Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Summer's end

On Monday morning the staff and supervisors of the Pensacola Colonial Frontiers 2009 field school joined several volunteers and finished up the last profile map before backfilling the last remaining open excavation unit. While much work remains to be done in the lab, and some additional fieldwork is anticipated during the fall and spring (mostly in preparation for next summer), we would like to take this opportunity to recognize the crew of the 2009 field school, pictured in the photos here. Six of our students spent alternating halves of the summer participating in the UWF underwater field school, and for this reason crew photos were taken for each half.

The complete crew is listed below.

Student crew: Michelle D'Onofrio, Sarah Everhart, Patrick Johnson, Colin Keohane, Jennifer King, John Krebs, Gary MacMullen, Brian Miller, Wendy Morgan, Aubrey Palmer, Roman Sinopoli, John Smith, Helen Welch. Graduate supervisors: Rachel DeVan, Matt Napolitano, Sarah Patterson. Field director: Jennifer Melcher. Principal investigator: John Worth.

The field school was sponsored by the University of West Florida University of West Florida Division of Anthropology and Archaeology, including the Department of Anthropology and the Archaeology Institute. It is important to recognize that the discovery of Mission San Joseph de Escambe was not accomplished in isolation, and in fact builds on considerable earlier work on the Spanish colonial period by UWF archaeologists and their students.

Beyond this, however, we would like to express our tremendous gratitude for the interest and support of the community of Molino, Florida, which has embraced the Colonial Frontiers project with open arms. While it would be impractical to list everyone who expressed interest or visited the site on one or more occasions, or who generously granted permission for archaeological testing on their property, we are particularly thankful to the members of the Molino Mid-County Historical Society, at the April meeting of which the search for Escambe was first presented publicly. We are also grateful to Boyett's Septic Tank & Vacuum Pumping for their generous donation of the use of a portable toilet and sink for our students and crew throughout the field season. Most especially, however, we would like to thank the Marlow, Pope, and Weihenmayer families for their hospitality and support of the project, particularly during its final weeks. Over the course of the summer we made many new friends and shared many good times. We eagerly look forward to new archaeological investigations next year, when we hope to learn even more about the mission community that has lain untouched for so long alongside the Escambia River that bears its name.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


It took a 14-hour work day on Friday for students and staff, but we were able to finish documenting two out of our three open excavations by the time the sun began to drop in the western sky, bringing an official close to the 2009 Pensacola Colonial Frontiers field school at UWF. Students did a great job of finishing what little excavation levels were left, and documenting the exposed profiles of all remaining units, including photography and detailed scale drawings. After multiple photos were taken of each cleaned wall, lines were scribed into the wall showing evident (and sometimes not-so-evident) color variations relating to stratigraphy and natural and cultural soil disturbances (see photo above right), all of which were then carefully drawn, with colors recorded for each division using a Munsell soil color chart (photo to left).

Once each unit was complete, the walls were lined with permeable landscape cloth before the sifted backdirt was manually shoveled back into the same unit from which it came (see video at bottom). Even though it is no small task, this is a traditional ritual of the last day of fieldwork, and signals the wrapup of a tremendously successful 2009 season.

A smaller crew will return early next week to finish the last remaining profile, and backfill the largest of the three excavations we opened this summer. We'll still be posting additional followup blog entries regarding this summer's project, so please stay tuned.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Nearing the end

Today was our second to last day of field school, and good progress was made in all active excavation units. The "swiss cheese" unit with multiple wall trenches was brought down into sterile subsoil by the end of the day, and produced some good surprises including a number of post impressions at the bases of the trenches, as well as a burned European pipestem, made from molded kaolin clay (see picture to right).

The deep feature in the middle of our northernmost unit finally clarified itself to be a large, deep postmold within a larger posthole pit (picture to left). The fill evidently contained Deptford pottery fragments, making it likely that the post may be from a structure around 2,000 years old. We will want to explore further in this area next year in order to determine whether or not there are other associated posts in this area, and when they date from.

The two adjacent units covering three meters of the large wall trench are still being excavated to subsoil in one corner, but we hope to be able to finish all these units, including photographing and drawing all profiles, before backfilling. It's a lot of dirt to replace, but with a good early start tomorrow, we have high hopes of wrapping things up before the weekend.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Tying up loose ends

We're now halfway through the last week of our UWF summer field school, and students have been working diligently to wrap up the excavation units that are still open. This is not as easy as it might seem, in part because each of our current units is at least eight times the size of our earlier shovel tests, and also because we are continuing to uncover extraordinarily intricate evidence for architectural features at Mission Escambe, not to mention continuing evidence of earlier occupations.

In our largest excavation block (consisting of a 2 x 2 meter unit and an adjacent 1 x 2 meter unit) we are continuing to follow the large wall trench we discovered by chance in a 50 x 50 cm. shovel test earlier in the dig. The trench is remarkably well-made, and obviously belonged to a substantial structure in the mission, perhaps associated with the cavalry barracks or the mission church. To date students have mapped almost forty wrought iron nails in-place within the trench, virtually all of which seem to be in their original position within the post-on-sill wall foundation. When all the information is combined on a single map, we hope to be able to reconstruct the construction details of this wall with great detail. One amazing find today was a nail still embedded in a piece of iron-encrusted wood, a remnant of the original beam or post into which the nail was hammered some 250 years ago. A knot-hole is still visible in the preserved wood (see photo above right).

Another unit to the south of this unit has not one but two overlapping sets of wall trenches, each of which apparently belonged to a somewhat less-substantial post-in-trench structure. The earlier structure was demolished and capped with gray soil, and the second structure was placed in a slightly different position on top of the earlier one, with its wall trench cutting through the slightly deeper earlier trench. The remains of both of these structures were later capped with a thick layer of orange clay to create a level surface, into which a large fire basin was excavated. Excavating these overlapping wall-trench features has turned out to be an incredibly complicated task, with multiple bisections and partitions of each feature at specific angles in order to maximize our ability to understand the chronological and structural relationships between the trenches. Since the trench is so narrow, it is quite a balancing act to excavate several sections of these trenches at once, leaving the floor looking something like Swiss cheese in the middle of the process (see photo above left).

The third excavation unit turned out to have several possible postholes, including a large, deep feature that is proving to be more difficult to interpret than it originally seemed. Since mission-period artifacts were found in the deeper layers of this unit, some of these features may relate to the mission occupation, though at present their identity and relationship to the rest of the Apalachee village is unclear.

Students were also treated to a visit by UWF President Dr. Judy Bense today (see photo to left, with project field director Jennifer Melcher), whose decades of archaeological work in and around Pensacola literally laid the groundwork for the current UWF archaeology program. She and her colleagues and students have conducted extensive investigations at the three 18th-century Spanish presidios on Pensacola Bay, and as she noted in her comments to the students today, our work at Mission Escambe will build upon this earlier work, providing new details about Pensacola's Spanish colonial heritage to a new generation of students.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

New walls, new structures

We nearly finished two of our open units today, but made some remarkable and completely unexpected discoveries in the third. As seen in the photo on the right, yet another ritual of field archaeology is studying profiles and carefully drawing the stratigraphic layers, lenses, and cultural features in the walls of each finished unit. It is part science and part craft (sometimes it appears more art than anything), but it results in the drawn profile views that will eventually be pivotal in our quest to understand the site. We also take plenty of photographs to accompany these drawings, but the scale drawings are far more accurate, and give us precise measurements to allow us (in this case, for example) to understand the construction features of the building that generated the wall trench our students have just excavated so carefully over the past days. The image on the left is an excellent example of how profile views can show us features of the wall trench that weren't easily visible while the trench was being excavated.

The excavation unit with our earliest deposits also produced yet another important piece of the Apalachee mission puzzle today in the form of a grog-tempered pottery handle, possibly from a pitcher or other European-inspired form. It may be no coincidence that this was found within a few meters of the possible candlestick fragment, and the recovery of these colono wares provides continuing evidence for a classic mission-period ceramic assemblage.

Finally, once the unit with the clay and ash was brought down below the overlying colonial fill deposits, we were somewhat surprised to see not one but at least two overlapping wall trench features, one of which has what appears to be an obvious corner (see photo to left). These wall trenches correspond to now-apparent "dips" in the overlying contact between the ashy deposits and clay mantle, making it likely that the uppermost yellow clay cap layer was deposited on top of the final burned structure, which had "slumped" into the wall trenches below. We can now recognize at least three episodes of activity in this unit, including an earlier building, a later building constructed on top of the first one, and then a final capping episode accompanied by the excavation of basin-shaped hearth near the surface (see photo to right). What is perhaps most amazing about this sequence is the fact that, based on the artifacts found throughout these deposits, they all occurred during the 20-year occupation of the mission. We will spend the next few days carefully excavating and documenting all these features in order to understand them better.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Older and deeper

We had a good, full day of fieldwork today, following the torrential rains yesterday afternoon. The first order of business was bailing the water from our excavation units, which are carefully covered with plastic and sandbagged each night in order to protect the fragile profiles and features that are beginning to be exposed. This is a common ritual of summer fieldwork in Florida (see video at the bottom of the blog entry).

Students made good progress in all three units. The complex wall trench in our largest unit was nearly completed today, and nearly 20 nails have now been mapped in-place in various positions and depths within the soil stain reflecting the original wooden sill upon which wall posts would have been fastened. Once all the maps and other data are combined and analyzed for this wall trench, we hope to learn a great deal about the original design of the structure we have been excavating here, and of course what its function was for the Escambe mission community.

The confusing clay, ash, and charcoal deposits in a nearby unit are becoming slightly clearer now that the unit has been brought down to a lower elevation. It now appears that the dense clay layer just below the surface in this unit may have been some sort of level floor created on top of an underlying cultural deposit with a very uneven surface (apparently filled with ash and charcoal). Subsequently, a large basin seem to have been excavated through a portion of this clay floor in one area, and the light-colored ash deposits within part of this basin show that it was used as a hearth. All these deposits continue to produce only mission-era artifacts, showing that despite their depth, they apparently all date to the window of time when the mission community was occupied in the mid-18th century. One useful marker for the Apalachee mission occupation was found in the form of a large sherd of grog-tempered cob-marked pottery, known as Jefferson Cob Marked, which was decorated with dried corn-cobs impressed into the surface of the wet clay before firing, as seen in the photo to the above left.

The third excavation unit has also plunged deeper into site deposits along the northern side of the mission-era occupation, and today produced unexpected evidence for what is probably a Late Archaic occupation at the site, dating to the latter part of the period between 1,200 and 3,900 B.C. A complete spearpoint made from Ridge and Valley chert, probably originating in northern Alabama, was uncovered in the deeper portion of this unit, which has also produced evidence for subsequent Woodland Period occupation lasting well into the first millenium A.D. Not only is this spearpoint and the stone from which it was made very rare in Northwest Florida, it marks the oldest artifact yet found at the site we are excavating. While it doesn't relate to the Escambe mission occupation, it's continuing proof for the fact that this site was also frequented by visitors throughout much of prehistory. video

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ash, clay, and beads

Today the crew was able to get in nearly a whole day of fieldwork before we were all drenched by a fast-moving rainstorm early in the afternoon. We now have three excavation units open at once, and while progress seems a bit slower, we are learning more and more about the site as we can finally see areas larger than our earlier 50 x 50 cm. shovel tests. Progress was made in gradually dissecting and mapping the wall-trench feature in our largest unit (2 x 2 meters), and a new 1 x 2 m. unit opened on Monday is gradually moving down into the mission-era deposits below the root mat. But another unit deeper into the woods is producing both our most perplexing soil deposits and an assortment of new artifacts from the mission village.

As can be seen in the photo to the right, this 1 x 2 m. unit has been brought down on a layer of hard, dense clay which borders a softer area containing ashy deposits, charcoal, and dark soil. Both of these areas are producing 18th-century pottery and other artifacts, suggesting that they may date to the mission era, in contrast to our earlier supposition that the shallow orange clay might have been modern fill deposits. The ashy area of this unit is very close to the shovel test that contained a cob-filled smudge pit and a greenstone discoidal, and if all these features are contemporaneous, this may suggest they are part of some sort of activity area such as a hearth, perhaps inside one of the many Apalachee structures that must have comprised the Escambe village. Further excavation in this unit should provide us with clues to the identity of these deposits.

In addition to many other artifacts, the ashy deposit in this unit produced a small but classic example of red-filmed pottery commonly known as Mission Red Filmed, which is routinely found on 17th-century Apalachee mission sites in the Tallahassee area, and which sometimes appears on pottery vessels made in European forms. The red decoration evidently appeared in the Spanish mission provinces only during the colonial era, and so it provides a good example of native culture change in the context of the mission period. Students also recovered four glass beads from this deposit, including several colors and an elongated type of bead, all of which is consistent with Mission Escambe's mid-18th-century date.

We were also visited today by a new crew from WEAR television, ABC Channel 3 news, and the news feature which appeared on the evening broadcast is posted on the WEAR website.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Architecture and more

Today we returned to the site after a rain day and made progress in several excavation units. One shovel test right on the edge of the bluff overlooking the slope down to the Escambia River swamp produced a handful of Spanish majolica sherds of the same type (Puebla Blue on White) along with an assortment of Native American sherds, though a feature stain in the bottom of the test ultimately proved to be a tree root. Another large unit, measuring 1 x 2 meters, was opened in the area of the cob pit discovered last week, and is still being excavated through a cap of modern fill.

Painstaking work in the 2 x 2 meter unit with the east-west wall trench mentioned in previous posts has revealed some remarkable details about the architecture used in the structure, all thanks to the amazing state of preservation of this wall trench. Deeper in the trench, students uncovered a line of seven vertical wrought iron nails still standing upright in the exact center of the trench, evenly spaced between about 8 and 9 inches apart from one another (and extending into the shovel test unit excavated last week, where two more were mapped in place). The nails were likely used to fix vertical wooden posts in place on top of the wood sill at the base of the wall trench, and remained in-place as the structure foundation rotted after the 1761 destruction of the mission. Other nearby nails in other positions may relate to other architectural features of the wall, or might simply have fallen into the trench as the above-ground elements of the wall decomposed (or perhaps as the structure burned in the Creek raid). This wall trench is turning out to be an extremely important find, in part due to its extraordinary preservation.

Both the wall-trench and surface deposits on both sides of the wall also produced a range of 18th-century artifacts from the mission, including both Spanish and Native American ceramics. More artifacts seem to have been present north of the wall than south of it, and this fact, combined with the presence of an extremely crisp boundary between the wall-trench and the floor deposits on the north side (compared with a more diffuse boundary to the south) suggest that the protected interior of the building may have been on the north side. Only further excavations will allow us to confirm or deny this preliminary interpretation, but once we are able to distinguish the interior and exterior ground surfaces, we may learn a great deal about activity areas within the mission village, and perhaps also the identity of the residents of this particular structure, and its function.

One unexpected find was a fragment of brass jewelry with a faceted green glass stone (see photo with front and back views). Similar items were found at the contemporaneous Santa Rosa presidio, some of which have been interpreted as cufflinks. Whether this item was part of a Spanish officer's uniform, a Native American trade item, or some other object associated with the mission, it nonetheless demonstrates yet another link with the 18th-century Spanish garrisons along the coast, giving us additional support for the conclusion that this is indeed Mission San Joseph.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Spanish ceramics and wall trenches

Today our largest excavation unit to date (2 x 2 m.) was brought down on top of the wall-trench that we intersected with the 50 x 50 cm. shovel test last week. Ground penetrating radar survey in this area indicated that the wall-trench might extend both east and west from the original unit, and this proved to be accurate, as can be seen in the photo to the right (the trench contains slightly lighter-colored fill along with yellow-gray clay subsoil). The trench appears to have been excavated precisely east-west, and is roughly half a meter in width. At this stage, we will need to take particular care in excavating the trench and surrounding sediments, so that we can learn as much as possible about the structure it belonged to (such as which side was inside and which was outside, unless it turns out to be an interior partition wall).

In this same unit we were also pleased to find not one but three varieties of 18th-century Spanish ceramics, including two decorated types of tin-glazed majolica made in Mexico (Abo Polychrome and Puebla Blue on White, shown to left) as well as a sherd of lead-glazed El Morro ware. All three of these types overlap during the first half of the 18th century, precisely during the period of Mission Escambe's initial occupation. Perhaps even more than many of our earlier finds, these items provide sound confirmation of both the date and the clear Spanish association of the Native American village we have discovered. Indeed, the high frequency of European items we are finding in direct association with the wall-trench structure we are exploring makes it likely that it was one of the primary mission buildings, such as the church or friary, or perhaps a residence for members of the cavalry garrison stationed there about 1760. In any case, it places resident Spaniards and Native Americans in the same village, and exactly in the predicted location for Mission San Joseph de Escambe along its namesake river, the Escambia.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Still more

Today one of our crews opened a 2 meter by 2 meter unit around the shovel test with the wall-trench structure corner, with the goal of exploring this architectural feature in greater detail, and obtaining a larger sample of the artifacts associated with it. Due to its larger size, the unit is proceeding slowly using the flat-shoveling technique bring it down in even, 10 cm. levels (photo to right). By the end of the day, only the first level had been completed, bringing the unit down through the upper root mat and humus, but we have already begun to find more evidence of activities at the Escambe mission.

In addition to a good number of Native American sherds, including several of the type Ocmulgee Fields Incised, a white glass seed bead was found, virtually identical with the two found in a shovel test not far away during mid-June. More significantly, however, we recovered a stamped lead bale seal (photo to left, uncleaned) with the letter "K" above a line, and the number "653" below the line, and other letters around the outside on the top half (largely truncated by the edge of the seal). Such seals are thought to have been used to seal bales or bundles of cloth or other trade goods, and they are not uncommon on 18th-century sites in Southeastern North America, particularly on those associated with Native American trading. This one is a particularly well-preserved example, and might provide enough information to allow it to be dated more precisely, or associated with a particular merchant or manufacturer.

Other crews worked in additional tests along the margins of the site today, but we plan to focus on the mission village itself in the final three weeks of field school. We have only just begun our more extensive excavations into the newly-identified mission deposits, so we anticipate more to report in future days.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

More finds

We had another exciting day today, with several unexpected discoveries, and further confirmation of the wall-trench structure first identified yesterday. In a shovel test just 20 meters from that structure's corner, what first appeared to be a simple concentration of charred wood (which might have been anything from a burned tree stump to a charred post) ultimately turned out to be what is known as a "cob pit," filled with large numbers of charred corn cobs, several of which were nearly intact (see photo to right). These pits are very common on Spanish missions across northern Florida, and appear to have been used as smudge pits to generate smoke for mosquito control in and around houses in the village. The cobs were placed in small subsurface pits with constricted mouths, where they could smolder slowly and generate enough smoke to keep bugs away. Importantly, the cobs found at our site is of the 8-row variety, consistent with maize grown by North American Indians during this period (and much, much smaller than modern hybrid varieties). Further study should tell us more details about the corn grown at the Escambe mission.

In the same unit, and at about the same level, students found a remarkably well-made ground-stone discoidal made from greenstone, a type of stone probably originating in the Alabama Piedmont region, well over 100 miles away. This type of object, generally thought to be a Native American gaming piece, might date to the late prehistoric Pensacola culture, or it might instead be an Apalachee item from the mission period. Since people were living at this site during both periods, either option is possible, though further exploration at the site may tell us more about the context of the object, and what period it belongs to. The same unit produced a tiny sherd of plain Spanish majolica.

In the adjacent shovel test, students continued to explore the wall-trench structure discovered yesterday, which now appears to be a post-on-sill construction type that was commonly used on French colonial sites, though it has also been documented in Pensacola's Spanish presidios. An intriguing feature of the structure we have identified at the Escambe mission is the apparent presence of the remains of some sort of floor structure on the inside of the building corner. A number of wrought-iron nails were found lying in place in association with this floor, and careful excavation of this complex set of features is still proceeding. We definitely plan to conduct additional excavations in this area in order to learn more about the identity of this structure and what role it played in the mission community.

Other students continued to work on the larger excavation unit opened above the radar anomaly described in earlier posts, where they were able to learn how to shovel-shave, and how to draw larger plan-view maps using rulers and a plumb-bob (see photo). While some Native American ceramics and tiny flakes of chert have appeared in this unit, the presence of sheet metal and other modern artifacts may indicate that the anomaly could be related to the 20th-century dairy barn in this vicinity. In any case, only further excavation will tell the tale.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

And sometimes, we get very lucky

In recent days we've been working on filling in some of the gaps in our shovel test survey in the wooded area of the survey area, and since we're digging our shovel tests on a 20-meter interval, on any given day there is a fairly high priority that we'll place a shovel test right in-between anything important. Today however, we got lucky.

In one of our shovel tests we detected some odd soil colorations with linear boundaries, so we decided to excavate them carefully, and have discovered what appears to be the corner of a wall trench structure. While it is somewhat difficult to see in the photo the area of lighter colored soil in the center of the pit is the wall trench, and this lighter soil extends into the southeastern corner of the shovel test. On the western edge is a semi-circular darker area which is likely the corner post, and along the southern edge of the unit is a somewhat more dense area of soil which is likely the interior of the structure and may be related to a dirt floor.

As we excavated this we turned up a very nice square hand-wrought nail (above), which strengthened our hypothesis that these stains in the soil were structural remnants, and furthermore that the structure was almost certainly constructed using European-style construction techniques (as opposed to Native American). Based on these initial results, it appears we may have gotten very lucky in placing this shovel test precisely in the corner of one of the buildings of the mission. Many times, archaeologists search for days and weeks to find wall lines and trace them out to find building corners, but we appear to have found a corner right at the start. We'll be exploring this structure further in coming days.

Additionally, we found some more pieces of Native American ceramic fragments which also support our belief that we have likely located the remains of Mission Escambe. The rim fragment below is a type known as Ocmulgee Fields which was being produced by the Apalachee Indians around the time the mission was occupied.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bigger and better

With less than a month left in this summer's field school, we're making good progress in confirming and defining the mission-period occupation that we first began to discover in shovel tests late in June. Four shovel tests have been excavated so far in the transects that were cleared through the woods last week, and all but one produced clear evidence of Native American ceramics dating to the right time period. The most recent, excavated today, produced a sherd of a type of ceramics commonly associated with Creek Indians, commonly known as Chattahoochee Brushed (see photo), decorated with bundles of pine straw. This type only begins to appear in the Pensacola area during the eighteenth century in association with other mission-era ceramics, and may well have been made by Apalachee Indians who grew up in the Creek country before 1718, or by Creeks who married into the Apalachee community from Creek settlements north along the Escambia.

In addition, this same excavation produced what may be our best indicator for the mission yet: a fragment of what may be a crude Native-made candlestick, called Colono Ware by archaeologists in recognition of Native American manufacture in European-inspired forms (see photo). These wares are generally thought to have been made by mission Indians for the use of resident Europeans, which is consistent with the presence of a Franciscan missionary and as many as 16 Spanish cavalry soldiers at Escambe.

Using the Ground Penetrating Radar data obtained last week, we have also set in a new, larger excavation unit measuring 1 by 2 meters in the area of a subsurface disturbance that might be related to the mission-period occupation. When this unit is brought down to the level of this anomaly, we hope to discover whether it is a cultural feature such as a firepit or hearth, or perhaps just some natural disturbance. In either case, we should obtain a larger sample of mission pottery from this unit, which should give us better evidence about the time period and cultures involved at this site.

In sum, we now have a total of 17 contiguous shovel tests that have produced evidence for Native American ceramics in the area we are currently working in, making a site measuring at least 120 meters by 80 meters, and occupying the highest original ground surface along the river margin of the terrace we have been surveying. Most of the ceramics appear to date to the mission period, and are consistent with Apalachee pottery from this period. At this point, evidence is rapidly building that we may well have discovered the site of Mission San Joseph de Escambe. Further testing over the next few weeks will be designed to confirm this tentative identification, and begin the archaeological exploration of this site.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Zeroing in?

Over the past week, the crew has made progress on several fronts, though we lost a full day and a half of work to the rainy weather on Monday and Tuesday. As noted in our last post, we were intrigued by several underground anomalies discovered using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) equipment last Thursday, and since these anomalies were very close to a shovel test with a good amount of mission-period Native American ceramics, we decided to conduct additional remote sensing over this area. Dr. Thompson returned this week and conducted two sets of tests in a 20 meter by 20 meter area, using not just GPR but also soil resistivity equipment within a carefully-arranged grid pattern (see photo to right, and video below). Once the data is processed, both these surveys should provide more detailed information about the soil characteristics below ground in the 20 x 20 m. block around the positive shovel test, including information about subsurface pits, layers, and larger objects (revealed using radar data) as well as the relative resistivity of the soil to electrical currents, based on factors such as moisture and organic content. Based on these results, we hope to "ground-truth" one or more anomalies in order to see what they are. With any luck, we may encounter soil disturbances associated with mission-village structures or activity areas, though many may turn out to be natural.
At the same time, one crew has been continuing to excavate shovel tests farther south along the river bluff in an area where the river begins to veer away from the high ground we have been focusing our search on, while other crews have continued to test in the area where we have been finding quite a bit of mission-period Native American ceramics. The total absence of any evidence of Native American occupation to the south is in stark contrast to our continued testing in the area of our previous discoveries, where we now have a total of 8 contiguous shovel tests with traces of what we believe is probably mission-era occupation. Just today we excavated one of the most productive shovel tests in this area, with more than a few potsherds bearing characteristics in common with that documented mid-18th-century Apalachee Indians in the area of Pensacola and Mobile Bays.

Since our positive shovel tests are all clustered along the edge of a patch of woods that we have not yet surveyed (and which lies directly between both concentrations of mission-period Native American pottery we have discovered), students have also spent much of this week clearing transects through the brush in order to lay in new shovel tests. This is slow and tedious work, and the combination of heat and poison ivy has been a challenge. Nevertheless, tomorrow we should be able to begin testing in this area, which may turn out to be just as productive as the field to the south.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Applying some modern technology

Today we were fortunate to have a visit by Dr. Victor Thompson, also of the UWF Anthropology Department, who gave a demonstration of Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) equipment at our field school site, as well as an overview of a range of shallow geophysical techniques including soil resistivity and gradiometer survey. We were able to conduct a few limited transect surveys in the area where we have been finding the most mission-period artifacts on the bluff summit, and we were pleased to discover several areas of disturbed subsurface soil, at least one of which is fairly broad (see image below). It's impossible to say what the cause of these radar "anomalies" are until we check them directly, but at the very least we know something is creating a fairly distinctive signature underground in this area.

The students also worked on more brush clearing after finishing up three open shovel tests for the longer holiday weekend.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Finding a few more hints

Today we found a few more promising signs of our mission. One shovel test yielded more fragments of Native American ceramics, one of which is known as Walnut Roughened, tempered with crushed shell and lightly brushed on the surface. This pottery type was originally common among Creek Indians in the interior of Alabama and Georgia, particularly during the period when many Apalachee Indians lived among the Creeks before descending to Pensacola in 1718. It is also commonly found at Pensacola's Santa Rosa presidio during the time period of the Escambe mission. Mission-era ceramics have now been found in a number of shovel tests in a cluster along the river bluff, and may well represent part of the Apalachee community there until its destruction in 1761.

In two of these same tests (and one earlier test in the same area), we also found some small circular lead objects which have us somewhat puzzled as to their identity (a bent example is shown in the photo to the right). They might relate to later occupation at the site, but given their association with the Native American ceramics noted above, they may relate to the mission occupation.

A few of our shovel tests were placed in areas capped with clay fill excavated from nearby ponds and used to level the original ground surface many years ago. While most of these have only a small layer of fill, a few have considerably more. One shovel test today penetrated a total of two feet of fill before reaching the original ground surface, and ended up even deeper after pushing all the way down to the original clay subsoil. It was waist-deep before backfilling (see photo to left), and was a real challenge to excavate by hand at the very bottom while hanging head-first over the side.

We also encountered some more of the local indigenous wildlife today!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Definite signs

The last few days in the field have been exciting, and not just because the weather is at least a little cooler, with occasional afternoon clouds and showers. Yesterday we found our second concentration of the mission-era occupational debris along the river bluff, including several small Native American sherds that appear 18th-century, several heavily-patinated lead shot pellets consistent with types found at Spanish presidios in the same period, olive-green bottle glass fragments, and other nondescript items including a melted lump of copper or brass. These traces were found more than a hundred meters away from the first concentration we located last week, but were also situated on a spot of level high ground overlooking the river floodplain. We are still testing in this area to see how large the concentration may be. The colonial deposits are completely covered by a layer of fill that was excavated from a nearby pond and used to level the ground many years ago, but by careful excavation and documentation, we are able to reconstruct the original ground surface.

Even more definitive evidence was found today for the prehistoric occupation noted in our last entry. A shovel test today produced a substantial collection of Woodland-era pottery sherds, many of them larger and several of them decorated with designs that help us assign a date to the occupation in this area, which is lower along the slope below the bluff summit, and closer to the swamp bottom. Pottery types found include Swift Creek Complicated Stamped, sand-tempered check stamped (Wakulla or possibly Deptford types), and a folded, thickened rim with punctations that is probably associated with the Weeden Island culture. All these cultures date to the first millenium A.D., helping us pin down more precise time periods when people were living along this edge of the floodplain. There are many more shovel tests to dig in this vicinity, most in the woods, and so we don't yet know how large this prehistoric site is.

The students were also treated to some riverside waterscreening today, due to the recovery of several buckets full of dense, sticky clay from the bases of several shovel tests. In order to save time sifting this material, we set up an impromptu waterscreening station at the water's edge, where water was poured in buckets over the screens. Even though it was a time-saver, it still took a lot of effort, though standing in the water was at least somewhat refreshing (see video below).


Monday, June 22, 2009

Pushing into prehistory

In the midst of our continuing heat wave (temperatures hovered around 100 degrees today), the crew made good progress today, pushing into the woods and all the way to the slope of the bluff overlooking the swamp bottom. Machete work from last week made it possible to sink a pair of shovel tests in and at the edge of the woods, in addition to another one nearby along the edge of the slope in the open.

We were pleased to find that two of the tests produced a number of Native American potsherds, though in both cases these pottery fragments were extremely small and eroded, with only one possible stamped design remnant, and a single rim fragment. From what we were able to tell, however, these sherds appear unlike the ones found last week in association with the glass beads, and instead probably date to the prehistoric period, probably the Woodland era, dating sometime between perhaps 1,000 and 2,500 years ago. It's impossible to say for sure with such limited evidence at present, but it appears that we have finally found evidence for prehistoric occupation in our survey area. Though it was by no means unexpected (not to have found prehistoric debris in such a prime riverside location would have been frankly surprising), it's nonetheless nice to be finding positive evidence in our shovel tests on a day with such intense heat and humidity.

Another crew spent the day mapping in new locations for tests farther south along the bluff edge, where we hope to begin excavations tomorrow.