Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Endings and Archaeology

The sun is setting on our time at Fort Tombecbe and while I miss my family, I am also sad to be leaving. It has been a most excellent four weeks of hard work, exciting discoveries, and moments of hysterical laughter for no reason whatsoever. For the next few days we are all busy wrapping up various tasks and closing our site. Today I finished all the paperwork for the unit I’ve been working on in the bakery area and tomorrow morning I will finish up with a light cleaning so we can take a final picture.
Bakery wall. The red tone area at the bottom might be a hearth

                It has been a productive field school and there are finally enough artifacts to begin to reconstruct some aspects of daily life at Fort Tombecbe. Analyzing artifacts is a large part of the archaeological and historical process of developing a cultural narrative of Fort Tombecbe. I decided earlier today that for this post I wanted to attempt to create a snapshot of how a man garrisoned at Fort Tombecbe might spend part of his day. Before I start, I would like to thank Brian Mast for patiently providing me information about French marines and his understanding of fort life.
Brian and Ron working on the palisade wall
               Day begins at sunrise. Various noises would have filled the grounds: animals, the sounds of cooking, popping fires, and men mustering for roll call. After a headcount the men would have gone on to their various duties. This could include anything from guard duty on the palisade wall to hunting and foraging. At some point in the day the Choctaw probably came to trade and most likely share and gather news. Beads, Colonoware (a type of earthenware pottery made by Native Americans to replicate European products), and a stone tool discovered under the barracks illustrate the types of goods that flowed between the French and Indians.
Trade Bead
             Based on items discovered during the 2014 field school reconstructing free time is a bit more accessible. In the bakery area both BJ and I found sprue inside ash deposits. According to Brian and Dr. Dumas, this is the byproduct of making shot (a heavy ball of lead ammunition). None of the traditional sources concerning the fort discuss this project, yet within a trowel of soil the story unfolds a bit and it is possible to imagine a man far from home sitting around, possibly in a small group, shooting the breeze while making shot. What is puzzling to me is that we found these objects inside the bakery. Our best hypothesis at this point is that the bakery had a hearth and fire which is necessary to melting lead (and probably smelled much better than many other parts of the compound).

                Bread constituted a staple part of a French soldier’s rations. Soldiers also hunted and foraged the local area and a variety of bones found under the barracks and inside the bakery indicate that the men fortified their diet with fowl and venison. Large sherds of Indian pottery as well as green lead glazed earthenware indicate that the French soldiers cooked and ate in the barracks.  Traditional histories present the barracks area as a sleeping space, but the presence of pottery, and animal bones complicates this narrative and provides a richer understanding of fort culture.
green lead glaze ceramic
Choctaw pottery

                By far the most exciting discoveries this summer involve textiles. Lighthorse Lee found a rather significant scrap of fabric in his unit in the barracks area. Coupled with the colonial pin discovered by Natalie in the bakery area indicate that to some extent the soldiers at the fort mended and patched their clothing and bags. Textiles are very rare and finding a pin is a bit like, well, finding a needle in a haystack. Though the objects are from different areas of the fort, they once again provide a window of understanding in how free time was passed at Tombecbe.

Colonial Pin
Textile from Lee's unit

                I hope that this very basic sketch of Eighteenth century life at Fort Tombecbe helps all of our faithful readers understand what we have been up to this summer. As for the Twenty-first century field school students we pass our free time launching water balloons and chilling around the UWA campus.

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