Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Day 17: Paleoethnobotany and Starbucks Coffee

Day 17- Paleoethnobotany, People and Plants in the Past

Talk about your alliteration! Get it? Well, I enjoyed it. Yes, Paleoethnobotany is the study of ancient peoples through the study of the plants remains, which have survived in archaeological contexts. Paleoethnobotany is an archaeological sub-field of study which uses the identification of plant remains, in combination with the ecological and cultural information we have thanks to modern plants, are able to study the use of wild plants, origins of agriculture and domestication, and the co-evolutionary nature of the human-plant interactions across time.

For this lecture, Dr. Kandace Hollenbach from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville was kind enough to come to Monticello to shine the light of paleoethnobotany on us field school students. Dr. Hollenbach's studies focus on the prehistoric foodways among hunting-gathering and agricultural peoples of the southeastern US, gender and identity roles, and the use and meaning of landscape among those hunting-gathering peoples as well.

Dr. Hollenbach's lecture focused on the rituals, use, and ancient peoples' thoughts of plants, her bottom line to us was, "people effect plants and in return the plants effect the people as well." People use plants for a multitude of reasons, they procure, process, prepare, consume, discard them, and frequently they are not preserved. The fact that they are not preserved leaves no evidence for paleobotanists and archaeologists. In terms of plant (either in the form of pollen or phytoliths) preservation, dry conditions are best, and wet conditions are destructive. Wet conditions can result in water logged, anaerobic conditions, meaning there is not enough oxygen for microbes to live and destroys the botanical remains completely. Plants can also be carbonized, this occurs when botanical remains become trapped and squeezed between sediments, are turned into carbon as they deteriorate, and since animals and plants get zero energy from carbon, the plant is left alone.

The preservation of micro/macro-botanical remains are then left to procurement. Procurement assumes the food item was gathered, harvested, or purchased.
Procurement = eating = digesting = paleofeces (coprolites)
Harvesting = food processing = eating = coprolites
OR Harvesting = processing = byproduct, then burned for fuel or trash disposal
Harvesting can also lead to the byproduct simply decaying on its own, whether it is simply disposed of, or as spill.

In the field of paleoethnobotany, certain biases are necessary to consider when reviewing a sample, these include:

  • byproducts being over-represented relative to the edible portions
  • items not cooked with fire are under-represented 
  • items that burn to ash (e.g. leaves) or unrecognizable mass (potatoes, etc.) are under-represented. 
  • small, fragile items that don't burn well and do not withstand mechanical damage (freeze/thaw and recovery techniques are under-represented
One also cannot go directly from numbers of remains located to the importance of crops in any civilization's lives. Instead, cross-reference your finds (i.e. a high number of corn remains) with the ethnohistorical accounts of crops and diets to enforce the located evidence. However in the reality of the historical record, white European men (early colonial settlers) simply do not write about the native's crops or dietary practices.

The recovery stage of both macro and micro-botanical remains is accomplished a process known as flotation, which can either be mechanized through a "float tank," or by hand. The next step is to analyze the remains under a microscope and identify them. The use of a modern comparative collection can come in handy during this stage and most collections collect and burn modern samples for precise references.

The interpretations of micro and macro-botanical remains focuses in on the subsistence and foodways of ancient peoples, the procurement, processing, storage, preparation/cooking, consumption, and discard practices offer a picture of how people are living on the site. For example, plant domestication can be followed by the changes through time and across location (regional patterns) to the crop. Paleoethnobotanists are finding that people are choosing larger seed sizes as time moves forward as well as a thinning of the seed coat. Wild seeds need their coating in order to survive the winters but domesticated seed are preserved through storage, resulting in the eventually thinning of their coats. Thin coats also sprout first and produce the most seeds for the next season's harvest as well. The importance of the coat lies not only in the agricultural value, aids in the successful identification and separation of wild seeds and domesticated seeds, since coats can be used to differentiate between the two. Plants co-evolve as people interact in their lives and there are changes in both the plants and people. People get tied down to spots with agricultural plots, going from a once continually moving, hunting-gathering society, to a settled, stable one illustrates the mutual domestication plants had on people as well!

Dr. Hollenbach then transitioned into the second portion of her lecture, which surrounded her research involving human behavioral ecology, arguing the costs and rewards of walking to gather or hunt a food source. The central place foraging theory is used to mathematically point out characteristics in people's behaviors, by solving for the return rate of the energy spent to collect the food item, with the energy obtained from the item, in consideration with the time spent to find, collect, or hunt the item. This is achieved through ethnohistorical accounts of the individual peoples, in combination with experimental archaeology, which Dr. Hollenbach admits to sending her grad students on a walking expedition to achieve.

*handling cost outweighs carrying cost
Squirrel = High handling cost (30kg)

  • walking cost (tied to slope and distance of specific landscape)
  • amount of time it takes to actually catch a squirrel
  • minimal gain in energy obtained
  • travel cost doesn't matter as much
Spawning Fish = Low handling cost (30kg)

  • assume the people know their surrounding landscape and know the location and the worth of the river where this resource can be continually found. 
  • travel cost matters
Given this mathematical breakdown of the cost vs. reward of various food sources, Dr. Hollenbach can hypothesis that most campsites of ancient people are made with a low cost food source close in distance. For example, fish are a reliable food source, they can always be found in a nearby river, whereas deer could be anywhere, and would therefore cost more to locate and carry, but if found would outweigh fish in the energy gained category. So it all comes down to how much energy you are willing to spend in the hopes of gaining equal or more energy in return for a specific food source/item.

Back to the micro and macro remains, these can also be used to identify the social and political organization of people, or any socio/politcal shifts which occurred throughout time within that society as well. In today's world think about your own personal reactions when you notice someone walk passed you holding a Starbucks coffee cup rather than a local, fair trade coffee brand/cup, certain social and economic assumptions are made on your end, and a social status signal is put out by the other person (the one holding the coffee cup). Certain aspects of our personal identity can be based on our favorite foods. MIND BLOWING! Think about that the next time you are going to treat yourself to a cup of brew- will you go commercial or local?

I promise to keep catching up on my blog updates- it is such a commitment!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Day 16: A Tale of Sex, Love, and Romance

Day 16- The Role of Pollen in Archaeology

First, a huge thank you goes out to Dr. John G. Jones, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Washington State University, who was our guest lecturer for this lesson. He exuded energy and passion for the topic of palynology, opening his lecture as a tale of sex, adventure, and romance all about pollen. Needless to say, this gentleman was a true character, and equally kind to us students as he was to the professional staff.

Pollen is essentially and simply plant sperm with an outer shell made out of the genetic material, sporopollenin, which is the tough outer walls of spores and pollen grain, which is chemically very stable and is usually well preserved in sediments. Pollen is capable of being extracted from coal, and a 310 million year old pollen sample was found from a shale fragment from Mongolia, pollen will last. The only exceptions to this are when fungus or bacteria destroy the pollen.

Insect pollination is the most effective- plants attract bugs with pheromones from flowers, some plants make very little pollen and use their pretty flowers or fragrance to attract the insects to carry their pollen, or in the case of the pine tree, the plant may make a ton of pollen, pine trees make a billion polygrains in order to reproduce. Pollen wears and weathers out of rocks and people then breathe them in (allowing for location of bodies for example).

Pollen studies are used in fields such as the oil industry, medicine, bee keeping, forensic science, and of course, archaeology. In the oil industry, the oil has to be a certain age and maturity before it produces, so it is necessary to know how old the maturity of the sediment is, and whether it holds oil or just gas. Approximately 91% of all palynology worldwide is for various oil industries, which pays about $500 a sample, with about 4,000 samples requested a day as “rushed work,” and the lab receives 10% of the profits. Pollen is used in medicine for allergy testing. For example, a single vile of ragweed is $450 and is needed for all main allergy testing done by doctor’s offices. Forensics uses pollen testing just as you have probably seen in any criminal drama television show, such as Law and Order, or Bones.

Most importantly pollen is used in the field of archaeology, mostly coprolites (fossilized feces), and as Dr. Jones likes to say, “Pull up a stool, I’ll tell you all about it.” As in many cases, the bathroom holds the key to the way a society ate and lived. A stool can tell us the origins of agriculture, deciphering the earliest crop dates, and agriculture style (burning, fertilization, etc.). The sediment at Monticello perfectly conserves the pollen from oxidization which kills pollen, and the thick red clay also coats the pollen grains, keeping fungus from killing the pollen. Palynologists have, for example, taken pollen samples from ground stone to tell what people were harvesting, preparing, and eating.

The process of pollen soil sample is extremely complicated. The first step is to dissolve the soil away, leaving the pollen. Hydrochloric acid is used to isolate the pollen, then sands, silts (silicas) are removed with hydrochloric fluoride, the sample is then washed in potassium hydroxide, which can dissolve skin, but leaves the pollen, and in order to remove the organics acetolysis is used, it is explosive in water, but leaves the pollen, the minerals then need to be removed, a pyrite and tourmaline causing the minerals to sink and the pollen to float. The Monticello soils are very difficult to clean, due to the thickness of the clay, and not all pollen collected is identifiable.

Corn (maze) barley, oats, and wheat, along with all grass have similar looking pollens. The oldest maze pollen to have been located to date goes back to 52000 BCE and was produced by plants which did not produce corn cobs, yet still produce a sugary rich stem. Maze in the new world was possibly first domesticated to make sweet beer brew (honey was in Mesoamerica and cocoa), sweets from corn is brewable from the stocks.

Pollen in archaeology is taken with soil cores, samples from parts of the ground never exposed to oxygen, and core samples, used for radiocarbon dating (the chronological record of changes in pollen throughout time). A vibracore collection allows for the soil to be brought to surface without disrupting the sediments. Pollen samples are also collected from sidewalls (profiles) of the strata of a quadrat, what is known as a profile pollen sample, which means that every 5cm of the sidewall a pollen sample is collected from the bottom-up, and then a pollen diagram is created to illustrate the break-down of certain pollens.

Aside from pollen, phytoliths (siliceous plant remains) can also be useful in archaeology. Phytoliths are produced within cells of plants, and are strong in areas where pollen is weak. Whereas with pollen, grass could not be identified, with phytoliths grass is identifiable. The smaller the sample of phytoliths, the better the integrity, and these samples should be taken from the center of your feature (i.e. sub-floor pit found in quadrat). Both pollen and phytoliths are simply more key pieces to the historical puzzle which archaeologists are charged with attempting to solve over years of collecting and putting together piece after piece- slowly but surely. 

Day 15: In Archaeology, Geology, Rocks!

Day 15- Geology and Rocks on Site at Monticello

My apologies, due to the rain and the hectic schedule of the last couple of weeks, my blog updates have fallen behind. But I can quickly update you on the lectures and experiences of the field school- it has been unbelievable!

The first thing you need to know about geology, which may seem simple, but often gets over looked- rocks vary regionally. The second step to understanding geology is being knowledgeable about the Wilson cycle. The Wilson cycle refers to theopening and closing of ocean basins caused by movement of the Earth's plates. The Wilson cycle begins with a rising plume of magma and the thinning of the overlying crust. As the crust continues to thin due to extensional tectonic forces, an ocean basin forms and sediments accumulate along its margins. Subsequently subduction is initiated on one of the ocean basin's margins and the ocean basin closes up. When the crust begins to thin again, another cycle begins. 

In the specific case of the field school, Monticello is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, which have eroded into the coastal plain. A long time ago, when ancient Africa and North American collided, Atlantic fills with lava flows forming black basalt build ups, forming the mountains, the mountains then erode, island chains slams in, thus causing a continual series of mountain forming events. This black basalt build-up was then squashed with heat and pressure and morphed into greenstone. The Atlantic Ocean then erodes these mountains to form modern-day Virginia. The lava continues to build, spills out, and forms tiny payers between basalt, forming beach dunes and various landscapes. Silt stones formed together with heat and pressure to produce quartz. This information is important due to the fact that greenstone and quartz are the most common rocks found at Site 8 on the dig at Monticello. Quartz is also resistant to weathering and the most common and resistant mineral on the planet. It is capable of surviving chemical weathering since it does not oxidize at all.

The teaching assistant who gave this lecture, Devin Floyd, explained to us that rocks in archaeology make up everything that came before the people and the buildings and the history. He also explained that we, as archaeologists need to question what is and is not a rock artifact, and we can answer this question with another question: Has the rock been altered (or worked) by humans? This is how archaeologists know if the rock fragment is an artifact which needs to be kept or simply thrown away.

At Monticello quartz sand has formed into quartz and mineral massive quartz cannot be tested or replicated. Seems and cracks form in the parent material, then groundwater passes through, and silica accumulates and fills the space with quartz crystals, the parent material decomposes, leaving the quartz vein to grow. Along with quartz deposits, Goethite, named after the German polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, has been found. The mineral was used for devil’s dice (the mineral breaks in perfect cubes) and was used to make game pieces and toys at Monticello.

Back to knowing whether or not a piece of quartz has been worked or not, quartz has similar properties as glass, it creates sharp edges when broken and was primarily used for projectile points (weapons, knives, etc.) for prehistoric peoples. Local quartz found on Monticello have lots of heat fractures and small pieces were worked til thick and blunt before they break with concloidal fractures (cone of energy breakage), and the bulb in the rock can tell us if it was struck or worked in any manner to be cut down and used. Slate and soapstone are also very important artifacts which can be found at Monticello. Slate gives off a high-pitched ring if struck and we used in chimney chinking and soapstone is metamorphic and as its surface is refined, it turns black (steatite) and can then be used as gun flints which have been found on slave sites. This is a key piece of evidence which has recently been discovered by archaeologists and has led to the interpretation that the slaves on Monticello (and other sites where the steatite has been found) had access to guns- most likely for hunting. These are the important developments in archaeology which geology has led to and one of the many reasons it is an important aspect of the historical record. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Day 10: Stratigraphy, Plan Drawings, and the Harris Matrix

Day 10- Stratigraphy, Plan Drawings, and the Harris Matrix

There are a lot of different terms when it comes to stratigraphy, so here we go! Stratigraphy is the process of recording and analysis of site location. Stratification is the physical layering of deposits on a site. Stratigraphy is governed by three principles (for sedimentary deposits), the law of super position, is the order in which sediments are laid down, the principle of continuity, and the principle of original horizontality, ruling that layers will continue in the same pattern of layering over geological breaks (i.e. earthquakes, etc.). It would look like:

Soil A│(break in the earth)│Soil B

Deposits are defined as the assembling and layering down sediment and its inclusions, they can be divided into single events and episodes of deposits. Context (or stratum) is defined by an excavator, may represent a single deposit, may also be arbitrarily defined (since the excavator defines it), and can be known as stratigraphic units. An interface is a boundary between two or more deposits, the soil color, inclusions, or texture change as seen in quadrats (Horizon A, Horizon B), can be seen laid between the top soil and the sub-soil in some instances. If a relationship is found between two non-contiguous contexts, here at Monticello, we refer to it as a correlation, this involves a level of interpretation, and relating vertical texture to past excavations for reference. As we dig through the various matrices of sediments, we often come across non-movable artifacts (non-portable, i.e. boulder or sub-floor pits), these are referred to as features in the context records and archaeological jargon.

As with anything in archaeology, there are types of stratification, used as various ways of defining the horizons. Lithostratigraphy defines horizons through geological/pedological principles, is based on the natural soil formation processes, and applies to all horizons. Biostratigraphy defines the horizon based on presence/absences of life forms, such as fossils, and pollen analysis. Ethnostratigraphy is defined through evidence of cultural activities, such as plowing, or chemical testing for manure use in farming. All of these various forms of stratification are all not mutually exclusive and all of these are used by the archaeologist to date a site (i.e. not just ceramics).

It is the job of the archaeologist then to map these horizons, as the very act of excavation is destruction, it is important to record every detail, through each step of the dig. The goal of mapping the site is to record and show the natural and arbitrary boundaries of the excavation and to differentiate between the two types of interfaces. Quadrats are the arbitrary boundaries and use the mapping notation of line-dot-dash, natural boundaries (cliff, river, or sediment change) are drawn with solid lines to represent separate contexts. These mapping devices are used to illustrate the physical relationships of the site, as well as the stratigraphic relationships. An example of this vigorous record attention can be found in the field, as whenever we close a context in our quadrats, we have to map and record (known as quadrat drawings) the geometric location of each feature (rocks mostly), in order to record each step of the land we dig out, so that future archaeologists can refer to our notes and drawings in the future if need be.

There are various models to follow when plan drawing, there is the single-level plan (“top” plan), the phase plan drawing, and the single context plan. The “top” plan has no discrete boundaries, mostly used in large open excavations, and requires the mapping of each day’s work. The phase plan is more interpretive, placing all things together on one map which are thought to be from the same time period, this model obviously has a more chronological focus. The single context plan is what archaeologists of Monticello use, focusing on each context as a separate quantity, including the natural interfaces between a context and their relationship physically to one another. In order to pull of these descriptions together from the 266 different quadrats dug at Monticello, a device known as a Harris Matrix is used to date the multiple stratigraphic layers, and also to show the chronological sequence of the several dig sites on the mountain. The Harris Matrix represents a form of reverse engineering, structuring the sediments (including features), in conjunction with the artifacts found within the quadrats, and then placing that structure into a chronological chain, with the youngest top soil on top (labeled “A”) and the oldest on the bottom link of the chain, etc. This is an easy way to collect data from a hundred-some plan drawings, descriptions, and artifact finds into one easily interpreted chart. The Harris Matrix is always defines a temporal relationship and is not a fine scale. (below- an example of a Harris Matrix, not relating to Monticello)

Day 9: STPs and Poisson Distributions

Day 9- STPs and Poisson Distributions

The archaeological record is defined by the scatter of artifacts in their matrices near and on the surface of the earth. There are various ways to think about this record, traditionally as the site versus empty space, and thinking of sites as “natural” empirical units. Recently, however, archaeologists have begun to think of sites as a continuum of artifact densities: high to low and to zero density. This is then divided into “site” versus “non-site” occurrences. “Sites” are analytical units, created by researchers for specific purposes. The process of finding archaeological sites requires a process for investigating patterning in the archaeological record at large spatial scales. In the example of Monticello, the entire mountain serves as our site.

One type of survey is called coverage, due to the fact that total coverage of the study area is investigated in its entirety, usually using a single set of methods (e.g. Shovel Test Pits, surface walkover), and is sample based, meaning that an area is divided into multiple sampling units, only some will be fully investigated. The choice of which units is random, systematic, and purposive. There are three dimensions of variations in surveying, spatial samples, subsurface survey, and site survey. Spatial samples are surface surveys (inspections of the ground), which require some decisions as to the amount of survey exposure, spacing of surveyors, and the speed of movement and work to which the excavation takes.  Subsurface surveys dig using subsurface probes, again this require certain decisions, such as the probes spacing, the probe size (Auger holes, Shovel Test Pits, quadrats), or screenings. Site survey designates “sites” in the field, artifacts are provenienced by “site,” this is problematic because site survey is the most common in archaeology, but leaves the site to be openly interpreted. Whereas, in non-site surveying, artifacts are provenienced without regard to whether they occur to “sites,” but are mapped in regards to the STPs (Shovel Test Pits) in which they occur.

At Monticello, we use STPs on 40ft. centers, if an artifact is found, then we move into 20ft. centers, if another artifact is found, we moved down to 5x5 ft. quadrats and screen the dirt with a 1/4 inch mesh screen. The STPs are mapped on the Virginia State Plane for record keeping purposes. The Monticello Plane Survey uses the coverage survey, subsurface survey, and on site surveys. The non-site survey, however, has its own advantages over site surveys. The act of creating “sites” is purpose driven and transparent for non-site surveys, non-site also has the possibility for others to evaluate the results, and the possibility to do it multiple ways. Defining a “site” otherwise gets you as a researcher and archaeologist into a grey area.

Modeling a Subsurface Surveys requires calculating how close the STPs should be, in order to do this the probability of intersecting a site, and the probability of finding one or more artifacts )given that you intersected a site) must be taken into account. In order to model a subsurface survey you must assume “sites” are “non-sites,” the probability that an STP will go into a site (site size and spacing) as well as the probability of finding one or more artifacts given the intersect site. With this the artifact density (mean or variance), screens, and STP diameter are a part of the equation necessary to find this probability. In order to solve for the probability of finding artifacts in STPs, a couple of equations are necessary, which again for math’s sake I will not go into detail about. The equation’s names are the Poisson Distribution, which is used for rare events, and as the mean increases, the Poisson becomes the Gaussian Distribution.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Day 7: James Fort and Williamsburg Field Trip!

Day 7- Field Trip to the James Fort and Williamsburg

This fabulous field trip was originally scheduled for Friday, June 7, but due to the tropical storms, we decided to push it back to Monday in hopes of better weather, because if you haven't noticed it yet, archaeologists can’t dig or view other dig sites in the rain. Of course, it also rained on Monday, but we continued on with our journey ahead of us and learning goals in mind. In reference to Monticello, visiting the James Fort and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Archaeology lab was to compare the differences in the soil textures between the Piedmont region (Monticello) and the Coastal Plain region (James Fort, Williamsburg), but also to view their artifacts collections from the sites, and then compare and analyze them with the artifacts found within our own back at Monticello. One primary example is the use of oyster shells as a dating tool in the Coastal Plain (especially Williamsburg), due to their abundance and popularity, and their natural aging records are marked on the interior arches (similar to tree rings), which is similar to the ceramic techniques used to hypothesis an estimated site occupation date.

First stop of the morning was to meet up with Dr. William Kelso, the Director of Research and Interpretation for the Jamestown Rediscovery (M.A. early American history, College of William and Mary, and Ph.D. in Historical Archaeology from Emory University), who was also once a research archaeologist and director of archaeology (1986-1993) at Monticello and began the field school himself during his time with the Jefferson Foundation. Dr. Kelso is also a long-time mentor and friend of Dr. Neiman.

Once we arrived at James Fort, we headed directly to the yard behind the Fort’s church tower, which dates back to 1639. The tower serves as the key to orientating and interpreting the settlement’s physical structures and recreating the surrounding buildings based off of primary documentation from the settlers. The site in the following photos lies behind the 1639 church, away from the James River. At the time of our visit, the Jamestown Field School program was excavating the yard to determine how far the church yard extended after a mid-18th century donation of land, and to evaluate how much fill (human deposited sediment) during the Civil War when the land was used as Fort Pocahontas, which stood adjacent to the seventeenth-century church tower. The photo reveals what the archaeologists believe to be a continuation of the fencing from the original church. 

(The James Fort 1639 church tower remains)

The next photo is the excavation area where "Jane" was found in the last year of excavations. The evidence on Jane's bones proves that during the year of 1609-1610, the settlement suffered heavy starvation issues due to insufficient supplies and trade relationships with the local Virginian Indians. Jane's skulls had significant scratch marks evident of death by cannibalism. At 14 years old, Jane was the victim of her own community's desperation for relief and survival from the starvation which plagued the young British colony. 

(Excavation where "Jane" was found. This would have been the kitchen- located in the center of the James Fort triangulated community)

(From left to right, Dr. Fraser Neiman and Dr. William Kelso discuss the excavation of the kitchen area and how the discovery of Jane occurred and was confirmed through archaeology, historical documentation, and forensic evidence)

("Jane's" skull with evidence of cannibalism: below the right eye socket a series of small, fine cuts from a knife, made while removing the cheek muscle, the back of the skull shows a series of deep chops, these blows fractured the skull along the mid-line, numerous small knife cuts and punctures to the lower jaw reflect attempts to remove tissues from the neck and jaw, left temporal bone shows results of puncture by a small, rectangular tool, as it tried to gain access to the brain, and the most prominent, the four chops to the middle forehead represent a tentative, failed attempt to open the skull)


The next stop on the fieldtrip was to visit the artifact laboratory to meet with the head of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's Department of Archaeological Research. 

(Monticello Field School students look over the extensive collection, thanks to the Department of Archaeology at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for hosting us and making us feel more than welcome!)

Stay tuned for more exciting updates!!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Day 8- Putting Skill on the Map

Day 8: Putting Skill on the Map

Slowly but surely, catching up with the daily blog, for Tuesday’s lecture Dr. Neiman presented a lecture on datums, map projections, and grids. Most people when they think about archaeology would immediately think about finding artifacts in exotic foreign lands, and well, yes that is true, but another major part of archaeology is being able to know a lot about geology. Since we, as archaeologists, spend our time in the dirt, we know that it can hold a great deal of facts or secrets within its many layers, if you just look close enough to find them. Dirt of course, is just one small element on the bigger picture of Earth, so first we need to have a little background in geodesy.

Geodesy is the science of measuring the shapes of the earth. Traditionally in the past, archaeologists used to use grid systems (local grid systems) to set base lines in order to dig, which meant randomly assigning a zero point (0,0- thinking back to basic geometry). Today however, thanks to the wonderful advances in technology we have the satellite and GPS (Global Positioning Satellite), the once used arbitrary grids formed by archaeologists have been swapped for Real Earth Grid Systems.

Isaac Newton was the first to state the earth was not exactly circular, but rather that it formed an ellipsoid. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, different ellipsoid models were developed for different parts of the world in order to make map estimate plan tangent to the curved surface of the earth. A level plane is perpendicular to the local direction of gravity, which varies by very small degrees in different regions, and how specifically gravity varies is described by the geoid.  The geoid is the level at which gravity is sea level. Again, with the technology of satellites, measurements of modern ellipsoids are able to fit global “bumps” in the geoid, making it applicable for the entire world to use. This is done by taking the gravametric center of the earth with satellite technology, and the global geoid used today is called World Geodetic System-84 (WGS84, from 1984).

When discussing datums is it important to keep in mind that latitude and longitude are major and minor axes defined on an ellipsoid fit locally or globally to the geoid (WGS84). In turn, the poles and the equator can be defined as well. Poles are the axis of the revolution of the ellipsoid and the equator is the mid-way between the poles spanning the widest part of the ellipsoid. Together, these define latitude as a natural measurement. Longitude is defined as arbitrary, it has no natural starting place on Earth’s surface- the zero degree point is the Greenwich Meridian in England. The place where latitudes and longitudes are actually located on the ground is termed the “Geodetic Datum.” The Geodetic Datum is a network of controlled points on the ground whose locations are given in terms of estimated latitude and longitude. In order to create a geodetic datum you have to specify an ellipsoidal path on the model of the Earth, and create a network of carefully surveyed locations estimating the latitude and longitude. With WGS84, newer datums are geocentric, meaning it is useful anywhere, whereas the older datums were based on locally ellipsoids, isolating their use. In North America, the North American Datum of 1983 is our geocentric reference ellipsoid locally for our continent, and the World Geodetic Survey of 1984 (created by Doppler satellite) serves as the geocentric reference ellipsoid for the entire world.  

These datums are most commonly used for map projections, which is the process of transferring points from the surface of the ellipsoid to a plane. All map projections created some distortion- some are better than others. Which projection is best, depends on the shape of the area you are trying to map (map surface does not equal ellipsoid surface). There are three projections surfaces: cylindrical, conic, and Planar (Azimuthal) and three projection orientations: equatorial, transverse, and oblique. As well as two different kinds of possible contact: tangent, being in contact at a single point along a line, and secant, cutting, or intersecting the surface.

Here at Monticello, there are two main projections we need to know: the Lambert Conformal Conic and the Transverse Mercator Projection. 

The Lambert conformal conic, means that a cone wrapped around the earth, with the projection surface touching the ellipsoid surface along two standard parallels, and this projection has the least amount of distortion runs along the east and west parallels. The Transverse Mercator Projection means that a cylindrical projection surface touches the ellipsoid surface along one central north and south meridian, and the least amount of distortion is along the north/south parallel. Within the United States, the U.S. State Plane Coordination System is used as an underlying projection, utilizing the Lambert Conformal Conic for states with large east/west areas, and the Transverse Mercator for the states with large north/south areas. On an even larger scale (again), the Universal Transverse Mercator Coordination System (UTM) is the underlying projection for the world.

Now, how does all these datums and map projections relate to archaeology? I’m about to show you. The bottom line is, you need to know your map projections and datums so that you can know what grid your site is on, in order to fully, and accurately record your dig. In the case of Monticello, it is also useful to know that the local grid system (VSP- Virginia State Plane) will be easy for your archaeological research design, than using the global grid (GPS). Officially, Monticello is under the N. Am. Datum of ’83, the Lambert Conformal Conic Projection, and the Virginia State Plane System. So the next time you look at a map- try to test your new geodesy, datum, and map projection skills!

P.S. I will be posting the blog from Monday's fieldtrip to Williamsburg and James Fort by Friday night- with pictures!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Day 5- The Ultimate Riddle

Day 5: The Ultimate Riddle

Again, Tropical Storm Andrea has kept the rain right above us here in Charlottesville, VA. Today was originally scheduled to be the Monticello Field School’s fieldtrip to the archaeological excavations in the Coastal Plane. On the original agenda was visiting the excavations at James Fort, on Jamestown Island, the Jamestown Rediscovery Project, the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The fieldtrip also included a visit to the excavations at the Bray School Site (an eighteenth century African-American school), but due to the rain, Dr. Neiman was able to move our trip to Monday but unfortunately without the Bray School visit on the agenda.

The lecture this morning brought a lot of fascinating information and theories to the table; it dove deeper into the multiple facets of archaeology, which included functionalism. The lecture began on the topic of household archaeology when there are no houses. Households are defined as a unit of economic and social cooperation, and are formed through cooperation, co-residence, and enterprise. In the case of slave houses however, cooperation was not necessarily founded under any one roof, co-residents formed communities of practice, and thus created and a community through mutual engagement in a joint enterprise defined and sustained through practice, these communities developed out of ways which people participated in actions whose meanings are negotiated with others (cooperation). Functionalism, a term taken from cultural sociology, into archaeology, in hopes of creating a new field where how people worked and lived in the household setting is determined from the artifacts found. Each individual person in a society may have different takes on what is happening around them. Households are natural social and economic communities, cooperation should naturally occur, but no framework of cooperation for when people choose to cooperate or when they refuse not to. This brings into play the Prisoner’s Dilemma attributed to John Nash (see chart below). 

It breaks down into an individual chooses between cooperation or defect, their choice is effected by the other individual’s choice, and the payoffs are symmetrical. The lecture went into the deep mathematical material needed to work out the probability, interactions, and payoffs, which I will not cover in this blog. The key concept of the Prisoner’s Dilemma is the overall success of the defection will spread throughout the group (or community) and the defectors will takeover- yet, this result does not have the community’s interest at heart. A population of defection has a payoff of one, whereas a population of cooperation has a payoff of 3, ultimately causing the community to get the worst payoff.

Similar to today’s community formations (i.e. diaspora communities), several mechanisms for correlation in the Prisoner’s Dilemma can be found, and easily understood. Kinship, or “kin selection,” meaning if my best friend chooses to cooperate, I will choose to cooperate as well. Direct Reciprocity, meaning the conditional cooperation based on personal experience, such as a group of friend choosing the same strategy in order to purposefully correlate with one another. Indirect Reciprocity, is the conditional cooperation based on social reputation, a simple example is gossip, knowing other’s social reputations before deciding to defect or cooperate with them. In the case of slavery, most of them had been ripped from the original kinship networks of their home countries. The slave process also randomizes people in the slave community together, into new, forced communities. So how can enslaved people re-establish cooperative bonds within their community?
Finally, here we start to come full circle to the previous material of the fieldschool (and the blog), to the sub-floor pit (“Hidey holes”) occurrences in the Chesapeake region and the reasons behind them. Slaves were placed with unrelated individuals in housing, meaning random interactions, and cooperation was formed through social reputation of others behaviors, these pits represent one way to make other people’s reputations known (holding someone accountable if they stole from your sub-floor pit), and that in turn makes cooperation with others easier. In the case of multiple pits, the slaves chose not to share a single pit, again because it was a random grouping, making the reputations of others (cooperation or defection) unknown. An enslaved person would likely trust the community to stop someone from stealing from their pit, or holding them accountable, then risking sharing a pit with a random individual whose reputation is unknown.

From here the lecture transition into house size and cost. At Monticello, Jefferson began as a tobacco farmer and housed his slaves in multiple large log cabins near the tobacco fields, and later when he switched to wheat farming, he began to place his slaves in multiple smaller log cabins. Partially this was for farming convenience of the smaller wheat crops, but it was also for economic purposes. Three smaller log cabins took 262lbs. of Chestnut wood to build, with dimensions of total perimeters of 156ft. and a total area of 96ft, the single large log cabin took 675lbs. of Chestnut, 504ft. total perimeter and 504ft of total area. Rather than build three small log cabins, Jefferson knew it was logically cheaper (by 111lbs. of Chestnut) to build one big structure for his slaves and group them together at random as tobacco working gangs. Later, when Jefferson switched to wheat farming, he allows the slaves to live in the smaller, more expensive to build houses, and in these smaller houses the sub-floor pits simply disappear. Is this because the slaves were allowed to choose who they had to live with, of course choosing people they trusted or were related to, or is this one of the incentives Jefferson offered if the slaves behaved without an overseer (his wheat fields were too far placed and Jefferson did not want to have to hire more overseers =$$)? If the slaves behaved, could they have been allowed to choose who they lived with?

Now we drift back into the subject, household archaeology without the houses, and creating a research design focusing on an archaeological spatial structure. For our example, we used “Site 8" which dates from 1770-1800 here at Monticello. Through correspondence analysis can be combined into a single stratified sample, meanin one concise data representation from 266 five-foot excavated quadrats. In order to effectively analyze the data collected from each quadrat, this correspondence analysis is necessary. Correspondence analysis takes six dimensions and shrinks it down into more manageable data for us as archaeologists to use and make inferences, but also for future archaeologists to observe.

The data that was seen from the 266 excavated quadrats presented fascinating images to hypothesize about. Within Site 8, a north and a south community are present. These two communities move further and further apart on site, yet share similar ceramic popularity. This could represent two families simply expanding or just shared trade networks of two separate communities. So far in the southern group no pits have been found yet or they don’t have them, whereas the north group has pits and the size of them increases over time. The ceramic remains (sherds) found across the site, in both the north and the south, provide some very compelling evidence as well. The ceramic density is larger in the North area of Site 8 and small in the south, the ceramic artifact size is small in the south (small sherds) and large in the north. Ceramics are bigger in the south but found in larger quantity in the northern area of Site 8. This could suggest a difference between yard maintenance attitudes between the north and south communities. Perhaps the north cleaned up their space and properly disposed of their trash, and the south did not. Ceramics is not the only instance where this correlation occurs (remember, consistency is key for archaeological science). Whole nails are found in the south area (didn’t clean up) and broken nails are found in the north.

To close the day, we stated our tentative conclusions about Site 8. We believe the southern community to be an early occupation date, and the north to be a later settlement. Later on in time, the north group moves further north, building bigger, separate sub-floor pits. The south group has no pits. This may be a sampling error, a sign of poverty, or a sign that they were the dominating community between the two. There is no site maintenance in the southern community, they were collectively messy, and acted as though they may pick up and leave tomorrow (vs. what may be settled families in the north community). Are these simply transient individuals or a high resident turnover rate? Only time will tell. The fun part (and somewhat frustrating) about archaeology, is that all of these observations and inferences about the Site 8 north and south communities could be absolutely wrong, and tomorrow may hold the find to answer the riddle. SO WE DIG!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Day 4- Rainy Day

Day 4: Rainy Day Lecture

Due to Tropical storm Andrea, our field school was moved indoors (no site digging) for both Thursday and Friday class, so I am trying to play catch up. I apologize for the delay in my daily activity update, but I promise to be updated by the middle of this week, so you can stay tuned for more fun adventure updates to come!

Thursday morning began with glass identification and characterization, which outlined the different types of glass we might be finding on our Monticello digs, such as the Dark Green Bottle Glass (DGBG) which I have mentioned before. Aside from the simpler side of glass identification, we learned about the seals which would have been a hung piece of decorated glass (separate from the bottle glass) with the owner’s seal impressed on it. This was meant to prevent any theft of the owner’s stored foods and spirits, and is now a key find which can help to not only date, but also possibly identify the person to whom they once belonged. Within the category of glass we discussed the traditional pharmaceutical bottles, made of non-leaded glass to make various dark colors, and lead glass to make the bottle clear. These pharmaceutical bottles were often hand-blown with molded design or branding for the specific product it held. This lecture surrounded Ivor Noël Hume’s “Bottles, Glass Liquor; Bottles, Glass Pharmaceutical, Drinking Glasses and Decanters, and Tobacco Pipes and Smoking Equipment,” in A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial American (University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia), which also broke down the size and shape alterations of wine bottles throughout the decades of the colonial period, which has been a terrific reference resource for me as a field school student trying my hand at historical archaeology for the first time.
Image #1 (18th century, lead-glass decanter shapes and various designs, Noël Hume, 197.)

Moving from the wine bottles and pharmaceuticals, we began what I found to be a brilliant lecture on using the various popular styles of stemware on wine glasses from the early Colonial period. Leaded glass, which causes its clear appearance, was used to make the stemware of the early American colonies (England and Europe, as well). The drinking glass stems from across the decades of colonial sites are another tool archaeologists can turn to and examine the designs to accurately pinpoint a site’s occupation timeline by a certain group of people. The balusters on drinking glasses, which is the entire section of the “stem” of the glass, were decorated with various designs and bubbles (air twist & enamel twist, out of fashion by 1775) in order to determine the most-likely date range of site occupation on multiple levels, be that either with ceramics, tableware, or glassware.
Image #2 (Various drinking glass stems, or “blausters,” and the designs of different decades, Noël Hume, 191.)

Continuing on from the glassware, were the tobacco pipes, which were mostly locally made for the Monticello area and were originally peace gifts from the Native Americans from the nearby lands, given in trade, or as symbols of cooperation. The pipes from the early colonial period (Monticello as well), were made of red-bodied clay and stone, until the European began importing clay pipes (white in color), made of kaolin clay from Britain or the Netherlands. Pipes as archaeology artifacts often have teeth marks from where the owner would run the pipe along, or through his teeth and were usually left unglazed, although the mouthpiece may have glaze. A slip is poured into a pipe mold and creates a very smooth surface, which is easily separated from the gritty pipes made by the Native Americans. The bowl size on a pipe can also be used to make inferences surrounding what the current price of tobacco might have been during the colonial times, this is due to the tobacco quality as well, if you purchased poor (cheap) tobacco, you are going to need more of it to stuff in the bowl to smoke with any satisfaction.
Image #3 (English clay, American, and Virginian tobacco pipes, Noël Hume, 303.)

After this lecture, we moved on to what Dr. Neiman refers to as Geekology. Today’s subject was Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis in the Field of Archaeology. I enjoyed the fact that throughout this lecture, both Dr. Neiman and our TAs kept saying, “It will be okay.” At the end of this lecture, I was the only one who seemed to really grasp the concepts and this is my first-go, so trust me- you will make it. Qualitative Analysis is the naming and classification of multiple categories, including the use of specifics, such as naming (i.e. ceramic), nominal (numbering from 1- any number), and ordinal (i.e. smallest to largest, rankings), both of these are related. Quantitative covers the dimension of artifacts, the location, frequency (count), weight, ratio scale, abundance, and percentages of artifacts found in a quadrat or other dig location. These forms of analysis bring up the discussion of accuracy versus precision. Accuracy is the degree of bias and precision is the spread or range of values. In any science, when regarding a certain result or outcome you must always look for reliability, or the ability to produce the same results, this is the same in the field of archaeology.

In order to ensure our artifacts are recorded correctly, we use both direct and indirect measurements. Direct measurement means using a known measuring system, such as length, width, height, count, or frequency. Indirect measurement means taking a direct measurement and making an inference about the artifact or site, for example, the size of the sub-floor pits to gage the number of inhabitants of a slave home, texture description (due to the level of subjectivity in interpretation), averages and estimations (artifacts found per quadrat). In order for archaeologists to put all of their fieldwork into prospective, it is necessary to graph, on a large scale the specific artifact finds you want to look at and begin forming multiple hypotheses off the results you find. In order to successfully graph, we used the Binford formula, which for the purpose of length, I will skip over. It is through the Binford formula, one is able to take a tray full of ceramic sherds, separate them into their various categories, count them out, average them, and then begin the seriation process or ordering the ceramics from earliest to latest. This process also ensures that as much information from your excavation site is available for future archaeologists to reference and review as well. You never know what the future holds! 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Day 3- Plate Party: Here a Ware, There a Ware...

Day 3- Plate Party: Here a Ware, There a Ware...

Day 3: 

Ceramics, the plates we use everyday for meals and drink may eventually tell the historians who studied us in the future a lot about our everyday lives, class categorization, chronological dating of cities and towns, and whether we used our ceramics for purely utilitarian purposes or for high-end dining. One of the many jobs which fall under archaeologists today is having the the ability to form multiple hypothesis, statements, and inferences about a community based on the artifacts found in the outlying areas. Here at Monticello, I learned how simple ceramics can allow the team of archaeologists here to narrow down the timeline of the various settled communities of overseers and slaves, but also to separate the differences between two nearby communities (in social ranking, economic income, cleaning habits, and more), only by observing and knowing the different kinds of ceramics found in that site over the years of occupation and outgrowth. 

This morning's lecture would be the foundation on which we would begin to build our own personal archaeology resources, Ms. Lindsay Bloch a historical archaeologist who specializes in the coarse earthenwares and ceramics of the Chesapeake region, along with Ms. Beth Sawyer the head Monticello Archaeological Analyst, spoke to the archaeology field school on the often unrecognized importance ceramics can play in the field. When discussing ceramics there are three categories we pay attention to: earthenwares (divided into coarse earthenwares, delft or tin-enameled earthenwares, and refined earthenwares), Stoneware, and Porcelain. Within these three basic categories, are multiple sub-categories, and within the sub-categories, even more sub-categories, and each of these categories are used to narrow down the exact dates in which a certain dig site was positively settled by a type of community. 

Beginning with the category of earthenwares, we began discussing the coarse earthenwares which date back to the 1600 B.C.E. and are often Native American or Colonoware (made by slaves and Native Americans) if found on Monticello dig sites (located in the Piedmont region). The purpose of learning about the multiple ware types, falls to the fact that we need to be able to recognize these ceramics when they have been covered in dirt and eroded by natural elements for decades (even hundreds of years), so as archaeologists we have to be able to recognize the glazing and clay-type to move forward with classification and chronological dating techniques afterwards. Earthenware (includes Colonoware) is hand-built and shows multiple natural inclusions (material used in the clay between the interior and exterior surfaces, i.e. mica, sand), surfaces erode very easily over time, and has more influence from Native and African ceramics rather than European. This type of ceramic is most often found in the Chesapeake sites of Virginia, for example Williamsburg, rather than the Piedmont region. 

Within the category of coarse earthenwares are Redware, Buckley, and North Midland Slipware. Each of these sub-categories are able to be successfully identified in the field, after years of erosion and natural decay due to the various characteristics belonging to each individual ware type. Redware (so named due to the red or pink coloration depending on the iron content in the clay) has a lead-glaze on one exterior, obvious ridges from being made on a manual throwing wheel, and was readily available by the American colonial time period (Date range, DR: 1600-1800). Buckley is named for Buckley, Wales, the geological region with lead clays, is based on a clay paste and had a lead-glaze, with visible layers of red clay or white clay (the combination makes a stronger pot), and contains rocks and clay, giving it a literally coarse feeling (DR: 1720-1775). North Midland Slipware is so named due to the slipped decorations on the ceramic (made by mixing clay with water and painting design), this design process is sometimes created with a press molding system, especially on larger flatware and tablewares, and often have a cobble (pie crust-like edges) rim (DR: 1670-1795). 

Moving on from these coarse earthenwares, we transition into the refined earthenwares, the only difference between the two categories is the amount of inclusions found in the clay, refined has less inclusions than coarse. Within the refined category is Delft, Wheildonware, Creamware, Pearlware, and Whiteware. Delft is made with a tin glaze (tin enamel) which sits up on the surface, may have inclusions, and will often have a Chinese-inspired decoration (chinoiserie) visible as a hand-painted blue design in the underglaze (DR: 1600-1802, drops off by the Revolution). Wheildonware has mixed colorings, clouded or tortoise shell-like appearance of multiple colors, and has molded decorations of dot, diaper and basket decorations, or the brown and creamy (lead-glaze) white tortoise shell decoration (DR: 1740-1775). Creamware was commonly made by Wheildon and Wedgwood through use of press molding technology, which allowed for mass manufacture, designed rim patterns include a scalloped edge, a royal pattern (Queensware), was lead-glazed and can have polychrome hand-painted decorations after firing and then fired again (due to this- the decorations feel raised), a technique known as transfer printing was also frequently used to allow a very fine level of detail of decoration but leave a stipple or line marks from the copper used to transfer the design (DR: 1762-1820). Pearlware gives off a blueish-green tint and may have pooled glazed on bottom rim, reflects the fashion of chinoiserie (attempts in ceramic making to get closer and closer to the Chinese porcelain quality from China), both hand-painted and transfer printed designs, has shell edge designed rims (very popular on pearlware) or scalloped edges with painted rims (blue and green are most common), teawares may have polychrome decorations in the form of dendritic (tree-like) motifs, pinwheel patterns, willow patterns which consist of an island with three people standing on a bridge, a boat on the water, and a pair of songbirds, and a wild rose pattern (DR: 1775-1830). Whiteware (ironstone) often have an alkaline glaze and are very white, not cream colored, the designs are most often transfer printed, rather than hand-painted (DR: post 1820).

Going from earthenwares into stonewares, the ceramic import switches focus as well, going from mainly England to both Germany and England and are not porous (permeable to water and other liquids), this category includes Westerwald, British brown, Staffordshire, American Stonewares, and White Salt-Glaze Stoneware. Westerwald is a German salt-glazed stoneware with a very dense clay body, light to medium grey in color, often decorated with stamped flower motifs and other abstract designs filled in with cobalt blue, visible "chatter" marks from the potter's tools are often evident on the exterior surface (DR: post 1600-c.1775; blue and purple, 1650-c.1725). British brown are brown (hence the name) salt-glazed vessels, including Bristol-glazed bottles (tan-colored bottles covered in two glazes, one clear, the other pale yellow), developed by Amatt and Powell pottery in Bristol  (DR: 1835-1915). . British brown also includes Fulham salt-glazes stoneware which is characterized by its salmon colored interior and are dipped in iron oxide (brown) which often covers only the upper half of the body (DR: 1671-1800). British brown includes Nottingham as well, a brown stoneware with a lustrous or metallic brown slipped exterior and has rustication (tiny fragments of clay applied to exterior surfaces) is a common decorative technique, and a thin layer of white slip can been seen in the cross-section between the brown exterior and the tan clay body (DR: 1683-1810). The Staffordshire brown is virtually identical to the Nottingham stoneware minus the presence of the underlying white slip (DR: 1700-1800). White Salt-Glazed Stoneware can be dipped or slipped, each have a nearly white clay body, molded vessel rims, with various distinctive rim designs, most common being the sprigged decoration, overglazed polychrome colors are also used in White Salt-Glazed Stoneware (DR: 1715-1805). American Stoneware may be a glossy brown known as an Albany slip, some with salt-glaze and some with Alkaline glaze, with simple floral or stylized motifs hand-painted or stenciled in cobalt blue, William Rogers of Yorktown, VA (1720-1750) produced stoneware in the Chesapeake region (DR: 1720-pres.)

Covering both earthenwares and stonewares, brings us to Porcelain, the most expensive and high-class tableware available during the American Colonial period. Chinese porcelain is the main category we focus on here at Monticello sites, due to the fact that it accounts for nearly all of the porcelain found on colonial and early Federal period archaeological sites. After the Revolution, the hard-past Continental porcelain made its way across the ocean to American, where it boomed to popularity with its beautiful designs. Chinese porcelain is composed of kaolin clay and petuntse (a finely ground feldspathic rock), producing a very hard paste body that is white in color and very glossy, with the feldspathic glazes causing a bluish tint. In the blue underglaze, painted floral and landscape designs are most common, with the cobalt blue ranging from dark to medium light hues, overglaze colors vary from red, black, green, pink, to pale green (DR: defined dates made by decorative technique used, post 1600). 

Believe it or not, after this lecture we continued on into the field for the day, continuing with the excavation of Site 8 and our individual quadrats. On our dig we were able to close our A Horizon (top soil), graph the quadrat (including all cobbles and pebbles), and begin to get down to our next context, which we believe to be the first layer of a historical plowzone. Among the artifacts we found today were large sections of DGBG (dark green bottle glass), porcelain which was a big find for Site 8, refined earthenwares, more wrought nails, and a portion of a copper belt buckle, which the TAs loved! Tomorrow is supposed to begin a few days of rain due to the tropical storm Andrea, so hopefully we will still get our chance in the field to dig some more, stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Day 2- Geoarchaeology Geekiness

Day 2:

Oh my goodness, well today was my first day physically working on a dig as a real-life archaeology student at Monticello. It was beyond the mere description of words, but this is a blog, so I will have to try. 

In the morning, we gathered bright and early again and immediately went into lecture with Dr. Neiman. The topic was the difference, science, and inferences we can decipher when we, as archaeologists, examine the various layers of soil and sediments. Dr. Neiman continually stressed the important difference between the two terms, soil is the result of in situ (original position) pedogenic process at work (weathering) on stable parent material, and sediment is particles accumulated or precipitated by natural and cultural processes. Historians and amateur archaeologists use these terms interchangeably, this is not the case, as the archaeological record (a scatter of artifacts in their matrices) is defined by the distinct separation and notation of these two different types of horizons.

In regards to sediment, we discussed the clastic (fragments, called clasts, of pre-existing minerals and rock), chemical, and organic accumulation which can makeup the sediment deposits. Clasts can result from deposits made by water, gravity, wind, ice, or people. For example, when water transports particles, they are carried along watercourses until the water’s velocity is not great enough to keep them in suspension and they settle out as alluvium. Alluvium is the general term for the sediment deposited by rivers, including riverbeds, along its margins, and is often rich in organic matter. Similar to this, relating to alluvium, is colluvium. Colluvium is the general term for the accumulations of sediment carried by gravity down hill slopes, these are example of clast. 

Within sediments, archaeologists look for homogeneous zones, which are visible through lithology (clast composition and arrangement), these are referred to as lithostratigraphic units (layers, zones) and are a tool used by geoarchaeologists and archaeologists in order to recognize separate deposits within the matrix under excavation. Aside from lithostratigraphic units, chemostratigraphic units, and biostratigraphic units (fauna, pollen, and phytoliths), and of course artifacts (enthostratigraphic units) are also used to determine the composition of the various sediment horizons. After going over the various methods, both natural and cultural, by which the sediment horizons might arrive at the site were discussed, we gathered the equipment and headed out to our first day in the field for excavation!

After a brief trek through the beautiful forest of Monticello Mountain, we arrived at Site 8 (the name of our dig site), and broke into small work groups of three to get down to learning and understanding the basics for the necessary field documentation techniques and forms necessary for every excavation. Since archaeology in nature is a destructive process, once you dig an area of land, you are unable to retract any of your actions. This is why a large amount of our time in the field is devoted to paperwork, at least at the beginning, we notated the elevation of the entire quadrat (the 5x5 section of our small group's excavation, known as area 407), and determined the composition of the top-soil (A Horizon) as 2.5YR 3/3 on the Munsell chart. 

Once the opening paperwork for our quadrat was recorded, we took to our shovels and began the process of schnitting, which is a specialized shoveling technique used by archaeologists to minimally disturb the horizons. The second part to this process is simply placing all the displaced soil from the quadrat into buckets, which are then taken to a shifter to be screened over a large wheelbarrow. The process of screening requires close attention to detail, because although the screen may catch various artifacts, they are still covered in soil, it is up to the archaeologist to be able to spot an artifact (by roundness, evenness, color, etc.) covered in dirt and then clean it slightly for further examination. After displacing the stable organic plant material of the A Horizon, each team member grabbed their trowel (hand tool used for precision in shaving down the horizons within the matrix) and began evenly lowering our quadrat to reveal more of the soil beneath the top soil. 

Within the A Horizon, my team successfully recovered three wrought nails, slate, redware, soapstone, the stem of a pipe (imported from Britain), and a decorated button. At the end of the day, we had closed the A Horizon, and when a beautiful dose of the Monticello red clay soil tainted everyone's clothing, we all packed up to head out. Closing the site for the day involves ensuring that your quadrat is completely covered with a tarp (in the event of rain), measuring and notating the closing elevations, and keeping track of your artifact bag the entire time. Once back at headquarters, each team checks in their artifact bag for the day's dig (only if you successfully closed a horizon and took closing elevations) and then head home for the day. 

Today, I was able to take my love of history off the page, the intellectual context, became a physical experience. I held a section of a tobacco pipe which likely dates back to the mid-eighteenth century - that feeling was unreal. Personally, I did not even mind the heat, bugs, or physical labor of the day because of the immense reward I received. I welcome the coming days with eager anticipation and excitement. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Day 1- Hidey Holes

Day 1:

As Mr. Jefferson put it, this journey centers around my desire to strengthen my own educational pursuits in the field of historical studies and now archaeology, in hopes of gaining all the knowledge possible to make me a well-rounded historian in the future. The program I am currently studying with is the Thomas Jefferson Archaeological Field School, which operates on 2,500 acres of the once 5,000 acre Jefferson land holding in partnership with The Thomas Jefferson Foundation, in order to excavate the slave quarters surrounding the main house (Monticello) and farm (Monticello gardens).

Today was the first day all of the students actually got on "site," which for the program serves about 1.8 miles of land and excavation pits, basically today was orientation. We arrived at the Monticello Visitor Center (located about .45 miles downhill from the main house) at 8:20AM and immediately went straight into lectures on the previous night's reading assignment by Dr. Fraser D. Neiman. The lecture was a crash course in everything we (as Monticello archaeologists) need to know, topics primarily ranged from the beginning of the Chesapeake region's geoarchaeological history, when the European and N. American plates collided beneath Pangea (forming the Appalachian Mountain range) and thus created a certain erosion process which left Virginia split into two different types of soil, thick clay soil (the red clay of Monticello or the Piedmont) and the soft coastal soils (Virginia Coastal region, i.e., Jamestown Fort and Settlement).

Another topic deeply stressed in today's lectures surrounded Thomas Jefferson and Monticello's transitions from a tobacco plantation (c. 1770-1796) to a wheat plantation (c. 1796-1828) and what these transitions meant for the enslaved community's working and living conditions. Mainly we discussed the change in the expansion of slave houses, in relation to the switch from tobacco to wheat, which was a surprisingly fascinating lecture! During the lecture we discussed and tried to figure the reasoning behind the shift in the slave's house size. Various hypothesis included the practical agricultural reasons for the change in size, when planting tobacco an agricultural technique known as "swidden" farming, this form of farming requires large gang labor with one overseer to maintain work progress, then when Jefferson decided to switch to wheat in 1790 (before the outbreak of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars), the agricultural approach changed as well. Wheat required only small group of slave workers (opposed to large gangs as with tobacco), but a larger number of overseers to maintain surveillance. Jefferson did not wish to hire the numerous overseers his wheat crops would have required, he allowed his slaves (cheaper than white overseers) to control and oversee their own small work groups on what is known as "quarter farms," and it is for this reason the slaves of Monticello began to gain marginal improvements in their own lifestyles, such as housing. 

As a result, the slave quarters went from large log structures with several "floor pits" or "Hidey holes" (as I will discuss later), to a smaller log structures with fewer and fewer sub-floor pits, and eventually in 1800 the floor pits disappear entirely. The sub-floor pits support the possibility that slave's were able to choose their own housing arrangements as a result of the change from to tobacco to wheat, due to the "safe deposit box" theory behind these sub-floor pits. In the early, large group slave quarters (while Monticello was a tobacco farm) these sub-floor pits served as safety deposit boxes for the multiple residents. Due to the fact that these large groupings of slaves had no control over who lived with them, the sub-floor pits were used for individual safe storage from the other roommates, this brings forward individual accountability for thieves within the slave community. 

This summer, our program's excavation of "Site 6" (c. 1800-1830) and "Site 8" (c. 1775-1800) will search for these sub-floor pits, the housing foundations (if any remain), and any and all ceramics, iron work, or any leftover independent materials to reverse engineer these structures to determine more about the enslaved community's life at Jefferson's Monticello. I will be posting every day about that day's lecture or field work to keep you informed on my learning adventure! STAY TUNED!