting the palisade as defensive, or some other use yet to be discovered, our research question remains: Why was the palisade built and what was its purpose?

Our first week of field school included setting up grid points, stringing up the unit, and looking for soil changes. Thus far we have dug through the humus level (organics at the surface), sandy grey soil, red sandy clay, and are currently digging through tough, red clay. In the current level of tough, red clay we have begun to see specks of yellow/white soil in addition to deep red clay. We believe the yellow/white soil to be rem
ains of the palisade wall and are coming down on it slowly to keep an eye on sudden soil changes.

Along with soil changes we have found coastal plain, heat treated coastal plain, and Flint River chert. We have also found hundreds of pieces of ceramics, though they have yet to be formally analyzed. Once the palisade is clearly demarcated, we will begin noting which side lithics, ceramics, and other finds are located in reference to the wall, mound side or plaza side, to help build our case for the purpose of this wall!


2016-06-16 15.36.54

L to R: Sarah Luthmann, Claire Lutrick, and Jim Rooks excavating the uppermost levels of the palisade unit.

The House

By Shelby Reed

Our excavation unit, 2016_XU1 focuses on magnetometer data collected in March 2016 that reveals what we believe to possibly be a house located south of Mound H and east of Mound A. The location is of interest due to 2016_XU1 being located so close to the mounds and in such close proximity to where the midden is being excavated. 2016_XU1 is a 1x6m unit running E-W that is divided into an east side and a west side (2016_XU1E and 2016_XU1W) so that it is easier to manage. In XU1E we found what might just be a post hole (Feature 2) and another anomaly which could be a wall that looks like a thick ribbon of darker, harder soil. Further excavations need to done but we are still hopeful to find out more!

In the upcoming weeks, we plan to extend our units and find out further what the anomalies that were found in 2016_XU1E are. In all the units, our team has been finding copious amounts of pottery as well as many lithic, bone, and daub pieces. All of our work is, in my humble opinion, very exciting and I honestly cannot wait to see what happens next. As it is only the first week and so much has been done already, I can only imagine what will come next!


L to R: Shelby Reed, Jaimie Carter, Megan Conger, and Adam Coker starting to excavate the unit focused on a possible Mississippian house.

The Midden

By Nathan Hale

I am an undergraduate student at UGA majoring in anthropology. My main focus is in underwater archaeology. Since my only background in terrestrial archaeology is in geophysical surveying, I decided to attend a terrestrial field school this summer. The field school is directed by Dr. Jennifer Birch and PhD candidate Stefan Brannan. I’m truly honored to have an opportunity not only to be learning at this site, but to be able to work alongside our distinguished directors.

There are three teams in the school conducting archaeological surveys at the Singer-Moye site. My team is excavating an area of a midden deposit that spans many years of the site’s occupation. We immediately recovered artifacts as soon as we began excavating the first level of the midden excavation and are now 28 cm below the surface. We have recovered many ceramic sherds, lithics, and faunal material. I’m learning how to improve upon my identification skills for these different kinds of artifacts as we recover them. I’m also excited to try a technique, known as “flotation”, in the laboratory next week. By utilizing this technique we hope to recover faunal and botanical materials that we normally wouldn’t see by using a ¼” screen.

While the Singer-Moye summer field school has only just began, I am really impressed with the results I’m seeing at the site, and how well organized work at the site has been working under Dr. Birch and Mr. Brannan. I highly recommend this field school to any student who wants to work in the field of archaeology. It’s a rare opportunity to work at a Mississippian site, and Singer-Moye has so much to offer.


L to R: Kimi Swisher, Turner Hunt, and Nathan Hale opening the unit focused on obtaining stratigraphic samples from a midden deposit

Works cited:

Birch, Jennifer, and Stefan Brannan. 2015. Summary of the 2015 Field Season at Singer-Moye (9SW2). Early Georgia 43(1&2): 95-100.

Blitz, John H., and Karl G. Lorenz. 2006. The Chattahoochee Chiefdoms. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.


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Artifact Illustration

We are fortunate to be working with a talented illustrator named Matthew Crotts who will be drawing artifacts excavated at Singer-Moye during the 2013 and 2015 field seasons.

The artifact below is a human effigy which would have decorated the rim of a ceramic bowl. It was recovered from a unit located east of Mounds A and H in 2013. This artifact is similar in style to other human effigies  recovered from Mississippian sites further to the west.


DP100983Moundville effigy

Singer Moye effigy (top), effigy bowl from New Madrid, in the collections of the Metropolitain Museum of Art (left), and drawing of an effigy bowl from Moundville (right) (reproduced from Knight, V.J. 2010. Mound Excavations at Moundville: Architecture, Elites, and Social Order. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa., p. 52).

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Now accepting applications for the 2015 Archaeological Field School!

Follow the field school tab above for more details.

When: June 5 – July 17 (6 weeks)

Where: Stewart Co., GA (45 mins south of Columbus)

What…students will learn:

Archaeological and geophysical survey methods
Mapping and documentation
Processing of geophysical data
Excavation techniques
Laboratory methods
Analytical skills
Presentation skills

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