Posts Tagged With: Archaeology

The Dirt on Archaeology

To celebrate the last day of classes (unless you are an unfortunate soul with Friday classes), we have another student blog post. JC Jones gives us the Dirt on Archaeology.

That’s right we’re talking about the dirt, or more appropriately soil. Specifically the layers of the soil. Its most commonly associated with the passage of time. Different layers in the ground are slowly deposited over time, and eventually this leads to distinct layers. When I was working at the Benedictine Monastery and Freedmen’s School site, usually the soil was differing shades of gray. It was bland and somewhat disappointing to be honest. In class we heard about how cool stratigraphy could be, and then we finally go out to dig and there is barely any difference.

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Test Unit 5 at the Benedictine Monastery and Freedmen’s School showing subtle changes in stratigraphy, or layers of soil and rock.

Then I got the opportunity to participate in a dig at the Sorrel Weed House, and this showed me the second and more useful side to stratigraphy, features! We were working in the carriage house basement, and we had to remove a brick floor to get to the soil layers. Once that was done a major difference in the soil could be seen. Most of the soil was the same color, but to one side of the test pit was a large black semicircle. Basically someone in the past had dug a hole and filled it in again. It’s a fairly simple task, but being able to see that decades later is amazing. Then as we started digging down further, the soil had other changes, and the excavation was done using natural layers. Every dig I’ve ever done has been based on arbitrary levels since there was little variation in the soil, but this was different. These different features and layers had me pondering on how they were created. What did people do to cause this change in the soil, or is this natural? This experience has opened up a whole new area of archaeological investigation to me. I’ll never underappreciate the color of soil again.

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Completed test unit at the Sorrel-Weed House, showing more dramatic soil layers and features.

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Reconstructing the Past

Last* in our student series is Ashley Johnston. Ashley reports on her class project, reconstructing ceramic and glass vessels from the sherds found on a site. Here she looks at how techniques have changed over time.

Archaeologists uncover hundreds of thousands of artifacts, and at times these artifacts can be reconstructed to form a complete or semi-complete object. The process of piecing these puzzles back together has changed over the years, as better technology and products were developed, and as procedures changed to preserve the integrity of the item. A handbook from the 1970s is going to include techniques different from a book from the early 2000s or current websites. Determining which sources to consult when conducting research or reconstructing an object can prove to be a challenge.

One example specifically involving ceramics is the type of tape used for temporarily holding the vessels together before gluing the sherds permanently. The 1976 handbook simply says to use tape or a temporary glue, whereas a current website and a 2003 book say to use masking tape. However, masking tape can leave residue on the artifact, while electrical tape can be left on the object longer and not leave residue behind. What about filling in the gaps where sherds are missing? Both the 1976 and 2003 books suggest using plaster to fill in the holes. The website notes that archaeologists do not always find all the pieces for a complete reconstruction but does not say whether or not to complete the object. By leaving the voids in the object it not only adds character to the artifact, but also preserves its integrity.

Currently, in the Anthropology lab at Armstrong, there are two objects under reconstruction, a kerosene lamp from the Benedictine Monastery site, and a teapot on loan from the Savannah History Museum collections found at Old Fort Jackson in 1970s. The best sources to consult when reconstructing historical artifacts are archaeologists and curators who will know the updated procedures and techniques for that particular artifact type.

Sources Consulted:

Ewen, Charles Robin, Artifacts. Vol. 4. Archaeologist’s Toolkit. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2003.

Guldbeck, Per E., The Care of Historical Collections: A Conservation Handbook for the Nonspecialist. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1976.

Intrigue of the Past: Mending pottery.” Learn NC. Accessed April 01, 2017. A resource for K-12 teachers.

 

 *unless some students turn in late work.
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“Dave the Potter” documentary this Thursday

Read more about the documentary, including an interview with Archaeologist George Wingard, in Jessica Leigh Lebos’ article in the Connect Savannah.

WHAT: Digging Savannah is hosting a screening of the documentary “Discovering Dave– Spirit Captured in Clay” about the literate slave potter Dave who worked in South Carolina’s Edgefield District. A Q&A with the filmmaker and archaeologist George Wingard will follow the film.

WHERE: Armstrong State University, Student Union Ballrooms

WHEN: January 22, 2015 at 6pm (this Thursday)

Parking on the Armstrong campus

Parking on the Armstrong campus

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Dr. David Hurst Thomas Archaeology Lecture this Thursday!

November 6
Distinguished archaeologist Dr. David Hurst Thomas will be speaking about his work on St. Catherines Island. Encompassing nearly 40 years of work, Dr. Thomas has excavated Native American sites 5,000 years old through to the 16th century Spanish mission, Santa Catalina de Guale. Bishop Hartmayer will introduce Dr. Thomas and speak about the importance of archaeology and the Spanish mission site. The lecture will take place at Benedictine Military School at 6pm. Many thanks to our co-sponsor, the Catholic Diocese of Savannah.

Dig Sav poster Fall2014_DHT_ad-page001

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Digging Savannah Events for Fall 2014

Upcoming Digging Savannah Events for the Fall of 2014:

October 25
Walking Tour of Downtown Savannah: Savannah is famous for its beautiful historic downtown, but the ground beneath your feet is just as historic. Learn about the unseen and forgotten archaeology sites. The tour starts at the flagpole at Battlefield Park (next the railroad museum) at 3pm. Tickets available at Eventbrite.com.

November 1
Skidaway Island Guided Hike: Spanning more than 5,000 years of history and prehistory, the park’s archaeology sites give us the opportunity to trace Skidaway Island’s past from Late Archaic Native Americans to the 20th centuryThe hike starts at the Big Ferry Trail head at 3pm and is $10 per person (this includes your park pass) or free for Friends of Georgia State Parks members. Buy tickets or RSVP at Eventbrite.com.

November 6
Distinguished archaeologist Dr. David Hurst Thomas will be speaking about his work on St. Catherines Island. Encompassing nearly 40 years of work, Dr. Thomas has excavated Native American sites 5,000 years old through to the 16th century Spanish mission, Santa Catalina de Guale. Bishop Hartmayer will introduce Dr. Thomas and speak about the importance of archaeology and the Spanish mission site. The lecture will take place at Benedictine Military School at 6pm.
Many thanks to our co-sponsor, the Catholic Diocese of Savannah.

Fall 2014 Digging Savannah Poster

Fall 2014 Digging Savannah Poster

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Digging Savannah Guided Hike November 2

On November 2, we will be hosting a second guided hike at Skidaway Island State Park. Spanning more than 5,000 years of history and prehistory, the park’s archaeology sites give us the opportunity to trace Skidaway Island’s past from Late Archaic Native Americans to the 20th century. The three-mile hikes will be led by AASU archaeologist Laura Seifert.  The hike starts at the Big Ferry Trail head promptly at 4pm and is expected to be approximately 2 hours. These hikes are recommended for kids and adults 12 years and older.

The hike is $10 per person (this includes your park pass) or free for Friends of Georgia State Parks members. Advance tickets only. Buy tickets here. Friends members, please RSVP at the ticketing link.

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Visiting St. Catherines’ Island

Armstrong Archaeology students, Anthropology Club members, and Digging Savannah professors had the great privilege of touring St. Catherines’ Island yesterday with archaeologist David Hurst Thomas. Dr. Thomas has been working on St. Catherines’ for nearly 40 years investigating Native American prehistory and the Spanish Colonial mission founded in the late 1500s.

A huge thanks goes to Dr. Thomas and the rest of the archaeologists (and ornithologists) for their hospitality!

Dr. Thomas (red shirt) talks to students about a 3,000 year old burial mound. The archaeologists call this vehicle the "pope mobile".

Dr. Thomas (red shirt) talks to students about a 3,000 year old burial mound. The archaeologists call this vehicle the “pope mobile”.

Palms mark the location of Mission Santa Catalina de Guale chapel's structural beams. Dr. Thomas is explaining the mission's history and its archaeological discovery to our students and a group of birders seated on benches in the church.

Palms mark the location of Mission Santa Catalina de Guale chapel’s structural beams. Dr. Thomas is explaining the mission’s history and its archaeological discovery to our students and a group of birders seated on benches in the church.

Armstrong students observing the current dig at the mission site.

Armstrong students observing the current dig at the mission site.

Current excavation locations are dictated by site erosion caused by climate change.

Current excavation locations are dictated by site erosion caused by climate change.

Students learned about the natural geology of the island and how geology affects what types of archaeology sites we find.

Students learned about the natural geology of the island and how geology affects what types of archaeology sites we find.

Tabby buildings from plantations on the island after the mission period. Tabby is a building material similar to concrete. The roof structure is a modern addition to preserve the tabby ruins.

Tabby buildings from plantations on the island after the mission period. Tabby is a building material similar to concrete. The roof structure is a modern addition to preserve the tabby ruins.

St. Catherines' Island view as we ride between sites on the pope mobile.

St. Catherines’ Island view as we ride between sites on the pope mobile.

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ArchaeoBus visit

Huge thanks to the more  than 200 people who stopped by to visit the ArchaeoBus and try our archaeology activities! We also want to thank all of our fabulous volunteers:

  • Rita and Scott for bringing the ArchaeoBus to campus and putting in a long day with the sand gnats.
  • Jonathan McKellar, for having class at the ArchaeoBus
  • Anthropology Club volunteers: Autumn, Casey, Reuben, Jennifer (for organizing volunteers), and especially Richard, who also put in a long day.  Please let me know if I forgot someone!
  • and Leslie, who brought great activities for our littlest archaeologists and got the word out to the home school network.
Archaeologist Rita Elliott talks to Armstrong students before they tour the ArchaeoBus and try hands-on archaeology activities.

Archaeologist Rita Elliott talks to Armstrong students before they tour the ArchaeoBus and try hands-on archaeology activities.

An Armstrong Anthropology Club member instructs young students in an archaeology activity.

An Armstrong Anthropology Club member instructs young students in an archaeology activity.

A home schooled student tries an activity about seeds in archaeology sites.

Young students explore the ArchaeoBus.

Archaeologist Rita Elliott explains Native American artifacts and lifeways to Armstrong students.

Anthropology students try a ceramics puzzle that parallels ways that archaeologists analyze ceramic artifacts.

Armstrong students loved making Native American masks- a craft originally meant for our young home school students!

Even the tiniest archaeologists love the ArchaeoBus!

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