Today is our official first day of the 2014 MTSU Archaeological Field School. We had a hot start to our field season (high of 90F — nearly 15 degrees above average), but were fortunate to have a large shade tree under which to set up our field office. Our field season is seven weeks long…seven weeks seems like a really long time when you are sweating in the trenches of prehistory, but in reality, it is never enough time to accomplish all the work we might want to. We know our time is limited, and since we can’t predict when we might have days that are rained out, we wanted to hit the ground running. Last week we met for our orientation meeting (right in the middle of finals week), and yesterday the RCARP staff met at the Magnolia Valley site to plan where geophysical and subsurface survey work would take place. Today, once we arrived on site, we broke into two groups. One group worked with Tim, our geophysicist, and the others worked on subsurface survey.
We had four groups of two on the subsurface survey and decided to focus on an area that had the possibility of having some intact artifacts and deposits, but also was likely partially disturbed by the installation of a roadway and utility lines. Learning to dig round holes and screen the dirt for artifacts seems like it would be an easy task, but there are many steps to follow and data to record to ensure the accuracy of our work and that will we be able to reconstruct what we did at a later date in the lab. All of our shovel tests will be dug to at least 50 cm below surface. If we continue to find artifacts at that depth we excavate until we are 20 cm below any artifact layers. For several of the shovel tests we decided to use a bucket auger in the bottom. We were able to attain several meters in depth…no artifacts, but we did learn about the soil deposition of that specific area.
The remote sensing group consisted of four students plus Tim and one of our visiting archaeologists, Alesha. The goal of the remote sensing is to use several pieces of high-tech equipment to “see” where unusual features might be located below ground without digging. It is very similar to a CT scan used in medicine to identify abnormal objects (such as tumors or bone fractures). Both are non-invasive. Both differentiate between “normal” and “abnormal” features/objects. Both require the anomalies to be “ground-truth-ed” or investigated with more traditional methods to determine exactly what they are. Both require highly trained and skilled individuals to operate the machinery and analyze the data. In archaeology, remote sensing data allows us to refine our research design and focus our excavations on areas of highest interest. This helps to save time and money, but most importantly allows us to excavate less of a site, thus causing a lot less damage to irreplaceable cultural resources.
Today one of the students in the remote sensing group was assigned the task of blogging about his experience. Here is an excerpt from Daniel’s day:
Within the enclosure we set up a grid consisting of 25 meter by 25 meter blocks. We then laid down nylon ropes to mark the transects where we would conducted three our survey using three types of remote sensing equipment. Considering archaeology is ultimately a destructive science, that is, when a site is excavated it is essentially destroyed, these methods eliminate a lot of unnecessary digging. Our use of this equipment took the majority of our day. This is a fairly tedious process, nevertheless, as the images began to reveal themselves, we realized the tremendous amount of data we were privy to. It is far too early to speculate on what some of the anomalies we can “see” might be (well, except for the very straight line running to the water meter — that screams water line!). For those of us just gaining experience with this technology, the image was an important one as we could clearly see areas we need to return to for further investigations.
Tim DeSmet, conducting survey.
MTSU Archaeological Field School student, Daniel, learning how to run the equipment.
Tim DeSmet sharing some of the early data images….we are intrigued!
We will investigate some of these anomalies this summer…stay tuned!