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Tuesday, 2 June, 2009

 

 

Buried for nearly five centuries, the footprint of a large building is once again exposed to view. Instead of the crisp lines of a masonry foundation, however, the traces we have laid bare are more like an apparition. The mark of the structure is an enormous patch of discolored soil thick with fired wall clay called daub and lots of other artifacts. Also, here and there around the margins are small round ghosts of the postholes that held upright wall supports.

 

 

Inger Wood and Brian Geiger exposing traces of a large building.

Inger Wood and Brian Geiger exposing traces of a large building.

A goal of this field season was to accomplish just that – define the limits of a building that had barely begun to show itself in our excavations of 2006 and 2007. With the help of the eager and dedicated GSU students, we spent the last three weeks rolling back the mantle of soil that obscured our view of the structure. And now that we have completed that monumental task, the work ahead will likely prove even more daunting.

 

 

What our excavation has exposed is a structure that exceeds my expectations of size. Unlike the typical Native dwelling of the period, measuring maybe four to five meters on a side, the one we have brought to light spans no less than 10 meters on a side. Put in more familiar terms, it probably has a floor area approaching 1000 square feet!

 

 

No doubt, it has been exciting over the past two days to finally get a good sense of our target. Suffice it to say, this was no ordinary building in its day and determining just what purpose it served and why it became the repository for Spanish artifacts of the early 16th century is the objective of the next four weeks. Hang on!

Sunday, 31 May, 2009

 

Back to reality.

 

 

Today the alarm clock did not ring before the sun rose, as it had done for the past three weeks.  I was able to sleep-in, but after I awoke, I realized that I missed the smell of fresh dirt and the constant swatting at flies around my face.  My field school experience was definitely one that most student archaeologists only dream about.  My professor, Dr. Glover, allowed my fellow comrades and me a rare opportunity to work at a South Georgia site that yielded many great findings and learning experiences.  We found an abundant amount of Native American artifacts that allowed us the opportunity to engage into the past.  The Spanish artifacts that we found allowed an even narrower glimpse into specific events that occurred in the site’s history.

 

 

I must say that it feels weird being back in the big city, still swatting at flies that are not there, but secretly wishing that they were.  Upon returning to Georgia State University to continue my studies, I will prepare myself for my next archaeological dig with the hope that it will be as eventful and special as the opportunity I had working with Dennis Blanton and his crew in Southeast Georgia.

 

-Kelly Woodard

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.

Iron!!

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?

Questions

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?

“Bead!!!”

 Thursday, 21 May, 2009

 

“Bead!!!”

 

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

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.