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.

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,

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,


                                                                  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

Monday, May 21, 2012

Day 1 - Gett'n the Trowels Dirty

We just returned from our first day in the field. The part of the site where we are working is pleasantly shady with a hint of spider and chance of chalk, 100%. We made amazing progress setting things up today, but more importantly, we established a few ground rules. Naturally, no site can operate efficiently without rules; ours are pretty straight forward:

1. Don't poke the string
2. Don't pet the spiders
3. Remember the water
4. Cow

There's been some fantastic ideas bandied about over some of the old features at the site. I won't say more, I'll leave that for when a decision is made. However, this idea could lead to an very exciting find later in the season. Of course, everyone who comes out to the Public Archaeology Day will get a chance to hear it discussed first hand (hint, hint). As for now, we're content to uncover what appears to be French pottery. And chalk. Lots of chalk. Seriously, we're all really excited about this season. I have a feeling it's going to be great!

The 2012 Fort Tombecbe Archaeological Field School
Left to right: Brett Shaw, Brian Mast (Black Belt Museum Educational Coordinator), Andrea Zrake, Jordan Mahaffey, Kayla Slay, Alex Nelson, Lauren Stephens, Susanne Crouch, Nadine Armstrong, Ron Stafford (Volunteer). Not picutured, but ever present, Dr. John Hall, who raised the flags of France, Great Britain, and Spain over Fort Tombecbe

First Blog: Sunday, May 20, 2012

Today’s first meeting with my instructors and classmates was very interesting. Everyone was very nice even though no one knew what to talk about. Dr. Dumas went over what we would be doing over the next few weeks, which was helpful considering I did not know what to expect. I was a little intimidated, seeing that everyone else seems to have past experience with archeology field work. 
Being from Sumter County, I know that the ticks and red-bugs are bad, especially when the winters are fairly warm. This does not mean that I am thrilled about the insects and plan on applying and reapplying insect repellant. I also plan on drinking plenty of water. 
After Dr. Dumas went over the syllabus with us and discussed our plans for the next few weeks, we went downstairs to eat a very delicious meal of spaghetti and salad, followed by brownies for dessert. Over dinner, we learned more about one another and Dr. Hall discussed various topics. 
This blog is slightly short, but not too much happened in between five and seven o’clock besides the orientation and dinner. Overall, though, I am very excited about the next four weeks and furthering my education in archaeology. - Nadine Armstrong