Archaeology Update for the Week of December 12
Happy Mid-December to you all!
Old man rain came and paid us a visit late last week so we had to batten-down-the ol’ hatches on Thursday. If you caught last week’s live update, you would’ve seen the soggy conditions out there as our hosts pulled an audible and deferred the planned walking tour through time to this week and discussed all of the tools that they keep in their dig kits. Even coming back on Monday morning, the crew had a LOT of water to deal with in Block D. We did have to abandon progress in Block D this week to let it dry out, but it did give us a chance to work on some team-building exercises.
Block A is looking good! So good, we’re expanding it!
But, we did manage to get some pretty good photographs of Block A, containing Feature 50 (the thermal oven in the lower left-hand corner) surrounded by Feature 55 (the burned rock discard pile). Another visitor to the site was Dr. Steve Black from Texas State University, who is an expert in the study of burned rock middens. Maybe we will see Dr. Black again for a more in-depth discussion! The crew has been continuing to work in Block A, moving laterally toward the northeast one row of 1 x 1 units at a time and exposing more of the feature(s) as they go. Anyone want to wager just how big it is? We hope to find out!
Feature 55 in the bottom left and Feature 50 throughout the rest of the bock. It’s a lot of rock!
The crews are working quickly to remove the feature rocks and see what’s underneath.
Speaking of “What’s Underneath,” this beautiful dart point was sitting just below one of the rocks in Feature 55. I’m no “point guy,” but from the split (archaeologists sometimes use the term “bifurcate”) stem and the large size, it may be a Pedernales variety point, which dates to 2,000-3,000 years ago, roughly the same period as the Classical Greeks. We can infer from this find location that Feature 55 is the same age as or younger than this projectile point.
Updates from Block C
We also fully uncovered the burned rock feature in Block C (Feature 54) that was peeking out from the corner of Unit 2. It turned out that the feature consisted of a group of seven quite large burned rocks that did not appear to be fire-cracked. The feature was recorded and the rocks were pulled out of the unit. We initially thought the rocks may have been part of a pile of “source rocks” for the nearby hearths. However, upon closer inspection we found out (by cracking open the rocks themselves) that the rocks were actually slightly burned, but not so much that they were cracked into smaller rocks.
Exposed rocks from Feature 54 in Block C.
Since we have to see what’s going on underneath, we have to remove those rocks. Before we do that, we take a lot of careful notes and detailed drawings, so that we can still piece them together in our minds and on paper after the excavation is complete. Digs like these are destructive. Once something is dug up, it is changed f-o-r-e-v-e-r. There is no way to go back and put things back if we missed some detail or we want to try some other recording technique. Here’s one of our feature drawings that Mindy Bonine drew for Feature 44, which we discussed in earlier blog posts.
At long last! A geomorphologist is here! Hooray! OK… maybe not that exciting, but it’s still pretty nifty!
We had another visitor this week. Geomorphologist Charles Frederick visited the site to take samples of the soil profiles we have excavated thus far, and made some recommendations as to where we might find some intact Paleoindian deposits. Geomorphologists (their specialty’s name is a combination of “Geo” meaning the earth and “morphos” meaning shape) study soils, terrain, waterways, and other elements in an area to identify how landforms were formed from the present day back to thousands of years ago (and more!). When you look out of a window and see a hillside or a valley or even just a big, flat prairie and think, “I wonder how that got that way?” (Come on, we’ve all been there…), geomorphologists actually can tell you! Archaeologists often look to geomorphologists (often called “Geoarchaeologists” if they work most often with archaeological sites and resources) to help figure out what a site would have looked like during earlier centuries or millennia. Maybe an apparent living surface is sitting on top of a former river channel that’s migrated elsewhere over the centuries and that occupation surface was actually much closer to the water than it is now. They help give insights into the conditions on the site when it was occupied as well as those conditions’ effects on artifact and feature preservation. They can also provide a lot of great information about areas that have the best (and worst) chance of preserving important resources. I like watching them work because sometimes, they break out little vials of acid and put drops on soil samples and watch it bubble (different amounts of carbonates in the soil bubble differently and can indicate the age of that soil)!
Charles Frederick (left) and Josh Hill (right) examine the soil horizons in Block D. The rains were heading in, so the crew was working under our heavy-duty tents to keep dry.
This photo is an example of the detail of Charles’ work at an archaeological site. In this case, this is from an excavation project in northeast Texas. Each of those little squares is an individual soil sample cube that can be examined for a variety of characteristics that give archaeologists insights into site formation, which, in turn, helps us interpret just what was going on at a site.
We’ll be talking with Charles in one of our upcoming update videos, so stay tuned!
And, speaking of live videos… As we said above, we had to change course last week, but this week, plan to take a stroll through time at the Headwaters Site. You can read more about the timeline (and you you can make your own!) by reading last week’s blog post. Also! There’s still time to register for our second of three evening/weekend tours/talks. This time, we’ll be discussing evidence of climate change that is evident in the archaeological record. It’s scheduled for Thursday, December 13th from 5 PM until 7 PM. You can register here…