Archive for May, 2009

Thursday, 28 May, 2009


The bead excavators! Brain Floyd, Kelly Woodard, and Hanif Saad

The bead excavators! Brain Floyd, Kelly Woodard, and Hanif Saad

A knot of excited people around a screen generally means one thing: something interesting has been captured in the wire mesh. An extra buzz surrounded such a scene this afternoon. Eyes were a bit brighter and smiles were broader – a look that said “bead.” But could it be, only a day after an iron artifact was recovered? And even before we reached the deeper, most important layer? The gaggle of students and staff were eagerly beckoning.


 The bead they presented for inspection was like a slice of summer sky in the opened, grubby palm – two shades of blue sandwiching a thin white layer of glass. And it was like nothing we have found on the site so far. In fact, it is an object few archaeologists anywhere have been privileged enough to find. My reaction, startling even to me, was an outburst of uninhibited elation – “Nueva Cadiz!!” (followed by much fist-pumping, high-fiving, pirouetting, and so on…)


Nueva Cadiz beads get their name from an early Spanish colonial town off the coast of Venezuela. Their occurrence on Spanish sites in our region is universally taken as an indicator of pre-1550 activity. Nowhere are these beads common in the Southeast, and sources say the type we found today is among the rarest of the rare.


So, we’ve pretty well answered the question of general age for the Spanish contact at our site. It almost certainly occurred prior to 1550, and most likely it dates even earlier in the century. But, still, we are unable to match artifacts with names; the de Soto vs. Ayllon question lingers.


There’s more work to be done…


(Again, this very important bead discovery was made by our own beady-eyed Brian Floyd, and the unit was excavated by Hanif Saad and Kelly Woodard.)

The newest bead find--a Nueva Chadiz bead.

The newest bead is a Nueva Cadiz bead, dating to pre-1550.


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Wednesday, 27 May, 2009


It appeared yesterday as the barest hint of rust-colored soil, distinct within the surrounding tan sand. And there was a resistance against the trowel that the excavator hadn’t felt from the sand itself. James Stewart, one of our Fernbank team members, paused to consider what was emerging. Then a huddle formed. “Maybe it’s daub.” “No, probably just a natural concretion.”


“It’s iron.” And so it was.

Careful excavation around the iron artifact.

Careful excavation around the iron artifact.

Today we unearthed a 500 year-old iron artifact, now one of three from this site. Together with the glass beads, the case for a very early Spanish presence is building.


The object is triangular in shape and quite heavy, one end obviously broken. We know that iron tools like wedges and chisels were left behind by the first Spanish explorers and it is reasonable to believe this is a healthy fragment of such a tool.


The rusty artifact we recovered today isn’t much to look at, especially if you don’t know its story. But in its day, as a shiny and sharp tool, you can be sure it captivated the Native people that were introduced to it. They had never seen or used anything quite like it – it might as well have been a cell phone.


Certainly this discovery bodes very well for the weeks to come. Every day bring us closer to answering our questions.

What could it be?

What could it be?

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Wednesday, 26 May, 2009


Questions of the day… the flavor of life in the field.


5:30 AM: Already?!

What’s the weather?

Where are my pants?

Is my shirt too smelly to wear again?

Is the coffee ready yet?

Should I shave today?

Is everyone up and at’em?

Shall we brew another pot?

Is there enough gas in the van and the truck?

What will we learn today?

Do I have everything?

What are the goals for the day?

When is it going to rain today?

Do I need to buy ice?

Will the hunters be after hogs today?

Are there lunch fixings at the cabin?

What will we learn today?

Should I get that new saw blade this morning?

Wonder how things are at home?

Wonder who’ll drop by today?

Is the porta-john clean?

Do we have evidence for de Soto or not?

Where will we go to eat after work?

Wonder what’s happening in the rest of the world?

Why is that yellow engine light on?

Why is he/she dragging this morning?

What will we learn today?

What kind of bird was that?

Is this road going to be passable if we have another week of rain?

Do we have gas for the pump?

Is the gate closed?

Who should be digging where?

Are you keeping up with your notes?

Why is this unit deeper than the other?

Do you see that soil color change?

Can you sense the change in texture?

Who found that?

Have you been drinking enough water?

How long do we have before rain?

Is the screening a bottleneck?

Don’t you think we need to dig a little deeper?

Can you bring that excavation profile into plumb?

Why are those people idle?

Will we find another Spanish artifact today?

Can you check that elevation?

Did we get a photograph of that?

Which area did this bucket of soil come from?

Don’t you wish we had more shade?

What kind of pottery is that?

Do you remember the name of that song…?

Why are there so many fire ants over here?

Is it lunch time yet?

Which unit do you want to excavate next?

Is this the bottom of Stratum II?

Who has my trowel?

How do you know that?

Are you OK?

What will we learn today?

Are we making good progress?

Are those measurements correct?

How much longer will it take to complete that map?

Is this poison ivy?

Is this anything?

How many more units can we open and expect to complete on schedule?

Do we have enough water to drink?

Where did you find that artifact?

Are you finding more in this level than the last?

Is that iron?

Are the tools put away?

Is all the soil screened?

Did you complete your paperwork?

What kind of bug is that on your head?

Is everything loaded in the truck?

So where are we eating tonight?

What did we learn today?

Are there drinks in the cooler?

Don’t you love archaeology?

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 Thursday, 21 May, 2009




Bead in hand, Jeffrey Glover, GSU Faculty

Bead in hand, Jeffrey Glover, GSU Faculty

At last, the connection to early Spanish exploration is reestablished. Our first glass trade bead of the season is in the bag.


It is an exquisite thing, really – seven layers of multicolored glass formed into a package the size of a garden pea. In and of itself it rates as an achievement of sixteenth-century manufacturing, but in the context we have found it – in a nondescript chunk of southern Georgia real estate – the glass jewel is among the rarest of all artifacts in the New World, a tangible link to the most transformative encounter in the history of the hemisphere.


This was the way a long slog of a wet day ended. And true to form, the bead made a dramatic appearance on a day filled with visitors – almost right on cue. It was a hard-won and very important discovery that surely is a harbinger of things to come. Next, monogrammed cufflinks… ???


Credit for this much anticipated ice-breaker goes to sharp-eyed Brian Floyd, a veteran staff member of our project, and the GSU students, Michael Johnson and David Cook, who excavated it.


Now, exhale….

Bead up close, Wes Patterson, GSU Student

Bead close-up, Wes Patterson, GSU Student

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During excavation today, the unit I was working in unearthed a large pottery sherd that seemed to be part of a large storage pot.  The sherd’s stamped motif displayed characteristics of Lamar pottery.  The large size of the sherd indicated that it was from a very large storage pot because it did not have any curvature. 


After finding the pottery sherd, I began to visualize the object in its entirety.  The large sherd we found allowed me the opportunity to peer into the past.  I began to wonder what was stored and who stored items in this large pot.  I also wondered where the large pot was kept.  A pot that is large and full of storage food would not be easily moved, so I would imagine that it sat dormant for most of its life.  If it was kept in a house, I wondered what objects surrounded it.


It is surreal that one piece of a pot can build a mental understanding about what this area looked like during a time completely different from today.  I am excited to dig deeper into the strata, to unearth more artifacts that will provide a more in-depth understanding about what life was like during the time we are excavating.

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Tuesday, 19 May, 2009


The anticipation is almost too much to take. We understand what this site is capable of telling us but getting to the heart of it is like wrestling with the packaging around a box of fine chocolate. You know what is to come but it seems like forever to peel through the wrapping.


But today our team of GSU students conquered the first barrier to new comprehension of what it is we’re dealing with. That is to say, they concluded more than a week’s excavation of a healthy volume of disturbed soil that blankets the intact deposits. It is those unmolested, deeper layers that hold the best – and only – promise of answering our questions.


Systematic excavation by GSU students

Systematic excavation by GSU students

So the next few days are going to be telling. Glimpses of what lies below reinforce the suspicion that we’re coming squarely down onto the remnants of a burned building. In more than one place we have encountered areas of chocolate-dark soil chock full of daub, pottery, fragments of stone, and burned wood. It is, to be sure, the archaeological equivalent of a delectable treat.


Beginning tomorrow we begin the more straightforward process of systematically working downward and into the key strata. By the end of the week the outlines of what happened on the some site five centuries ago will start to come into sharper focus.

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Monday, 18 May, 2009

As summer arrives in the deep South, we’re gearing up to solve the archaeological mystery of Telfair County. Thrilled to be involved for the third time with Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s summer archaeology program, I find it a special treat to get to work with and mentor undergraduate students from Georgia State University (GSU). Having graduated with a Master of Arts degree from the Department of Anthropology at GSU two weeks ago, I feel deeply honored to have this opportunity to instruct these intelligent students. Other added bonuses include working with my former professor, Dr. Jeffrey Glover, and working as a Crew Chief for my venerable mentor, Dennis Blanton.


Honors and excitement aside, our archaeological investigation is now in full swing and every day in the field brings us a little bit closer to understanding the “bigger picture.” It is our hope that our efforts will shed light upon the role this site played on the stage of the past. Research questions beseech answers: How did the Contact Period items generated in 2007 (my first summer working on this site) come to rest here? Are more of these artifacts waiting to be discovered in the areas will we be investigating? What more will our excavations tell us about the convergence of two radically disparate cultures? Personally, I would like to know: Exactly who were the foreigners that trekked through this part of the world? Ayllon? Pardo? De Soto? More than this: How did the indigenous people at this site react to engaging with foreigners from a strange land? Is there evidence for this in the archaeological record?


I would like to add another perspective: In my undergraduate years, I took the last “Southeastern Indians” class that Dr. Charles Hudson ever taught at the University of Georgia before his retirement. Primarily, Dr. Eric Bowne instructed the class; however, Dr. Hudson gave a number of guest lectures on his life’s work during that semester. I loved that class. Learning a great deal about the diverse Southeastern Indian cultures, I found that my favorite part of the course centered around Hernando de Soto and his expedition throughout the Southeast. I truly believe that Drs. Hudson & Bowne’s influence led me to pursue my career in Southeastern Archaeology. How poetic to play a part in an archaeological investigation that may or may not corroborate Dr. Hudson’s theories surrounding Hernando de Soto’s expedition! Either way, this summer is going to be truly exciting!


Only time and dirt — a lot of dirt — will elucidate meaning about this complex archaeological site. In the meantime, I shall continue to fulfill my duty as “Records Keeper” with diligence and anticipation. As units are staked, levels are excavated, and dirt is screened, I wait (with many others, no doubt) with bated breath to see what answers the earth holds. Stay tuned for more updates. Through the time machine of archaeology we go!

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