Magnolia Valley Field School: Week 5 Recap

— post by Dr. Peres

We have just finished Week 5 of the MTSU Field School at Magnolia Valley. This means only TWO WEEKS left before we close the site.

Monday was a complete wash and we spent the day in the lab washing, sorting, and bagging artifacts for analysis later this summer.

We were able to start our Tuesday at the field site and get in a few hours of work before the rain rolled in and we had to close up the site for the day. Just as we finished closing up the site and were preparing to head back to campus, we noticed the field school van had a punctured tire and was quickly going flat. Luckily, Field Assistant Joey K., was able to change the tire so we could get it back to motor pool and get a “fresh” van.  The rest of the day was spent in the MTSU Archaeology Teaching Lab. Jesse gave a mini-lecture on lithic analysis and I gave a talk on how to prepare a Curriculum Vitae (CV) — basically a long resume that details one’s education, work experience, research, publications, etc.

Field Assistant Joey Keasler changes the flat tire on the field school van (with help from the students). Thanks guys!

Field Assistant Joey Keasler changes the flat tire on the field school van (with help from the students). Thanks guys!

Artifact washing in the MTSU Archaeology Lab (Nathan Allison in the foreground, Josh Bicknell in the background; hands belong to various students who wish to remain anonymous).

Artifact washing in the MTSU Archaeology Lab (Nathan Allison in the foreground, Josh Bicknell in the background; hands belong to various students who wish to remain anonymous).

 

Finally, Wednesday morning arrived, sunny and mild. Everyone was ready to be on-site and move more dirt! We are all in the groove of the daily morning routine of uncovering the units and setting up the equipment in the mornings, schnitting, troweling, filling out paperwork, and screening for artifacts. Everyone knows what an artifact is — any object made, modified, or used by humans.

Obvious artifact: stemmed spear point made from chert.

Obvious artifact: stemmed spear point made from chert.

 

This week we introduced the students to the art form of feature identification. A feature is a non-moveable area that indicates human activity — such as a hearth, building wall trench, or storage pit.  Features are some of the most important things we identify in the field and why we excavate in a controlled scientific manner. Identifying features is a bit of an art form  and involves a lot of standing back and studying the soils exposed in the excavation units to determine changes in colors/textures/inclusions. Sometimes these changes are flick-you-on-the-forehead-obvious; other times it takes the trained eye of a seasoned archaeologist to tease them out.

Jessica O. trowels the floor of this unit to expose Feature 6.

Jessica O. trowels the floor of this unit to expose Feature 6. The unit directly to the west (the right in the photo) will be opened next to capture more of the feature. 

Can you spy the feature (Feature 4) in this color photo? (Scroll down to the next picture to see the unit in black & white.)

Feature 4, color photo (not an official photo for curation purposes).

Feature 4, color photo (not an official photo for curation purposes).

 

Same unit, only with a black and white filter applied (again – photo is for illustrative purposes, NOT an official curatorial photo). NOW do you see the feature? (Hint: it is dark soil on the lower 1/2 of the unit).

 

Feature 4, black and white filter applied.

Feature 4, black and white filter applied.

 

So far we have identified 5 cultural features (meaning ones created by humans) and one non-cultural feature (meaning likely remnants of where a tree or root once were). The five cultural features are in areas that we targeted specifically due to the remote sensing data Tim DeSmet generated early in the project. Over the next two weeks we will continue to expose these features by opening up adjacent units. We will then document them (by mapping the plan view and photographs) before excavating them. More on that in a later post.

 

Looking to see who visited us this week? Check out our Facebook page and Flickr account for photos!

 

 

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Rain, Rain, Go AWAY!

Rain, Rain Go Away!

 — post by field school student, Taylor L.

We got lucky with that storm. It passed to our west/northwest.

We got lucky with that storm. It passed to our west/northwest.

This week we have spent just as much time dodging the rain storms as excavating at Magnolia Valley! We were in the lab all day on Monday, washing and sorting artifacts from another site, Black Cat Cave.

Rain day = washing artifacts from Black Cat Cave.

Rain day = washing artifacts from Black Cat Cave.

Tuesday saw us on-site bright and early (we arrive by 7:30 am to set up all of the equipment and get going). We made the most of the morning before the storms rolled in. Even though we did not accomplish what we wanted to do, I can say my partner, Clacey and I are excited about the new unit that we opened and were able to get all the top sod off of. Through this new unit we may be able to piece the puzzle together a bit from the data we collected from remote sensing.

As the storms began to roll in we packed up and decided to relocate to the lab in Peck Hall. We had a brief delay as the MTSU van got a flat tire. Fortunately, Field Assistant Joey Keasler, was able to get it changed and us on the road before the sky really opened up!

Field Assistant Joey Keasler changes the flat tire on the field school van (with help from the students). Thanks guys!

Field Assistant Joey Keasler changes the flat tire on the field school van (with help from the students). Thanks guys!

Since we could not be outside learning hands on we had to resort to some good ole fashion learning in a class room with two mini-lectures/workshops. We had washed and sorted all of artifacts and had to wait for them to finish drying before we can re-bag. Co-director Jesse Tune gave us a crash course on lithics. After begin out in the field for the past four weeks it was nice to refresh our skills on identifying worked rock versus natural broken rock and identifying bifaces,cores and flakes.

Jesse Tune prepares to talk to the field school students about lithic analysis.

Jesse Tune prepares to talk to the field school students about lithic analysis.

Through this project we are trying to bring the past back to life, but as we lose ourselves in the past we sometimes forget about what lies for us in the future. Following Jesse’s lecture, Dr. Peres presented on the basics of the types of professional  and learning activities, outside of regular classes, we might engage in to better prepare us for life after graduation. We learned what a Curriculum Vitae (CV) is (it is a document that lists — and sometimes explains — a person’s education, research/job interests, special skills, publications, field and lab experience, etc., and is longer than a standard resume) and how to construct one. This lecture put a lot of things in perspective for me and what direction I want to go in with archaeology. Hopefully we can dodge the rain and spend the rest of the week out on the field!