Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Frogs, Chalky Chalk, and Mapping Features: Day 3

One aspect of archaeology that often gets overlooked is the fact that we work outside and periodically find bugs, spiders, beetles, toads and frogs inside the unit that was supposedly secured at the end of the previous day. This morning as we were beginning work at Team Bakery, a nice little frog joined us for a few moments before we relocated it to a safer part of the site. After the excitement of the frog/toad find, Team Bakery settled in for a fine morning of attempting to trowel through thick chalk deposits. At one point, James made the comment “this is very chalky chalk.” While it is a humorous thought and we had a good laugh, it does not help to describe the challenges of excavating on a chalk bluff. Chalk is alternatively very soft when it is most inconvenient, and it is extremely hard when you find yourself wishing it was soft. The soft somewhat fragile chalk tends to flake off in layers and leaves an interesting coating of white dust on your shoes, hands, clothes, and face (if you’re really lucky).

Our morning visitor
           Part of my morning was spent mapping (graphing) a small, circular deposit of Charcoal that I noticed in my unit yesterday. Though it was small and shallow it is still necessary to make a record of the location of the deposit. Troweling and discovering ceramics, glass, and nails is certainly the more sexy aspect of the work, but mapping constitutes an important, and periodically time consuming part of the job. It is basically a process of measuring and graphing the feature for future analytical reference. While I was busy with mapping and writing descriptions of the feature, the rest of Team Bakery, Natalie, B.J., and James continued work on the new units that they opened on Tuesday. It was a rather productive day for the Team. James uncovered a nice piece of green lead glazed earthenware and Natalie discovered a lovely sherd of faience, a tin glazed French ceramic.

                After lunch, I started to work on what is possibly a corner of the French bakery. This involved first scrapping away some very clayish soil while paying particularly close attention to the amount of brick and mortar flecking. This feature is located at the termination of a rather deep trench and in order to best reach the area I ended up lying face down over the trench. Some of the work was done with good old trusty Beavis the Trowel, but I also had to use a small bamboo tool and a spoon in order to not damage the fragile mortar block and small fragments. This is slow work and in the morning I will continue work on this feature. A feature can be roughly defined as a non-moveable element of an archaeological site. Unlike an artifact, a feature cannot be taken back to the lab for later analysis which is why the process of mapping and photographing are so important.

Mapping and chalky work shoes

                After an amazing dinner of black-eyed peas, pickled peaches, tomato jam, homemade mashed potatoes, biscuits and corn on the cob provided by the world’s greatest volunteer and “camp mom” Rosa, we retired to the lab for an evening of exploration and cleaning. Dr. Dumas shared part of the Black Belt Museum’s type collection with us and then we worked on washing artifacts from the previous excavation season. Washing is exactly what it sounds like: filling a small tub with water and cleaning the artifacts with a toothbrush. After washing they are laid out to dry on trays. We ended our evening with another frog sighting in front our dorm rooms. It brought the day full circle: frogs, chalky chalk, and mapping. 

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