Friday, June 15, 2012

Postlude

Hello to all our loyal readers from Ashley Dumas. I hope that you have enjoyed learning about Fort Tombecbe and about the process of archaeology from the perspective of the field school students. One of my favorite former professors once said that the best way to learn something is to teach it. The purposes of having the students write about their daily experiences were to encourage critical thought about why archaeology is carried out the way it is; to foster awareness of what each other was working on; and to facilitate discussion about what their findings might be telling us about life at Fort Tombecbe in the eighteenth century. These goals were fulfilled, and as I re-read the entire blog tonight, I was impressed with how the posts became increasingly more reflective, informative, and instructive.

Although we worked only with mason's trowels and brushes, and sometimes just our gloved hands, to sweep away the dirt, we uncovered a tremendous amount of information in these past four, short weeks. I suspect that some of our readers may have been wishing for more photographs of cool artifacts. It's true, we did find some "good stuff," such as the Choctaw shell bead, French faience, and the bone comb (all pictured in previous posts), but the best, the most valuable things that we found were stained patches of soil and clusters of chalk rubble. Building on work from a smaller field school in 2010, we have conclusively demonstrated that there are plenty of intact structural remains from the French period of occupation (1736-1763) at Fort Tombecbe. By intact, I mean that these remains are undisturbed by plow, erosion, construction, or treasure-hunting, the usual suspects in the purposeful, well-meaning, or inadvertent destruction of archaeological sites. What a rare situation! By carefully removing soil a few centimeters at a time, we were able to detect the trenches dug by the French in which they set upright posts for a palisade wall. At the bottom of the dark soil filling the space where one of these posts once stood, a single iron nail lay on its side. It must have been dropped in the hole when the post was being replaced due to rot, and this was certainly an accident, as nails likely had to be shipped up river from Mobile.

And through careful, observant excavation, we were able to recognize that a faint linear, grey stain cut through the chalk bedrock. Running approximately where we postulated la boulangerie, or bake house, to have been located, the stain was occasionally interrupted by clusters of broken chalk.  The work of field school students Lauren, Andrea, and Alex revealed that the linear stain was a builder's trench for the east wall of the bake house, and the clusters of chalk had once supported posts in some capacity. The south wall also was located. Not all of the chalk was found as rubble, however. Within and around the fill of the east wall were found several pieces of chalk that had been cut into brick-sized pieces. Their sides still clearly show saw and chisel marks from the eighteenth-century worker who was tasked with forming the local bedrock into a usable construction material. This may be one of the only French bakeries ever excavated in North America.
An overview of the excavations at the bake house. The stains in the upper portion were made by posts and trenches, probably associated with a rebuilding of the structure.

Regardless of how carefully we dig or how much we think we already know, archaeology has a way of creating mysteries as well as solving them. We knew that in 2010 we had found the corner of the southwest bastion of the fort. A few months ago, I looked over my notes and photographs from that year, and I was reminded that there was a curious narrow stain extending from the corner of the bastion. It was made up of brown soil, not the rich dark grey of the palisade, and it was bordered on either side by lines of hardened yellowed chalk. I have since learned that similar little trenches were found extending from the corners of Fort Toulouse (1717-1763), a sister fort in Wetumpka, Alabama. Their purpose is uncertain, but hoping to shed some light on this phenomenon of French colonial forts, we decided to excavate a portion of our trench. Brian and Ron dug, and dug, and dug. They nearly reached the bottom of this ever-narrowing trench at a meter (about 3 feet) below the surface of the ground. We were not able to infer the purpose of this feature, but for now, we have adopted Brian and Ron's nickname for the puzzle--the French drain. They may not be far off...


These are just some highlights of the 2012 field season. Efforts will now turn toward processing the hundreds of bags of material that we recovered from the water screen. Everything must be washed, dried, and the artifacts sorted out with painstaking patience. The old saying in archaeology is that every day spent in the field requires at least four days in the lab. If true, then we might see a light at the end of the tunnel sometime in mid-October. The information yet to be gleaned from the artifacts will undoubtedly fill in many gaps in the story of the fort. In the meantime, I will write up the results of our field work and make it available to everyone.

Before signing off, as the students say, I want to express my gratitude to all of the people that made the excavation a success. John, Rosa, and Monica Hall preserved my sanity by tending to my little boy when I was not available, and they made sure that water screens, pumps, fruit, tents, and myriad other items that keep a crew happy were in place. Brian Mast, the Educational Coordinator for the Black Belt Museum, was a reliable, able assistant and an indispensable sounding board for everyday decisions. Ron Stafford, the just-tell-me-what-to-do, top-notch volunteer, had no trouble stepping in to do the rote, but tough, work. LisaMarie Malischke put spark in our Community Day presentations; Greg Waselkov put some good ideas in our heads; and Kim Roy reminded us that a straight profile wall and a smiling face are always possible. Our other volunteers and supporters-Joey Browder, Jay Lindsey, Dick Brunelle, Jerome Adams, and George Watkins-highlighted that we were doing something worthwhile. Our supporters at UWA, especially in the Division of Educational Outreach and the College of Liberal Arts, gave this project the buoyancy it needed to become a reality and a headline. Financial support was provided by UWA's College of Liberal Arts and the Division of Educational Outreach, UWA President Richard Holland, John Stephens Services of Eutaw, and a grant from the Alabama Historical Commission.

Finally, to my students, reflecting on the hard work that each of you contributed to this project: you tackled all tasks, showed character when faced with obstacles, and were sincerely committed to learning the skills necessary to uncover the past. And you're just a great bunch of people! Nadine, Susanne, Jordan, Alex, Brett, Kayla, Lauren, and Andrea--merci beaucoup, toujours!

Until next year!
-Ashley Dumas


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Week 3, Day 24

With only one more day of field school left we're saying goodbye to Fort Tombecbe and to each other. The day was spent wrapping up all the work that needed to be done before we leave the site. People finished excavating, cleaning up their units, and screening their last few buckets. Dr. Dumas took pictures of different units and features for the field report. And everyone finished filling out their paperwork on their units and features.

After that we began the process of back filling. For those of you who don't know, back filling is essentially refilling the areas we dug up. Sounds silly, right? Spending a month digging up a unit just to fill it back up in the end. Actually, back filling is an important, necessary part of archaeology. When back filling, you cover the units in tarp and then shovel dirt (in our case sand delivered by Lauren's father) over them making them level with the rest of the ground. The purpose of back filling is to protect the units from the elements. You don't want rain or wind changing the newly exposed ground or any animals making a new home in one of your features. Tomorrow we will finish back filling, as well as dismantle our tents, pack up our equipment, and clean up.

Back filling one of our features with sand
As a special treat we went to the Epes BBQ club tonight where we got to enjoy each other's company, mingle with some of the locals, and eat some delicious food. It also gave us the opportunity to give Dr. Dumas, Brian, Ron, Dr. Hall and Ms. Rosa (who couldn't make it to the BBQ) the presents we had bought them to show our appreciation for teaching us so much about this site, this region and archaeology, for being our surrogate family for the past 4 weeks and just for being overall great people.

Putting the tarp over our units and Nadine and Lauren who insisted on working until the last possible moment
Unfortunately tomorrow is our last day, after which we will have to say our goodbyes and head home. Thankfully we'll be having a family style dinner in Land Hall where we will be able to reminisce about this incredible experience and try not to get too misty-eyed while saying our final goodbyes.

-Andrea Zrake

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Hi Everybody,
This is our last week out at Fort Tombecbe, and I can honestly say that I am going to miss it. I learned a bunch of stuff here and met a lot of fun people.
This week has been a busy week for all of us. I have been digging the trench in my unit. So far, I have found many, many bricks and bone. I have come to love this unit because it has a lot going on it. It’s got the blocks on each side of it, the trench in the middle, and I’ve found lots of cool stuff like the bottle lip. I was talking with Dr. Dumas today about the blocks that are flanking the trench. I think it’s significant, but I’m not for sure why yet. 

My unit. The long hole was a builder's trench for the bake house. It was filled in with rubble after the bake house fell into disrepair. I am excavating out all of the rubble.


While Alex and Mr. Ron worked on cleaning up the palisade units today, we all were trying to finish up digging so we can finish up the paperwork, which entails mapping the profile wall, drawing the plan view, recording colors, and finishing any notes we need to make. Some of the units won’t be finished by tomorrow, but we will backfill to preserve everything. At least the next field school will have plenty to do! 

The finished palisade units. The widest long, dark stain is the palisade wall of Fort Tombecbe. The dark blob at the upper right is the corner of the southwest bastion. Only a part of it has been excavated--you can see the holes left by rotted posts in the builder's trench. The narrow trenches in the upper left are trenches for fence lines and what we think are drainage ditches for the fort.
 Brian and Mr. Ron have found some beads in the unit they opened up at the barracks. They’re tiny but really important because we haven’t found that many yet. Finding these lets us know that the soldiers here had beads.

Brian's bead.
Tonight was our last lab night, and we spent it sorting and labeling. After we wrapped up and everyone was leaving we heard a faint meow from Jordan's friend's car. We spent the next few minutes trying lure the cat out with Brett's tuna. Bienville finally emerged when one of our neighbors came out and helped us!

 
Bienville leaving with Nadine.


Graphing 101

   Today I learned a very important step in the process of fieldwork archaeology, and that was making a plan view and profile view graph of my unit. This is a very important step because, opposed to popular belief, archaeology has a specific mission. Archaeologists are not treasure hunters trying to find the coolest stuff (even though we do find cool stuff); part of the mission of archaeology is to understand the cultural aspects of people from the past through their cultural remains. One way to do this is to make a plan view graph. A plan view graph is a bird's eye view of a unit.
Sue completing her plan view on a framed grid
Profile wall
   To do this you take a plumb bob and rulers (or a framed grid) and you make a map of your unit that includes everything you, the archaeologist, sees. Why do this if we can just take a picture? The reason for mapping out your unit is because a picture is really just a reference. A camera cannot see some of the differences in soil color or disturbances. By mapping out the unit by hand you can include those details that a photo leaves out. Also, by mapping out the units there is a reference to look at when looking back at a dig site. Another aspect of archaeology I learned today was making a profile view graph. This graph maps out the depth of certain layers of soil that you may be working in. In my profile view I was mapping only layer A, but in my graph I noted when the soil changed color and drew that line in my graph. This is an important part of the process because it gives you a synopsis of what was happening in the unit as it was dug into and gives us a view of how the site was formed over time. 
  Signing off, 
  Kayla

Monday, June 11, 2012


Day 21: Final Assignments

It had to happen sooner or later, I suppose.  Over the weekend, we all found ourselves facing the inevitable conclusion that the field school and our time together would soon be at an end.  Dr. Dumas underscored this sentiment with the assignments that would carry us through the week. 

Most of our units have been taken down to the sterile chalk bed, at which point artifacts start to run dry.  The strings outlining our units have been severed.  Nadine has begun to take down the balks that marked the boundaries of the units, exposing the last few artifacts.  Now we have nothing but a gaping hole where once we had assiduous order.

For my part, I’m to finish taking my second unit down to the chalk bed in order to expose a feature.  I have to punch through nearly a foot of dirt in the space of two days.  To that end, I really picked up the pace today.  I filled nine 5-gallon buckets and took three trips to the water screen.  To give you some perspective, we’re usually lucky to manage one trip in any given day.

Also of interest, we’ve finally begun work on the barracks across the ravine.  Rather, Ron and Brian have.  They won’t have much time this season to do more than a glorified shovel test, but they’re already starting to find a few artifacts.

At the end of the workday, we took a trip to Gainesville, a small town about a half hour’s ride from the college.  There, Dr. Tina Jones showed us around the town’s triangle (as opposed to a square), several churches and houses, and the historic graveyard.  The Greek Revival architecture combines with the looming magnolia and cedar trees to give the town a subtle, yet tangible, personality.



Respectfully Submitted,



Brett Shaw

The Beginning of the End

June 10, 2012

This is the last week! It has been a long three weeks, but I think we're all a little shocked that it's almost over. We have made a LOT of progress over the course of the field school, excavating a large portion of the oven area. We have begun to understand how the French built their buildings here at Fort Tombecbe, and it will help us to better excavate the other parts of this site that we have yet to get to. I look forward to the next dig at this site, if I am able to be involved, because I believe that the next step in the excavation will be finding the French barracks, which we believe to be just across the gully from where we have been digging these past three weeks. It will be interesting to see if some of the construction techniques we've seen at the oven area are present there as well. And, of course, it will be interesting to see what we find there. In the wake of Community Day, I think we are finally understanding the things we've been doing and what the units we've been excavating actually mean in understanding what life was like for these French marines, and how they survived out here in the wild west of Alabama, far away from supplies inMobile. Telling other people about what we've found and showing them first-hand what we've been doing there on the site really brought into perspective just how much we've gotten done in so short an amount of time, and how much more there is yet to do. Just in this week to come, we will finish the units we've been working on and plot out the section of the oven that we have uncovered, and I'm sure at least one unit will be opened up across the gully in search of the barracks so that we will have a starting point when we come out to the site after this field school. Perhaps we will get lucky and find the trench of a wall, which would give us an idea of where to look. I have no doubt that this site has much more to tell us and that it will take years to find it all out. I'm glad I had a chance to work at this site and I hope I am about to come back the next time work is done here. But that's something to worry about later. Now it is time to rest and get ready for another week of digging at Fort Tombecbe!

Alex

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Community Day

Saturday, June 9

What an exciting weekend! Yesterday the Field School hosted Community Day from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. After three weeks of excavations, the public finally got to see the site and what we’ve all been working on at Fort Tombecbe. The threat of rain didn’t seem keep people from coming out to see the site, and we were all excited to get the chance to show everyone the excavations. 

The team loaded up the van and set out for the site at 8:15 Saturday morning to finish setting up and so some us could get ready for the small surprise of the day. Thanks to LisaMarie, a visiting archeologist and volunteer, several of us were able to act as living historians for the day along with Dr. Hall and Brian Mast. Brett, Andrea, Sue, and I all dressed in clothing appropriate for the time period Fort Tombecbe was occupied. Visitors seemed to enjoy it and we all had a great time doing it. Those who didn’t have to get dressed for the day (you would be surprised at how long it takes to get dressed like it’s 1750!) prepared the site like a usual digging day with a few extra tasks. The tarps we place over the units to protect them had to be pulled off and tools had to be set up and accounted for in addition to setting up the Welcome Tent. Dr. Dumas assigned us all various tasks for Community Day, but everyone’s main task was to educate and inform the community about Fort Tombecbe. 

By 9:40, the first visitor’s were beginning to arrive at the site and Community Day had officially begun.  Those who came out to the site were greeted by live re-enactors at the Welcome Tent, where artifacts were on from previous excavations of the site as well 
as artifacts we’ve found during the 2012 Project. From the Welcome Tent, visitor’s could go on to see the current excavations of the French Palisade and oven area or cross the road to take a look at the water screening station, where screening took place throughout the day. Visitors also got the chance to tour the rest of the fort. Dr. John Hall and Brian Mast gave gun and cannon demonstrations on three separate occasions during the day. 
A view of the oven area excavations. 

No day in the field can be wasted so excavations continued on Community Day. The biggest surprise of the day was Lauren’s discovery of a bottle lip. 
Lauren carefully excavating her find.

Bottle Lip

At 4:00 we wrapped up the day, worn out but happy with the turn out. Thanks to everyone who came out and made Fort Tombecbe’s Community Day such a success! 
-Jordan Mahaffey

Friday, June 8, 2012

Day 18, Week 3

Note: This blog was supposed to be added yesterday (June 7, 2012), but it did not load correctly, so the 8th of June is now before mine. Also, since yesterday, I learned how to work the Total Station!
The weather has been great at Fort Tombecbe and we have a good breeze going most of the day. Today was uneventful compared to yesterday's snake and mouse visit along with Lauren's discovery of a knife. Some of the group learned to use a Total station, which maps out the area (I think. I haven't been introduced to it yet.) I did finish my unit though, which was awesome. I have possibly three features in my unit that I hope to dig out soon!

-Nadine Armstrong


Working on our units in the bake house.
                                                          

Day 19, Week 3

Yesterday, half the group learned to use the Total Station, while everyone else looked on from their units. Today was our turn! The tasks we were set were the same as yesterday's group; in the end, we finished mapping out the land from the road to the woods behind our current units. When the elevation data we collected is turned into a topographic map, it is our hope that patterns may emerge from the landscape that could reveal where other features are hiding. Even if nothing becomes obvious, the fort can now be spatially related to the surrounding land. Most importantly, this means that the area will be very difficult to lose in the future!

Other than collecting data, we spent the day preparing for Community Day. We have a number of surprises planned, and look forward to seeing everyone out at the site tomorrow!
Preparing for Community Day. What is hiding in this unit? Come out and see!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Day 17, Week 3

It's week three of our four week adventure. We only have a few more days of digging left before we pack up and go home, which means there are certain things we need to do before we finish the 2012 field school and say goodbye to Fort Tombecbe. If we've learned anything these past few weeks in archaeology, it's about the importance of good record-keeping. After all, archaeology is destruction; once the artifacts are dug up and the features are examined, they can't be put back the way they were found. So good record-keeping is important if future work on the site is to be possible.

Kayla, Jordan, Alex and I trying to figure out the Total Station
Today we used an important tool involved with good record-keeping called a Total Station. A Total Station is a surveying instrument that allows archaeologists to establish an accurate grid across their site, measure elevations of ground surfaces and excavation levels, and make topographic maps of the site. The machine is large, complex, and expensive and despite working with it for an hour I can honestly say I'm not entirely sure how to it works or how to use it, unlike Dr. Dumas (but then again I'm only a student). It is a tripod with a high-tech laser on top that connects to a small handheld electronic device that records data and can later be connected to a computer to transfer that data. We were set with the task of leveling the machine (which is a lot harder than it looks considering how accurate you have to be). Then two people had to walk out with a stadia rod with a prism on top that the laser could point to. This allowed the total station to create a 360 degree circle in space with which to orient itself.

The blade from a case knife found in Lauren's station.
In other news, there was a toss up between the two coolest finds of the day. It was either the knife blade found in Lauren's unit (seen above), or the King snake found slithering around the water screening station (seen below). Which do you think is cooler?


The curious king snake who wanted to check out what we were doing

-Andrea Zrake

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Day 15, Week 3

Hey Everybody!
Hope you all had a wonderful weekend! I did! We went to Moundville Archaeological Park this weekend and took a tour of the museum there and got to see some of their excavations in the plaza. Let me just say, I am incredibly jealous of their dirt! No chalk and barely any roots! It’s so unfair!
We started off bright and early again today at the site. I was afraid that it would rain for a while because it was so dark but it never did, thank goodness!
We had some volunteers helping out today--Dr. Greg Waselkov and LisaMarie Malischke. They gave some really great talks tonight about French colonial sites that they have excavated. Dr. Waselkov excavated places that were mostly in Alabama.
LisaMarie Malischke and Dr. Greg Waselkov in front of the monument.
Most everyone has a new unit this week, but I’m still on the same one. The trench feature that goes through Andrea, Alex, and Nadine’s units also goes through my unit but is very faint (probably because I dug through it, oops…). On my profile wall are a bunch of rocks that Dr. Dumas thinks could be part of the wall rubble. We aren’t sure if that’s where the wall ends, but hopefully more digging could answer that question. So far today I found a nail, some bone, and charcoal. But the most interesting thing that was found today was one of the biggest pieces of fa├»ence found at the site. Dr. Waselkov removed it from the dirt in the old trench for the fort's palisade wall.

Faience found in the wall trench.
Don’t forget about Community Day this weekend! Its 10-4 so please come out and see us and see what we are doing! Lauren

Monday, June 4, 2012


Day 13: Moundville

Tucked away in the woods of west Alabama, along the Black Warrior River, there is hidden a Native American site that rivals the great empires of Europe, Africa, and Asia.  It is called Moundville, a name given in recent times since the original name of the site and its architects has been lost.  The name is derived from the twenty nine earthen mounds that ring the area.  These mounds are massive constructions that loom overhead, impossible to ignore.

The story of the mounds and the site that they border coincides with and nearly heralds the emergence of the Mississippian culture in North America.  This culture group extended throughout much of North America, spreading mainly via the Mississippi River.  It was marked by fortified towns, extensive trade, and shared religious symbols.  It was not a tribe, rather it was a number of cultural practices that permeated throughout several tribes.

One such Mississippian group arrived at Moundville sometime in the 1300s and set about the task of radically altering the landscape for the purpose of habitation.  The most striking change is, of course, the mounds themselves.  The existing hills were torn down and twenty nine new ones eventually sprouted up.  Much of the earth came from sources called borrow pits, which are now small lakes and ponds.  Leaders of the community lived atop the mounds.  When they died, their homes were razed and a new layer of earth was built atop them.  The flat expanse between the mounds, known as the plaza, was the site of most residences.  No longer visible today is the massive wooden palisade that surrounded the site.

The construction of this site was far from haphazard; it required exhaustive planning and assiduous care.  The mounds are built in a repeating cycle of large-small, large-small.  They align very stringently to the cardinal directions, with the exception of Mound A.

One of the most puzzling aspects of Moundville is the fact that it was only occupied for about fifty years after its completion.  After this point, its people stayed close by, but used the site primarily as a burial place for their dead.

Moundville went largely ignored for the next few hundred years until farmers began to find strange and enticing artifacts.  This had the effect of drawing in curious academics.  Interest eventually peaked in the 1930s when the Civilian Conservations Corp was tasked with excavating the site.  Today it is a stunningly picturesque park and archaeological site that, unfortunately, goes mostly forgotten by the rest of the world.

The field school was fortunate enough to not only have the opportunity to visit the park but also to receive a wonderfully informative inside look by two very kind individuals: Jeremy Davis, PhD student at the University of Alabama; and Betsy Irwin, Educational Outreach Director at Moundville Archaeological Park.
Jeremy Davis (left) and Betsy Irwin (center)


We were immediately jealous when we saw the working conditions at the park.  Tombecbe offers cloying dirt and crumbling chalk, which is very tricky to work with.  Lines refuse to stay square, bases refuse to remain level.  In contrast, the soil at Moundville is eminently shapeable.  It’s also fairly sandy, which has to be a lot easier on the washing machines.
Jeremy explaining the site while we look on with jealousy


We walked to the edge of the plaza behind the museum.  The plaza is completely flat and featureless, allowing an unobstructed view of most of the mounds.  An interesting fact, and one that most people probably miss, is that the plaza is just as artificial as the mounds. 

Families tended to cluster in groups of houses around a central courtyard.  The unit itself is very likely situated on a prestige residence that would have had a commanding view of the plaza. 

The museum was painstakingly designed.  The interior was painted to look like a representation of the exterior as it existed at Moundville’s peak.  What this means is that if you look at any given direction while inside, you will see the mound beyond the wall.  The centerpiece of the museum is the wedding procession, which offers a narrative for visitors to follow throughout the exhibits.  A bride is coming to Moundville to be wed to the chief’s son.  Around her is situated a number of artifacts in cases and recreations of artifacts in the open.  Facing her is the wedding party: the groom, craning his neck to see his bride for the first time; his mother, offering advice; his mother’s brother, standing at the ready; and the maker of medicine, preparing to officiate the ceremony.  All of these characters display recreations of artifacts found in displays all around them, which is an effective way of drawing in the visitors.
Jeremy speaking about the famous Serpent-bird effigy stone bowl, one of the most well-preserved artifacts in the museum


There is a story that surrounds one of the artifacts that I found particularly engaging.  Moundville offers up a number of large stone disks that were likely used as ceremonial palettes.  The Rattlesnake Disk, which is the state artifact of Alabama, is the prime example.  The story concerns one of the other disks, however.  It was apparently very common to shatter these objects to prevent their powerful magic from being repurposed by others.  Those shards are then buried throughout a number of separate graves.  The disk in question was pieced together from several such shards.  One of the shards, however, does not quite fit with the others.  It is likely that the original piece was thrown in the Black Warrior River as a means of keeping the disk from ever being reassembled, even by well-meaning archaeologists.

The museum eventually winds around to a holographic display of the Maker of Medicine as seen in the central display.  He goes on to explain how he was invested with his supernatural powers by traveling to the underworld.  From there, he goes on to elucidate on the religious aspects of the Moundville people, using his own life as a narrative.  It’s a very effective display that coordinates the lighting of encased artifacts situated around the room and darkened symbols on the wall to create a sense of mystery.

The museum is fairly small, and that about wrapped up the tour.  Jeremy, however, was then kind enough to break out his computer and share the magnetometer data of the site.  The most intriguing aspect of this data is the possibility of a wooden henge, similar to Stonehenge, that would have marked the passage of heavenly bodies.  This is very early speculation but still very exciting.

Jeremy then took the time to point out the Willoughby Disk, an artifact housed in the same chamber as the Maker of Medicine display.  This is a very peculiar artifact that seems to display a narrative, though it is still fairly cryptic.  He was able to decipher a large part of the iconography, however.  The symbol on the left side represented a hawk moth.  This was a very important creature to the people of Moundville.  As a moth, it displays a transformative aspect, which was considered a very important sign in their religion.  The hawk moth also builds its cocoon on the tobacco plant while in its caterpillar stage; the tobacco plant was also deeply important to their religion.  In fact, the symbol on the far right is of a pair of hands (hands are a recurring symbol among their artwork) dropping what appears to be a pipe from the heavens.

At this point, Jeremy took his leave and we students were left to our own devices.
Jeremy posing for a photo with us before we parted ways


No visit to the site is complete with a trip to Mound B, the highest mound in the park.  It was very likely the home of the chief and would have given him an untrammeled view of most of the city.  The climb is a steep one, equivalent to perhaps four or five stories worth of stairs.  It is well worth the effort to briefly share in the view of the still impressive site.

Of course, the climb had the effect of tiring us out at the end of an already long and fully packed day.  We departed, reluctantly, each of us already planning his or her next visit.



Respectfully Submitted,

Brett Shaw

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Weekend Reflections With Kayla

Hi Everyone!
   This last week has been very eventful to say the least. At the site we had a very important visitor--Senator Jeff Sessions! It was really cool to meet him and see him out there with us. It turned out to be a very rainy and fun adventure that I'm sure he was not expecting, since we certainly did not! Hopefully, we made a better than good impression on him.
   Also this week we learned what to do and not to do when it rains and we are in the field: 1) do not freak out; if you do you will look crazy since it is just rain. 2) move the buckets UNDER the tents; and 3) (which we all wish we had done first) get all paperwork OUT of the rain. On Thursday we were forced to change things up because of rain, and we were in the lab all day. I personally am not a big fan of the lab BUT it is totally cool to be in the lab and get to find artifacts, (or in my case fossils--hmmm, maybe I am in the wrong profession), that we missed while we were in the field or at the water screen.
   Now that the second week has concluded and we have all had time to think about and digest what it is that we have been looking at, some of us have been able to formulate some hypotheses about the site. I think that this is my favorite part about archaeology. I love coming up with new ideas and thoughts about different things (educated ideas and thoughts, that is). A couple of the ideas we have come up with include that the site could have been used by the British as a trash midden (dump) for French debris that was left behind, or that the debris we are finding are things that could have fallen through the possibly raised floor of the bakery. Going into the third week, I think we are all excited to see what we will uncover next. As we are finishing up units and moving to new ones our hypotheses are changing and ever evolving, and it is very exciting to be apart of it all.

Signing off for now!

Kayla

Friday, June 1, 2012

Day 12, Week 2

A Slow Day, to Say the Least

We've reached the end of week two of our four week field-school, and the group has finally gotten into the groove of things. Less time is spent asking Dr. Dumas for guidance and much more work has gotten done. We are growing closer to completing the excavation of the French bake house, and the barracks are staring at us from across the large ditch that cuts through the site. The thought has crossed my mind that there are sure to be countless artifacts washed down into the ravine to the south, but without any sense of provenience, these artifacts would prove to be little more than possible display pieces, adding little understanding of daily life for the French marines. This ravine likely served as a ready-made trash pit for the French, English, and Spanish soldiers who lived in this fort, and this does make it a possible future excavation site. But for now, we are sticking with the oven area, the excavation of which has proven to be very interesting.

I have begun excavation of my third unit, which has proven to be the most artifact-heavy thus far, containing various bits of brick, large bone pieces, a nail or two, and pieces of both European and Choctaw pottery. A concentration of broken chalk rocks that was found in an adjacent unit continued into mine, but its shape is too irregular to be the remains of a wall, leaving me to question what exactly it is, but more will be known soon enough. The exciting news of the day is that we believe we found the actual oven itself in Andrea's unit, south-west of the bake house, given that we found heavily burnt bone and chalk. Further excavation will tell us more and give us the true dimensions of the oven.

All in all, the day felt very slow. After the rainy days we've had, it felt much cooler, which was good, but over all, everyone seemed to be thinking more about the upcoming weekend than the task at hand, including myself. But, Monday starts another week, and I look forward to seeing what's in store.

Diggy Diggy Hole

~Alex

Day 11, Week 2


Thursday, May 31, 2012

A rainy day caused us to spend all of our time in the lab today, screening and sorting the many bags of soil and artifacts we've collected over the course of the dig. We all got the chance to become more acquainted with how to deal with the soil (it seems almost impossible to wash all the mud out sometimes) and a few more artifacts were recovered. Alex found an iron hook that may have come from a French soldier's uniform (an exciting find) and Nadine found another pipe stem.
Alex and Lauren in the lab
Figuring out new and better ways to screen and dry our materials safely is an ongoing process. We water screened through most of the bags we've collected today, but I can't wait for them to dry so we can begin sorting!

While we ate lunch today, Dr. Dumas showed us some of the artifacts that were found during the 1980 excavation of Fort Tombecbe. One bag of artifacts was simply labeled "Indian Pottery," teaching us a lesson on provenience. Provenience is simply another word for context. In order for the artifacts we find to have any meaning we have to know exactly where they came from the site. A piece of pottery is just a piece of pottery if we don't where we found the piece or what other objects were found with it. We had our own small mix up at the lab today that was easily resolved because of careful record-taking.
Hopefully the weather will allow us to get back out into the field tomorrow. Everyone be safe in all the rain.

-Jordan

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Day 10, Week 2

This week's primary question concerning the site has been "Why do all the features and artifacts appear broken apart, despite their large concentration?" for Tombecbe saw a myriad of uses after being relinquished by the French. Although the part of the fort we are currently excavating was more or less abandoned, it is highly unlikely that the structural material would have been left in peace. In fact, what is currently being revealed in the units around what is suspected to be the bakehouse suggests that parts of the remains may have seen later use (although it is unclear during which period this may have occurred). All units in the area are turning up bits of pottery, ceramic bone, and nails, with some units holding more rare items, such as pipe stems. So far, nobody has discerned a clear pattern for the layout of these remains. Broken up chalk layers keep showing up, and purposefully cut blocks have also been found. Right now, the ground under those blocks is being examined to see if the soil matches that around the base of the block(indicating that there was no hole dug to place the block in, and that they were thus not of structural importance at the time they were placed there). If this is so, then we have good evidence that the area was used as a salvage yard at some point.

Of course, there are other theories as to why there appears to be an extraordinary amount of rubble. this could be the result of weather changes, for instance, or the combined cause of several factors. It is likely that the chalky subsoil was difficult to construct on; in an attempt to stabilize constructions, the chalk may have been broken apart first. However, many of the building features actually lie below the level of broken chalk; this suggests that the chalk and rubble were not present at the time of construction.

Hopefully, this week's excavations may offer more answers. The written history available to us does not afford insights to many of the troubles that can only be guessed about; for that matter, much of what happened at this part of the site was never written down. We do not know how important these remains might have been after the French left them or why this area was not Incorporated into the later Spanish Fort Confederate. Of course, the nature of archeology is to raise as many questions as are answered; these are just the beginning.

-Susanne
This unit shows what appears to be a supporting block. Whether the block was placed here during construction or a salvage trip is unknown.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Day 9, Week 2


Today was a very busy and exciting day even in this Alabama heat. It seems to be getting hotter every day. Even though we are in the shade, something I am very grateful for, it is very muggy at the digging site, even in the morning. But this does not keep us from digging. After five days, I am almost finished with my first unit, and we can finally see where the wall of what we presume is the bakehouse continues into my unit. My fellows diggers also made some great discoveries. Sue found the largest piece of pottery seen this year at the site, and more pipe stem has been found over the past two days, mostly by Jordan. More bone and nails have also been found.
We had a special visitor today as well. U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions along with the history department’s Dr. Edwards and Dr. Riser came to the site and with their arrival, came rain. This is definitely not an understatement. Just as Jeff Sessions and friends arrived, it began to sprinkle, and by the time he reached our guest tent, the bottom had fallen out, leading to us all running around to get everything out of the rain. 
Despite the rain, Senator Sessions seemed to enjoy his visit to Fort Tombecbe. Left to right: Nadine Armstrong (UWA), Susanne Crouch (Univ. of Arkansas at Little Rock), Brett Shaw (B.A., Kutztown University), UWA College of Liberal Arts Dean Tim Edwards, Alex Nelson (UWA), Valerie Day (Senator Sessions' Mobile representative), Brian Mast (Black Belt Museum Educator), Dr. John Hall (Black Belt Museum Director), U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, Dr. Ashley Dumas, Jordan Mahaffey (UWA), Kayla Slay (University of New Mexico), Ron Stafford (Volunteer from Dothan, Alabama), Lauren Stephens (UWA), Andrea Zrake (University of Pittsburgh)
Even though the rain was a cool down and relief, I am nervous tomorrow will be extremely humid. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow!
-Nadine Armstrong-

Monday, May 28, 2012

Day 8, Week 2

After a fun and relaxing weekend, we were all ready to go back to work bright and early Monday morning. We received a welcome surprise at the beginning of the day in the form of a volunteer named Kim who will be digging with us for the rest of the week. Kim and I (because I finished my original unit on Friday) were assigned new units. We had to mark off a few new units, which involves a lot of precise measurements, pin flags, right angles and string. Dr. Dumas hopes to find the continuation of the feature found in my previous unit, as well as Alex and possibly Jordan's units, in the new unit she assigned me. While I'm excited to get to find more of this feature (which is possibly a wall of this oven area/bakery), I'm not overly excited about the two trees surrounding my unit and the intricate root systems running between them that I'm going to have to slowly and painstakingly remove.


But back to a more positive note, we all had a lot of fun today working together, trying to make Kim feel welcome (which I believed to be a successful endeavor), and playing our usual icebreaker games. The discussion ranged from, "Of all the animals in the world (real or fiction), which would you choose to be?" and "If your life was made into a movie, what actor/actress would you want to play you?"

-Andrea Zrake

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Day 6, Week 1


Hello Readers!

Well this week was definitely a learning experience for me! I have never had an archeology or anthropology class; luckily, Dr. Dumas did a great job explaining everything to us.

The week began with cleaning out the old units. Kayla (my roommate), Jordan and myself started off with digging out the palisade units from 2010, which we never would have been able to finish without Brian. Boy oh boy, was that a job, but it all paid off when we got to see the palisade wall.

Now that I’ve moved to my own unit, I have been able to find some really cool stuff, though not as cool as Kayla and Brett! I’ve discovered colonial nails, bone, brick, glass, pottery, metal pieces, and A LOT of chalk!

We have gotten into the groove of things now, and we are slowly expanding into new units. I have learned so much this week, but so far the most important thing that I’ve learned is to use gloves.  Wear gloves when water screening, gloves when digging, gloves with everything that you need to do.

All of us in our units earlier this week.
Everyday has yielded a new experience for me, whether it’s a talk at Land Hall or something that happens at Sonic with the girls, I’m learning something new.
Until next time,
     Lauren

Friday, May 25, 2012

Day 5, Week 1


Welcome to Friday, last day of the first week of the 2012 Fort Tombecbe Archaeological  Project. Today was especially eventful because in Andrea and Alex’s unit’s there is now revealed a connecting feature. It is very exciting but I will not say what it is suspected to be because there is nothing definitive yet.
                                                    Andrea's and Alex's Feature

Everyone was tired today but we all are very proud that we have made it to the last day of the first week. For most of us this is our first field experience and so we are sore in our hands, knees and backs but for the rewards it is reaping in field experience and digging up our first artifacts the discomfort is worth it. As long as we are on the topic of artifacts I found a very cool shell bead in my unit yesterday (sorry Brett better luck next week finding a cooler artifact):

Shell Bead Artifact

                Today was really good and now thinking back over the week from day one, things have changed so quickly with our small group.  We have all become really good friends in these last five days, I know the rest of these weeks will go by too quickly for all of us.  Overall this week has been really great! We all have made new friends and acquired new skills for troweling, piece plotting (not peace plotting) and even some skills in jumping off a car. I can’t wait to see what next week has in store for us!

Signing off for now,

Kayla

                                                                  Me at the water screen



Thursday, May 24, 2012

Day 4: Bloodshed



Evening, All

The day was an eventful one.  Before it began, we had to deal with the humdrum routine of digging at Fort Tombecbe: storming a portcullis, fighting through clouds of biting insects, and avoiding the menacing gaze of guardian cattle.

We were shaken out of our habitual morning stupor by the announcement that we’d be starting with a group photo.  Most of the team managed a smile; I managed a glower that was halfway to civilized.

I was tasked with cracking open a brand new unit today, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to illustrate how we go about things for those loved ones at home who are surely scratching their heads in confusion at our lunacy.

First and foremost, there is the paperwork.  No job is done without it; in archaeology, no job is started without it.  Ours is a destructive science.  That means that once we dig something up and study it, it’s destroyed for all time.  The only thing we have left, then, are our notes and the artifacts that we dredge up.  In order to help with this situation, we have built a number of redundancies into our method.  Each individual meter-by-meter square is given its own unit number, which has its own form.  The buckets into which our dirt is poured have IDs tied around their handles and a more succinct ID at their bottom.  Any artifacts pulled directly out of the ground go into a bag with the ID on it.  Any artifacts found at the screen go into another bag with the ID on it.  Any artifacts found at the lab go into yet another bag with the ID on it.  It’s a bit repetitious, is what I’m driving at.

Once the paperwork has been appeased, it’s time to start looking at the individual unit.  You can’t just dive in and start digging, though.  While unlikely, there remains the possibility that a few stray artifacts have made their way to the surface.  It’s even more unlikely that you’ll see these artifacts with the naked eye.  What you have to do is sift through the leaves and twigs and dirt with your fingers, feeling for them.  You may find something, you may not, but it has to be done either way.

Now we can finally start digging.  In many ways, this is a lot like giving a haircut.  We spend most of the time trying to shave dirt off in even layers, being careful not to gouge or scrape.  This process is hardly ever smooth, though, as we’re constantly interrupted by the need to clip at roots, which are always in the way and always stubborn.  After we’re through with that, we give the entire unit a nice brush to collect all of the loose dirt and make it look presentable.

After we’ve collected enough material, we cart it over to the water screen.  Here it is dumped out, sprayed with water, and smashed into pieces fine enough to fall through the screen.  In theory, we get rid of the dirt and are left with only the good stuff.  In practice, we end up with a lot of pebbles and roots.

It’s here that the colorful title of the post comes into play.  The unit that I was working on today was positively swollen with broken glass.  It’s so abundant that it is almost certainly some modern rubbish that’s been covered over in the past few years.  But it is the archaeologist’s duty to sift through this as well, so that’s what I found myself doing.  I thought I was being cautious in wearing a pair of leather gloves while running my hands through the glass shrapnel, but apparently I wasn’t cautious enough.  A shard of it sliced right through it and my skin, drawing a trickle of blood.  (Don’t worry, Mom.  I’m fine.)

Perhaps it’s a comment on the state of my mind that the worst part of this experience was the fact that I was away from the pits while the currently reigning artifact of the dig was found.  Kayla pulled an absolutely stunning bead out of her unit.  It’s smooth to the point of being silky and carved with a beautifully executed design.

It’s currently the artifact to beat, and I think we’re all eager to get back in there and do so.

…Tomorrow.  After we’ve slept.  A lot.


-Brett Shaw

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Day 3: Postmold


Dr. Ashley Dumas instructing students on excavation technique



Following the initial success of the first two days of excavation, as far as artifacts are concerned, there seemed to be very few artifacts found today in the more developed units. The other units that have been opened up in the Oven section are still too shallow to find many artifacts, but tomorrow should prove fruitful for those units. Most of my progress was made on a feature that was found in my unit.

This feature was noticed during the 2010 dig, and had been left undisturbed. The person working this unit noted that there was an outcropping of soft chalk not far from the ground surface, and excavated only the surrounding parts of the unit. I, too, only worked around the outcropping, until today when i was instructed to excavate a cross-section of the formation to expose the north/south profile. I quickly found that this was a true feature--what appeared to be a post hole for the bake house we were searching for. 

The feature was about 30 centimeters at its deepest, and very distinct from the surrounding soil. I made a drawing of the profile wall itself, and will excavate the rest of the feature tomorrow. the location of this post hole should provide insight into the dimensions of the bake house itself in the coming days.

Diggy diggy hole!

-Alex Nelson

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Day 2: Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Look at what Brett found! It's a comb made of bone.

  Day two of the dig started off bright and sunny and it wasn’t long before a few artifacts were discovered such as the bone comb pictured above. The excavation of the oven area continued and several more students were assigned units, myself included. I spent most of the day removing the top soil from my unit and excavating a feature found just under the very top layer of leaves and other debris. A clear layer of charcoal was present in the south-east corner of my unit, possibly from a modern-day campfire. Although the feature is much more modern than what we are really looking for, it is still evidence of human interference and I was able to learn a few techniques for documenting and excavating a feature found in the soil.
   
The water screen was also set up today so we could begin screening the soil from our units. The picture below shows Dr. Dumas instructing two students on how to use the water screening system. 


Archaeology often requires a bit of engineering.
We wrapped up our day at the site around 4:00 this afternoon and returned to Land Hall for a yummy dinner of pizza followed by a presentation from Dr. Dumas offering some insight into the history of Fort Tombecbe. Can’t wait for day three! 

Jordan Mahaffey