Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The first day in the field

Today was our first day in the field. We had to cancel the field activities for Monday due to smoke permeating the Tallahassee area from the on-going north Florida wildfires. In the morning the field crew learned about the necessary steps to prepare for a field project. As archaeologists, we rarely just step into the field and start digging. There are logistical items we need to think about. For example, weeks before our project began, we were making lists and acquiring field equipment and supplies, e.g., mapping instruments, screens for sifting dirt (some of which had to be fabricated), tarps to catch the dirt while screening, hardware such as shovels and small picks, buckets, photography and writing materials, and so forth. Additionally, we had to design a plan of work that would entail proposing research questions which we hoped to answer through our fieldwork and selecting a methodology that would facilitate it. Both, of course, had to fit the timeframe of the field school. Our resulting strategy was to assess the distribution of archaeological material across the site by digging a series of shovel tests. Shovel tests are laid out on our site grid system at close intervals (10 meters or 30 feet apart) using electronic survey equipment (see picture above). We are sampling or sub-surface testing soil deposits in an attempt to locate evidence for activities associated with the occupation of the site by both the Apalachee and de Soto’s expedition. Shovel tests with significant data would later be dug further as formal excavation units with the hope of identifying specific activities of the Anhaica village.

In the afternoon we began shovel testing. As is always the case with the outset of a field project, digging started out slowing with everyone trying to figure out how to best carry out the work, e.g., where to situate the screen from the shovel test unit and making sure the dig kit is complete. While we had some idea of the stratigraphy we would encounter, initial shovel tests were dug cautiously in order to determine the sequence of soil changes and the presence or absence of artifacts. This included simply trying to identify artifacts as artifacts, e.g., whether a clump of dirt was either an animal or human bone or in fact a piece of PCV from a recent sewer line installation! Tomorrow’s and subsequent days’ work will no doubt advance more efficiently as we gain our “archaeological” bearings and the students become more experienced.