So the first five weeks of our fieldwork are complete, and we’ve made quite a bit of progress! Despite a few minor technical and methodological speed-bumps, the project is proceeding as I had hoped. We’ll be starting a three-week fieldwork session this coming week, but in the meantime I wanted to update this site with some news!
This first season (Summer 2016) of fieldwork has a few goals. First, we want to characterize the site. What this means is that we want to understand what is here, and in what condition. What features are present? What artifacts are present? What are the working conditions and terrain like? Can we connect any surface finds to historic maps, photos, and testimonies? Gathering this kind of basic information will help me plan where I want to do more intensive excavation in future field seasons.
Second, and more specifically, I want to identify household remains. As you can see from the maps below (Figure 1), there were several “households” identified from a historic map on the site. Some held bachelors, others families; most probably held both, depending on when you look. What’s important about them archaeologically is that they may give us clues to variation within the community. Even if we cannot always know exactly who occupied a given household, being able to associate different artifacts with different habitation areas gives us a better idea of what went on in those areas, how the community space was used, and ultimately what kinds of variation there was in terms of how the community responded to the inequalities it faced.
To find the answers I needed, I set about doing an archaeological survey. Archaeological surveys involve trying to identify the geographical presence and extent of archaeological material. Generally, we do this with minimally invasive techniques. By minimally invasive, I mean that they involve relatively little (and low intensity) digging. In a nutshell, our goal is really just knowing where things are on the site!
Initially, the plan was to conduct a coarse geophysical survey (Figure 2). This type of archaeological surveying involves using sensitive instruments to measure various physical properties of the soil, such as electrical resistance or magnetism. However, the density of undergrowth, uneven terrain, and frequency of felled trees meant that this was far, far too prohibitive in terms of labor (which is the primary limiting factor in my research). Fortunately, in the course of cutting paths in preparation for this survey, we found a number of cultural and potentially culturally features. Inspired by this, I changed the strategy to a more basic pedestrian survey.
Pedestrian surveys, in a nutshell, amount to walking across the landscape and looking at the ground, albeit in a slower and more systematic manner than walking, say, to the grocery store! Given the degree of ground cover, doing any sort of pedestrian survey involved cutting lines through the forest, so we still had some visibility issues. But as you will see from the results section, we managed to identify a number of important features!
The survey I decided upon was a systematic pedestrian survey, with magnetic North-South transects cut into the forest every 25m East-West. “Systematic” means that, once the start point was chosen, we calculate the location of each additional place I will survey based on a regular interval. You already know what pedestrian survey means. “Transects” are survey lines; one or more individuals walks across them, looking left, right, and down, trying to find surface features or artifacts. Once found, these are mapped in with a total station (Figure 3). Due to the overgrowth, I looked primarily for surface features; many of the artifacts we have found were found in association with them, and as I will explain later, even without that overgrowth, many artifacts are hidden under a thin layer of plant remains and humic material.
Each transect was cut from north to south for 50 or so meters, at which point we moved 25 meters east to the next transect. Every 10 meters, we took a topographic point with the total station and hammered in a 5-ft stake. The stakes are used both as guides and as local datums for any features we find (Figure 4). Any features or artifacts found were also mapped in, albeit without stakes.
Interested in the results? You can find them on the next post!