Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Profiles and Water

I spent the better part of this week continuing work on a trench feature that was originally opened in 2012. It is not entirely clear what this trench initially was; however, it is possible that this was a corner of the bakery. Today I finished profiling the west, east and south walls of the unit. What’s profiling? That’s an excellent question. A profile is basically a vertical map detailing the depth of the various layers within a unit, or in this case feature. These profiles are another important aspect of the research process. While it is easy to see and reference the way a unit looks in the field, an entire unit cannot be returned to the lab for further analysis. Therefore, these profiles help researchers contextualize the various layers of artifacts and soils from one unit or multiple units put together. The process is time consuming because accuracy is KING in archaeology. The profile for my feature, which I have nicknamed The Hole to the Center of the Earth, was started with chaining pins, waxed cotton line, and a bubble level. These are strung up across the wall being profiled and then meticulously leveled in order to provide a good reference point for all measurements taken. The rest of the process involves measuring the distance from the bottom of the layer to the level line and recording the points on graph paper. They are actually one of my more favorite paperwork activities because it is essentially an elaborate connect-the-dot picture of the area that I worked on. I’m very excited to see this unit completely cleaned and photographed.
Profiling the Hole to the Center of the Earth 
The rest of Team Bakery also had a productive day. Natalie found a colonial era pin during her screening process. This is completely awesome (highly academic language intended). It was so small and still sharp! It still had enough umph to nick Natalie’s palm. Boone found three nails in the same general area of his unit (hmm, there’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear…).[1] Rain ended our day in the field early so we returned to campus for a few hours of lab work.
Natalie's Pin
                Our nature challenge this week has been water, lots and lots of water. I spent several hours water screening the soil from the feature. This is a process of using water to wash away soil and debris in order to better see artifacts and lithics (stones and stone products). This process is usually very soothing for me because it is a bit of a scavenger hunt, but this particular site does not have access to electricity so we are reliant on a rather finicky pump that makes terrifying noises. During the screening process, I admit that I was more concerned with not breaking Brian’s pump than I was with washing away all the chalky clay. However, the job must be done, so I gathered my courage and screened like a mad freak. In addition to water screening, once we take artifacts back to the lab, they are further washed with water and a toothbrush. After washing, the material is placed on trays lined with newspaper to dry before sorting. Today in particular we spent many hours washing because excavation efforts were rained out.
                In my first post about frogs and chalky chalk I mentioned that archaeologists work outside and contend with the myriad issues that Mother Nature tosses our way. Today, she graced us with plentiful rain. Rain is a challenge not only because precious time in the field is lost, but because the site has to be protected. If not covered correctly, open units quickly become swimming pools. In most places this is problematic, but not tragic. At Fort Tombecbe however, the chalk layer is impermeable and therefore swimming pools must be bailed out with buckets – uh, not fun. As we were working to secure the site in a downpour Dr. Dumas explained that the best way to tarp an area is to shingle the tarps so that water doesn’t run down the plastic like a slide – think about how roof tiles are laid out and that is how to properly tarp for rain.
Rain Cover
          While not directly related to me getting soaking wet, we ended our day with a search for shark’s teeth in the lab with James Lamb and Brian Mast. They very graciously shared gravel from a local creek that they collected in February. I’m from Florida so February water isn’t all that cold, but this part of Alabama had a particularly chilly winter and the gravel collection was uncomfortable. It was an exciting way to end a day of water activities and to recover from our first meal in the campus cafeteria. Rosa, we miss your cooking already!
Rosa sent Moon Pies!
Soggy but Happy,

[1] Buffalo Springfield, “For What It's Worth,” written by Stephen Stills; Produced by Charles Greene and Brian Stone. (Forgive me, I don’t have my Turabian with me)

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