Field Projects: 2005-2011

A cooperative project of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Middle Tennessee State University, the Bledsoe's Lick Historical Association, and Tennessee Division of Archaeology.

Project Directors: Kevin E. Smith and Emily L. Beahm

Results from June 4, 2007

On June 4, we will be conducting an orientation lecture from 8:00 am until 4:30 pm on the MTSU campus.

We will begin on-site preparations on June 5.

Results from June 5, 2007

Our field class started up today as usual -- a lot of slow and tedious "prep work" that will set the stage for our discoveries over the next few weeks. A beautiful day to start work -- warm and sunny, but not too humid!

By 8:00 am, we were moving, unloading, and organizing the half dozen truckloads of equipment and supplies that will carry us through the next few weeks.

This includes the task of assembling our tent shelters -- a wonderful experience that I highly recommend for anyone wanting to develop skills and patience, tolerance and love of your fellow humans!

By late afternoon, we had started laying out the first six excavation units of our 2007 summer field season.

By 8:30 on Wednesday -- we should be stripping the sod and plowzone from these excavation units and will be well on our way to new discoveries by the end of the day.

Our first efforts this summer are to continue the search for the eastern palisade wall that once surrounded this ancient town.

We are starting our next series of trenches just to the east of the house investigated in 2006.

We'll continue to work to the east over the next several days -- hoping to cross the trench of the palisade wall.

Results from June 6, 2007

Another beautiful day for fieldwork -- maybe a little on the warmish side by the end of the day, but the humidity was still low enough to make the heat tolerable. We started the day completing the layout of our grid and several excavation units -- below, Jennifer and Rachel hold the ends of the long reel tapes while other students are placing pin flags in the background.

Here Erik is placing one of the nails at the corner of his team's excavation unit.

By about 8:30, we were stripping the sod from our first set of excavation units for Summer '07.

Our backdirt pile was fairly tiny after the first wheelbarrow was dumped...

But by the end of the day, the hard work of the students was evident several dozens of wheelbarrow loads later...

As the temperature rose above 90 degrees in our open field in the late afternoon (no matter what the "official temperature" was), I introduced the students to one of those small pleasures that makes life worthwhile after a hot day of hard digging -- a gentle spritz of cold water about the face and head.

By the close of the day, we had removed the plowzone (the upper soil disturbed by years of plowing) from 20 square meters of units. By mid-morning on Thursday, we should be starting to expose the postholes, pits, and other features preserved intact from almost 1000 years ago. As we expected, not a lot of spectacular artifacts were found in the upper disturbed portion of the site -- but an interesting sharpening stone did turn up in one of our units. A few hundred years ago, native peoples used this stone to sharpen their stone axes, chisels, adzes, and other tools before discarding it.

More news tomorrow.

Results from June 7, 2007

When Emily and I arrived a little before 7:00 this morning, the crew was already up and about. Well before 8:00, we had the equipment unloaded and the excavation units uncovered and ready for excavation. As we prepared to start our work, a flock of geese honked their way across the field...

The crew continued their hard work from yesterday -- despite the rising heat and humidity throughout the day. As we neared the bottom of the plowzone today, fragments of animal bone, ceramics, and lithics began to appear.

The plowzone gave us time to practice some needed skills -- measuring and recording information.

As we neared the bottom of the plowzone, a number of possible features of interest also began to emerge. The drought conditions have made the soil at the site extremely dry -- difficult to dig and very difficult for us to find the evidence of ancient postholes, pits, trenches, and other things of interest.

However, one very obvious large feature appeared in two of our excavation units -- a large amorphous shaped feature...

This feature is almost identical on the "top" to the large post pits excavated last year just to the west of where we are now working.

These posts were what we thought were the center posts for a wall trench structure...

With the appearance of this new possible set of posts aligned very closely with those excavated last year, we decided to take a second look at the southeast corner unit. We weren't satisfied last year that we had fully investigated all the features in that excavation area -- so Jesse, Larry, Renee and Teresa spent the afternoon digging back down to the plastic we placed last year. We'll take a second look here on Friday.

At this point, it seems at least possible that our wall trench structure from last year may be significantly larger than we thought -- and have a series of central support posts. Similar structures at Moundville had three central support posts in a row in very large wall-trench buildings like that shown below (Image courtesy Jim Knight).

More news tomorrow.

Results from June 8, 2007

The report for today is a day late because when your field reporter got home last evening -- he was just too dang tired to put something together and instead went to bed!

Our prep work continued today -- with many excavation units opened to deeper levels, several other excavation units laid out, sod stripped, and excavations begun.

Our tremendously hard-working crew moved an enormous amount of dirt -- but most of it was plowzone moving down to the levels where we can see features.

Doug Drake -- one of our long time local partners -- dropped by in the morning with a couple of nice iced-down watermelons to share with the students.

We were also assisted in our digs today by several experienced volunteers -- Ellis Durham, Chris Hogan (an alum of our program who was my field assistant for the MTSU 2003 and 2004 field schools), Lacey Fleming and Brandy Dacus (recent alums and participants in past field schools at Castalian Springs).

Our friend Lee Myers from Wynnewood also visited today.

About 1:00 pm, the rain moved in and we were forced do a rapid "shut-down" of our excavations and retire to our field house up the road. After an hour or so, the front passed through and we were able to complete another couple of hours of work before closing up for the day.

Although much important work was done today -- nothing spectacular to report. More pictures and news are available for Saturday...

Results from June 9, 2007

Today was the first of our "Volunteer Saturdays" - opportunities for interested folks to try their hand at real archaeology.

Along with about half of our student crew, we had several volunteers -- our thanks to Jennifer Clinton, Brandy Dacus, Lacey Fleming, Ann Funkhouser, Laura Joseph, Dimesa Lee, Nathan Lesnak, Chris Robbins, Shannon Smith, and Angela Stroupe! Below, crew member Gwen Boen works with volunteers Ann Funkhouser and Angela Stroupe at one of the screens.

We were also visited by two of our Research Faculty -- Drs. Shannon Hodge and Tanya Peres. Below, Dr. Hodge and young son John view the excavations along with Jesse and Dr. Peres.

Although we have few exciting artifacts to report -- we are finding some rather spectacular and promising evidence of past activites from the 13th century A.D.

New units revealed six wall trenches on the north wall of the structure we started investigating in 2006.

The image below highlights the six trenches -- this amplifies our information from last year. We knew that this building had been built and then rebuilt at least four times -- now we know that it was rebuilt at least five times. Using some educated guesses -- this means that this particular building existed on the site for probably at least 90 years and perhaps as many as 200 years.

We've now had to update our "plan" from last year to reflect this rebuilding of the north wall of this structure.

Our large pit feature expanded into an enormous rectangularish feature -- promising to be filled with artifacts that will help us to understand its function and meaning.

And, as always, our student crew continued to practice the skills and techniques of the archaeologist. Below, Holly makes a successful run up the growing backdirt pile.

Although our first week has been slow in terms of spectacular discoveries -- next week promises to bring some new insights as we begin to investigate the features exposed this week. Slowly but surely, our version of scientific archaeology teases new information and insights from the earth.

More on Monday!

Results from June 11, 2007

How about a perfect day for archaeology at Castalian Springs? We couldn't have asked for much better -- overcast, a nice breeze, and just about the right temperature to enjoy the work.

When we arrived this morning a little before 7:00, many of our neighbors were out and about near our excavations. This young doe was grazing in the fenceline...

Accompanied a short distance away by four turkeys...

We stopped by the barn briefly to pick up some lumber -- and took a quick photo of our friendly barn swallows (who are doing a SPECTACULAR job of keeping the mosquitoes down!).

After a day or two off, the crew came back refreshed and eager to move some dirt...

Out in the far distance, two of our crews work on "the search for the palisade line" -- not an exciting task, but we all know that finding the "city limits" of this ancient town is one of our primary goals. Here, Jessica, Noriko and Matt work away on one of those units.

While a bit further out, Erik, Sarah and Lynne do the same.

Back over at the "wall-trench structure," we continued to open additional excavation areas. The first yielded even more rebuilding episodes...

A total of seven in this unit alone

As the day proceeded, we opened other units -- exposing more and more rebuilding episodes...

As the day closed, it appears (at first analysis) that we have 12 building episodes -- meaning perhaps that this structure stood on this spot for 200-300 years.

As we proceed into excavating structures and features, more significant artifacts are turning up -- including a handle from an ancient pot.

Based on our formula, the handle shown above probably dates between A.D. 1275 and 1300.

Four more weeks to go -- the next few days promise to be both exciting and insightful.

More on Tuesday!

Results from June 12, 2007

Today was a bit warmer than yesterday -- but the humidity wasn't that high and we had a good breeze, so overall a fairly pleasant day for digging.

The crew continues to move dirt at an awesome pace -- we've already moved about 15 cubic yards of dirt in only a week. Our real problem is the drought -- with ten inches or so below normal rainfall, the soil is bone dry to as much as 25 or 30 centimeters (10-12 inches) below the ground surface. Not only does this make for unpleasant digging conditions (imagine shoveling through concrete and you'll be close), it also makes the subtle differences in soil texture and color almost impossible to spot. Even when we can see them, they are visible for only a brief time before the heat and wind dries them out.

In order to deal with the situation, we've been forced to start hauling massive amounts of water to the site frequently to wet down the units. Today, we hauled about 120 gallons of water and soaked down several of the excavation areas -- we'll let these soak overnight and then work to identify and map the features in the morning.

Below, Rachel, Travis and Russell hack their way through the concrete-hard plowzone...

Nearby, Jesse, Renee, Teresa and Larry excavated several of the postholes discovered in one of the units. After excavation, photographs of the excavated features were made.

Forty meters to the east, Lynne, Sarah and Erik discovered what appears to be yet another wall trench for a building -- although it showed up fairly clearly when initially exposed, it had dried to invisibility a short while later.

During the day, I worked trying to identify some of the features -- the photo below shows the drought conditions fairly clearly. Although we had soaked this unit down fairly well yesterday, the upper inch or so was already dusty dry again by mid-day today. The "moister" looking areas are where I have scraped off the upper inch or so to get down to the moister soil -- and identify the outlines of a firepit and large trash pit (outlined in yellow).

A closer view of the firepit is shown below -- the lighter colored material is ash mixed with charcoal. The bright orange outlining most of the feature is the result of a hot fire.

Hopefully, the water hauled to the site today will assist us in the morning in identifying the wall trenches, postholes, and pit outlines in our open units. Most of the crew have shifted over to re-excavating our units from last year -- we hope to be able to expose a significant portion of this large wall-trench structure before the end of the class.

More on Wednesday!

Results from June 13, 2007

Another beautiful day at Castalian Springs -- a tad on the warmish side, but the humidity continued to cooperate and a pleasant breeze in the afternoon took some of the edge off.

While yours truly continued to try to deal with identifying the features, most of the crew worked on re-excavating six of our units from last year -- about 258 cubic feet of dirt. At 8:30 this morning, they were starting the task...

By 2:30 pm, the last wheelbarrows of dirt were being removed...

While running an errand up at our field house, I startled 15 turkeys hiding out in the brush along one of the fencelines -- they made a hasty departure across the north forty.

Meanwhile, our massive "hydration" strategy to make the features more visible worked nicely. Heavily soaked with about 60 gallons of water, re-trowelled to a fresh surface, and allowed to dry -- the units below revealed the wall trenches.

For the less archaeologically inclined, I've highlighted the 10 trenches below in yellow -- you can compare to the photo above to see if you can see the faint but very visible outlines of these trenches.

The photograph below shows the "new" units on the left and the re-excavating units from last year on the right.

Here is the image edited -- showing the "new" wall trenches in yellow and the perpendicular wall trenches from last year in blue. We'll be opening several additional units in the next day or three to connect the lines in between.

With a much larger number of units opened -- we had to expand our coverage with plastic today. As we open additional units, opening and closing down each day will get more complex -- with multiple overlapping sheets of plastic.

On Thursday, we will re-excavate the final set of units from last year on the corner of this building -- and begin excavation of the new wall trenches. I'll be working to clean up our big pit feature and firepits for excavation in the next couple of days as well. These features will undoubtedly reveal some interesting artifacts.

More on Thursday!

Results from June 14, 2007

And yet another beautiful day at Castalian Springs -- the temperature keeps edging up, but the humidity continues to be low and the pleasant breezes continue to take most of the edge off.

In the early morning, we often run across some of our neighbors on the property -- it is truly rewarding to see that the purchase of this property by the State of Tennessee is not only preserving this ancient Native American town but also providing a safe haven for wildlife. This morning, we encountered our two bunnies that live next to the dairy shed (a nearly daily event).

A little before 8:00 am, two of our deer friends were grazing just north of our excavation area -- below Noriko enjoys watching them. They came back through the field about 2:30 or so.

Today, our excavations continued on the wall-trench structure. We are now convinced that this building is an incredibly significant part of this ancient Native American town. It clearly was not just an average run-of-the-mill house for a family living at the Castalian Springs town some 800 years ago or so. We are convinced this was a community building of some kind -- a community center, shrine, or other type of "special building" that was so important to the citizens of this ancient community that they built it again and again on the same spot for over 100 years.

We began investigating the wall trenches described yesterday -- excavations of the first of ten trenches clearly revealed that these are trenches for a structure.

Having finished re-excavating our units from last year, one of the trenches on the northwest corner of this structure clearly lines up with our new trench. And, the limestone wedges from last year and this year also match up nicely.

On the south wall(s) of this structure, we also finished some new excavations -- revealed yet another wall trench.

We also started expanding our investigations around the central support posts from last year -- directly to the north, we encountered what seems almost certainly to be yet another large roof support post (last years are shown in yellow -- the new one is shown in blue).

There are a couple of other features in this unit that appear to be another posthole and perhaps a hearth/firepit.

As we proceed, this structure continues to tell us that it is large, complex and something very very important to this ancient community. Our work will continue over the next three weeks to expand our understanding of what this building was and what it meant to the folks that inhabited this town 800 years ago or so. Our revised plan is shown below -- it will change daily as we gather more information.

More on Friday!

Results from June 15, 2007

Once again the thermometer peaked out above average for this time of year -- but it hasn't yet reached the famed Middle Tennessee temperature=humidity (i.e. 92 degrees and 92 percent humidity), so we've managed to keep up a solid work pace.

Another couple of early morning shots of our deer neighbors...

We continued our excavations on the large wall trench structure -- opening several new units, mapping features, and starting feature excavations.

Numerous additional new wall trenches have been exposed on the west wall and east wall, but weren't ready for photography today. Excavations of one of the wall trenches on the north (Feature 46) continued -- revealing a series of small widely spaced posts in profile.

Student training on surveying and mapping continued today. Here, Emily instructs Renee on the transit -- while Larry, Matt, Noriko, Jessica, and Teresa wait their turn.

Far out on the western periphery of the site, we laid out some new excavation units. Although the wall-trench structure will take up much of our time and energy over the next few weeks, we also want to continue to develop our understanding of the "big picture" of the site. William Edward Myer, a Smithsonian archaeologist who excavated at the site in 1892, 1898, and 1916-1917, recorded in his notes that this area was the "main village area." We presume that Myer noted large amounts of broken pottery, stone tools, and other items on the surface of the plowed fields at that time -- leading him to believe this was the main area of residences. We hope this area will produce a large sample of pottery that will assist us in determining the age range of the town site.

Here, Jesse, Noriko, Teresa, and Renee (kneeling) hold the tapes while Howie, Larry, Michael, Jessica, and Matt assist. Our current excavation areas are visible in the distant background.

Later in the afternoon, the promise of rain raised everyone's spirits...

Unfortunately, the hard rains went to the north and south of us -- we got about 15 minutes or so of a shower, but it served mainly to settle the dust and raise the humidity.

Tomorrow is the second of our Saturday "Volunteer Days." We'll hope to have some interesting artifacts from the "Western Digs" by the end of the day.

Results from June 16, 2007

Beating the same drum -- pretty hot today, but again not too humid and a nice breeze to balance out the high temperature. Unfortunately, we continue to see the effects of the drought -- our bunny friends have apparently moved on since the stream branch has dried up next to their burrow. Trees are wilting and even the weeds aren't looking too good.

During my usual early morning trip around the property, we noted three turkey vultures resting atop the tobacco barn. They are frequently resting there in the mornings -- and are probably using the barn for nesting as well. Although often considered with some disgust by modern Americans, these birds are important contributors to the natural process of life and death -- and were sacred birds to many Native American cultures. Their grace and skill in flight is quite amazing -- today, we caught one of them in the "horaltic pose" with wings spread. Although debated by vulture specialists, we'll stick with the prevailing notion that they are drying their wings in preparation for a day of flight.

Volunteers Mark McKee and Brandy Dacus worked with Cy Taylor excavating another part of the south wall trench on our big structure.

While Lynne, Rachel, and Sarah continued excavations on the large trench on the north wall of the structure.

Most of our students and volunteers were working a few hundred meters to the west in our "undiscovered country" (our previous excavation area is in the far background).

Since we have never excavated in this portion of the site before, we are taking things slow and careful -- each unit is being excavated in 10-cm levels and all of the dirt is being screen for artifacts. Despite the fact that they were working in plowzone, it is already apparent that there is a greater density of artifacts in this area -- pieces of stone tools, small fragments of pottery, and other items. We didn't quite make it through the 20-cm plowzone today -- but this area holds promise for a great artifact sample during next week's investigations.

Below, students Jesse, Renee, Teresa and Larry consult with field director Emily Beahm while one of our experienced volunteers -- Ellis Durham -- works at the screen.

At the next unit over, crew chief Jessica Connatser supervises student Gwen Boen and her parents David and Debbie who came by to volunteer.

We have now closed down for a day of rest -- check back on Monday. We will be starting to excavate many features and artifacts now that we've set the stage!

Results from June 18, 2007

When I arrived this morning, it was fairly clear that rain was on the way, so we adjourned to our field house nearby until about 9:30 am.

Two of our field crews adjourned to the far western part of the field to continue exploring this new part of the site, while the other four crews continued work on the wall-trench structure.

About 10:00 in the morning, we had a fly-over from one of the most awesome birds ever built - a B-17 Flying Fortress.

Thanks to a new telephoto lens I bought over the weekend, I managed to capture this plane up close and personal...

While cross-sectioning one of the wall trenches, we documented the post holes in profile -- these holes tell us the diameter of the posts that were used in constructing these buildings and a great deal about the "above ground architecture" that no longer survives.

We continue to open new excavation units exposing the walls of this ancient building.

As the day proceeded, we found what we think are the eastern walls of the building -- and what appears to be a second wall-trench building to the south with an interior pit and hearth.

By about 3:00 pm, the sky was warning of impending rain...

So we shut down our excavations quickly and made it out of the field before the thundershower hit.

We are making great progress on finding the pieces and parts of the ancient town that once dominated the landscape of Sumner County around A.D. 1200. Over the next three weeks, we will focus on trying to understand how these pieces and parts fit together.

Tomorrow, we hope will be a wash for our field excavations -- our friends in the Castalian Springs neighborhood desperately need some rain to salvage their crops. We'll probably work in the lab most of the day washing artifacts.

Results from June 19, 2007

Finally, some relief from the dry conditions with a nice day of rain -- not enough to break the drought perhaps, but at least something! The showers started by about 7:00 am and set in for an intermittent but solid rain for much of the morning and early afternoon.

When I arrived this morning, I caught a couple of turkeys out enjoying the showers...

In the early morning, we had a lecture at our field house on the Mississippian site of Averbuch and then adjourned for a tour of Wynnewood State Historic Site across the highway.

Our friend Nettie provided the students with a guided tour of the house...

And our friend Lee gave a demonstration of his skills on the foxhorn (used backed in the 1800s to let neighborhood folks know that the mail had arrived at the Post Office)...

After lunch, we worked in our field laboratory washing artifacts.

Here, Andrea washes a bag of artifacts from the digs...

While Jessica, Noriko, Lynne, Gwen, and Ali wash other artifacts...

By 4:00 pm, we had washed up a few thousand artifacts -- in the tray below, fragments of flint, pottery, animal bone, and a few plain old rocks are cleaned and starting to dry. We'll then inventory and analyze these materials over the next few weeks.

On the way home, I stopped by to check on the excavations -- our plastic is full of water and ready for some bucket brigades in the morning.

We'll be back on the site tomorrow to continue our excavations.

Results from June 20, 2007

After a welcome day of rain, the first task for Emily and me this morning was to spread some hay and a few wheelbarrows of dirt in the gate -- the mud was deep and slick even for my Tahoe loaded down with a few hundred pounds of equipment.

Another task that awaited us was bailing the water from our plastic. While we have been bemoaning the dry conditions in our units, we couldn't simply leave them open to the rain yesterday. Too much water and the excavation areas are too soaked and "slimy" to excavate for a day or two or three -- just as bad as too dry. So, we cover them up -- and water them ourselves so that we have control over how much water ends up on our features.

About 800 or so gallons of water had collected on our plastic...

Bucket brigades moved the water off to the side fairly quickly -- including the trademark "Erik Porth Water Toss" shown below...

Our six student crews continued work diligently on the wall trench structure and on the west end of the field today...

The students are working very hard with few complaints under very difficult field conditions -- it's been hot and dry, the dirt is hard and uncooperative. They're a great crew!

The real problem at this point is that we need to complete excavating some of the "features" that we've exposed -- some of the many wall trenches, pits, and postholes -- before we open any new excavation units. While I prefer to let the students explore and practice skills in excavating these types of features -- the conditions on site are making it difficult to do this. Over the next day or two, I'll have to work overtime excavating the tops of these features down far enough that the soil conditions will permit students to "learn by doing" without damaging the important parts of the site that we're uncovering. Nothing critical about their skills or desire to learn -- just the fact that the features are so complex, faint, and dry that they challenge even my considerably greater experience to follow.

As we began to excavate some of the wall trenches today, larger and more interesting artifacts did begin to appear. Below, Travis shows a large fragment of fabric impressed pottery and a deer bone recovered from one of the west wall trenches.

Nearby, we started trying to define the edges of the hearth and large pit... The "hearth" turns out to be an oddly shaped feature filled with ash, charcoal and pottery fragments -- the sides have been burned to the consistency of pottery.

In order to better understand the pit feature, we are excavating a "cross-section" of it -- basically cutting it in half starting in the middle and working our way back. This will help us define the edges of the feature.

Out on the western edge of the field, our two crews reached the bottom of the plowzone -- and as hoped, started to expose some undisturbed garbage deposits from a thousand years ago. Large pieces of pottery like to pot rim with handle shown below...

And large fragments of animal bone discarded from meals -- like the deer leg bone shown below...

While the plow has disturbed the upper 8 inches or so -- we are now beneath that area and the fragments and pieces of daily life from 1000 years ago are being unearthed.

Over the next few days, our work will slow down a bit as we try to figure out the complex set of structures and features we've uncovered. At this point, our large public building looks something like that shown below -- about 30 feet on a side.

Although the weather has slowed our efforts to learn and understand -- and created some frustration on the part of both professor and students -- we are occasionally reminded of the joys of being outside learning hands-on rather than in a classroom. Below, a great blue heron flew over the central mound of this ancient town towards the end of the day.

The secrets and mysteries of Castalian Springs have been preserved for almost a thousand years -- because it is now a state owned property, it will be protected for many more years to come. While our work has been slowed by the drought conditions this year, whatever we don't finish will be there next week and next year -- and next decade. Undoubtedly many generations of blue herons have flown across the mound in the past -- many more generations will have the opportunity to fly across students and researchers teasing the secrets and mysteries from the earth.

More news on Thursday!

Results from June 21, 2007

Today, we slowed down a bit to figure out a few things on site. Two of our six student teams worked in the lab today under the direction of Lynne Funkhouser (crew chief) and later Dr. Shannon Hodge (Research Faculty).

Two of our other teams contined their work on the far western edge of the property -- with somewhat unexpected results. Although visible a bit higher up, at about 25 cm deep (about 10 inches) a large trash-filled feature appeared with a very linear edge on it.

While it is undoubtedly too early to speculate, I'll do so anyway -- this is probably our best candidate for a ditch associated with a palisade line to date. We'll open another excavation area on Friday to try to further define the width of this "ditch."

Back on the east side of the digs, two crews worked with me to cross-section the large pit feature. The feature was excavated in three levels (each about 4 inches each in thickness). The first level was somewhat amorphous in outline (without clear shape) -- this is because this upper portion had been slightly disturbed by the plow, rodents, and other things up near the surface.

The fill in this level included a large sample of undecorated pottery, numerous animal bones, ash, and charcoal. Also, a large piece of a burned log turned up -- this will be extremely useful for future radiocarbon dating.

By the bottom of Level 2, the edges of the features had become more defined -- as an oval basin-shaped pit.

And finally, we reached the bottom of the feature -- a well defined oval basin shaped pit. We'll continue to work on this further on Saturday.

While running (well, perhaps walking casually) betwixt and between our excavation areas on the east and west side of the property, we took some time to look at the local insects.

The little critter below (along with quite a few others) was found munching on the local milkweed. Commonly known as the Eastern Milkweed Longhorn Beetle.

I've noticed the odd little monsters below several times in the last few days -- they're munching on horse nettle in this field. They appear to be the larvae of the Colorado Potato Beetle.

Finally, we achieved a little bit of clarity on the many wall trenches today -- the multiple soakings of the units over the last couple or three days helped with defining the edges. Students will be working on three of these trenches on Friday.

Today, we closed out with another good soaking of the units -- including filling the excavated portions of the wall trenches with water. This should soak the adjacent trench fill enough to make it much easier to "feel" the edges of the trenches as they are excavated.

A litte over two weeks to go -- lots to do and lots to discover!

Results from June 22, 2007

Having worked with our wall trenches at 20 cm below the surface for several days -- we decided to take all of the units down another five centimeters or so. At 20 cm we are still in the transition from the bottom of the plowzone to undisturbed features -- in simple terms, the tops of the wall trenches are still a bit "blurry." Five centimeters deeper, we were able to begin seeing the trench outlines much more clearly.

The crew put in 200% today -- taking seven units down five centimeters on our hottest and most humid day to date. They also shoveled out another excavation unit on the east wall -- a critical unit for understanding the overlapping set of wall trenches described below.

On the northwest corner of the structure, several of the students cleaned up and mapped the newly exposed features.

Excavations of part of one of the west walls revealed a tiny but exceptionally well preserved bone bead.

As the work proceeded today, it became clear that some of our confusion over the many wall trenches is because we actually have several partially overlapping buildings -- some of which have been rebuilt several times.

Here with some of our new interpretations highlighted (different colors represent probable different buildings)...

From another angle...

And here also with our new interpretations highlighted...

There are a number of other wall trenches present that we haven't quite figured out yet -- we'll work on re-cleaning the units on Saturday morning and hope to have some cleaner maps by Monday.

A long hot humid day of hard work over -- more news on Saturday!

Results from June 23, 2007

As is my common practice, I took a few minutes to look around the property on arrival early this morning. We managed to catch an indigo bunting singing away in the north field...

Today was the third of our four "Volunteer Saturdays" for family, friends, and community members. We had a great turnout for the day that received the "Hottest and Humidest Day of the Summer Award for 2007."

After opening the excavation area, several of us worked on cleaning up the several units with our hard-to-see wall trenches in them. I cleaned up the new excavation unit on our elusive east wall with good results.

Finally, we have three (or perhaps four) well defined trenches for the east wall (shown in yellow -- the very wide one probably represents two partially overlapping trenches) -- along with a rectangular fireplace (outlined in blue) intruding into one of the trenches

I was assisted by Ellis Durham -- one of our most experienced volunteers. Ellis has been out many days this summer (and has volunteered on almost all of our field school projects over the past 10 years).

I also had some great help from volunteers Sandy Norby (B.S. Anthropology 2005 and an alum of our 1999 field school) and friend Karen Pendley.

By the end of the day, we had cleaned up seven units -- ready for mapping on Monday morning.

Nearby, Field Director Emily Beahm directed excavations on the rest of the large pit feature started earlier this week. Here Emily and Sarah work on excavating the ash and charcoal deposit at the top of the feature.

While Gwen and Cy carefully screen the soil removed for smaller artifacts and bits of charcoal.

Later in they day, they were assisted by Robert Miller, a volunteer returning from last year. By the end of the day, they had completed excavation of the upper zone of the feature -- which appears to represent a final episode of use during which ash, charcoal, animal bones, pottery sherds, and other artifacts were dumped in the top of this pit. The deeper zone is very different and appears to represent gradual accumulation of clean soil.

Several students and volunteers continued work on the northwest corner wall trenches. Here, Travis and Matt continue excavations of one of the west wall trenches while Matt's fiancee Tara observes and Rachel works at the screen.

Here Rachel is assisted at the screen by father Lee Bagby -- his first try at archaeology.

Volunteer Jennifer Clinton (alum of our 2006 Castalian Springs Field School) directed excavations of a new portion of the north wall trench with help from students Lori Ford and Andrea Patton. They managed to expose a nice section of posts in this trench segment. In many of the trenches, the remains of posts or "molds" where the posts decayed are not visible. Catching and recording this section of postmolds gives us very critical information on the diameter of the posts, their spacing, and placement within the trench -- all of which allows us to interpret the architecture of the building with greater accuracy.

The edited photo below highlights five of the six posts discovered in this trench segment.

Far out on the western edge of the field, Jesse, Renee, Teresa and Larry handled a crowd of family and friends volunteering on the dig. On the walk over to check on their progress, I noticed a Colorado Potato beetle munching on the nettles.

Here volunteers Sara, Austin, and Vaughn Hamill, Susan Ghorbani, Elizabeth and Emily Ca~nas, Collin Howster, and Lee Bagby work with students Renee, Jesse, Teresa and Larry.

From another angle, volunteers Clayton Ingalls, Sara, Vaughn and Austin Hamill, Susan Ghorbani, Carolina and Emily Ca~nas, Lee Bagby, and Collin Howster work with students Renee, Larry, and Teresa.

We appreciate all of the interest and help from the volunteers today -- apologies that my order for 85 degrees and 10 percent humidity didn't come through!

Project directors and students are now off for a welcome day of rest on Sunday. More news on Monday!

Results from June 25, 2007

This week begins with cloudy overcast skies -- not an unpleasant thing for excavations, but with the potential for quick moving thundershowers and storms virtually every afternoon this week. As our time begins to run out for this summer, lots of hard work and careful planning are necessary to ensure that we finish as much as possible.

Work continued on our large pit feature (Feature 51). The upper zone of ash, charcoal and other artifacts does appear to represent a dumping episode rather than use of the pit for a fire -- there are no signs of direct burning. We will hope to finish this feature up on Tuesday morning.

Our cleanup work on Friday and Saturday paid off this morning -- after some careful troweling and inspection of the units, the wall trenches were much more easily defined. Using some lime green flagging tape, we marked the clearly identified trenches for photography today. The photograph below is taken from the northwest corner of the structure looking towards the southeast. At this point, we have four clearly defined wall trenches associated with the west wall, four with the north wall, three (or four) with the east wall, and one on the south wall.

Given the consistency of rebuilding episodes, we took a closer look at the south wall today -- it appears that we overlooked some wall trenches last year during our excavations. Now that we have a better idea of what to look for (and how to make them a bit more visible), we identified three more possible wall trenches on the south wall today (shown below in blue). We'll clean these units up again on Tuesday and try to confirm these suspicions.

Our excavations of sections of each wall trench continued today (and will continue throughout the week). We are gathering some very important information on how the structure was built. On the west wall, we continued to document how the final version of this structure was constructed -- the photograph below shows a section of the trench excavated today.

The trench itself is fairly wide -- but the part of the trench holding the small posts is relatively narrow. As highlighted below, the posts were placed in a much narrower section of the trench, with hard packed clay on the outside. In the photo below, the entire width of the trench is outlined in yellow, with the narrower portion outlined in blue.

Out on the far periphery, one of our crews continued examining our new "ditch" feature. Work is proceeding slowly here -- the feature is filled with limestone, large fragments of pottery, animal bones, and other artifacts. We'll continue work in this area on Tuesday.

About 1:30 pm or so, the clouds in the distance started to form up in some ominous patterns. Given the nature of the weather in Middle Tennessee in June, we can't close up our excavations every time a dark cloud appears on the horizon or a brief shower passes over. But, we have to watch the skies continually when potentially dangerous weather threatens (and listen to my weather radio). After ten years in the fields of Castalian Springs in June, I have a fairly good handle on whether the approaching clouds are threatening, how fast they are moving, and whether we should close up our excavations or not (I understand this is now called the "Dr. Smith Doppler Weather Radar"). By 2:00 pm, the skies were dark on the horizon with too much lightning (then about 3-4 miles away) for us to remain out in the field safely. For the safety of the students -- we moved to our nearby field lab to wash artifacts.

As it turned out, we didn't get any rain until about 3:30 pm -- and then only a brief shower. The thunderstorms passed a mile or so north of us. I'll expect to make these same safety calls for the rest of the week given the forecast.

But, there's always work to be done in the lab. We worked on washing some of the many bags of artifacts already recovered this season.

As shown in this newly washed tray of artifacts -- we've recovered several thousand artifacts already. This tray is filled with fragments of pottery, stone tools, animal bones, and (yep, you guessed it) some rocks as well.

Now that we've gotten many of our wall trenches defined -- we'll hopefully be excavating sections of several of those on Tuesday and throughout the rest of the week.

Results from June 26, 2007

A hot, humid, and very busy day at our site -- the rain held off until after our day ended.

Early this morning, we noticed a killdeer had set up house in our field -- she probably has a nest out there somewhere.

Our crews worked on several different sets of features today -- labelled in the photograph below A-E: (A) north wall trench near the northwest corner; (B) the big pit to the east of our wall trench structure; (C) a newly discovered south wall trench near the southwest corner; (D) the stone-filled feature near the center of our structure; and (E) several overlapping wall trenches near the center of the east wall of our structure.

At (A) -- we excavated the postholes within the wall trench...

At (B) -- we finished up the major part of Feature 51 -- the big pit. However, a deeper sub-pit appeared in the bottom (the darker circular stain near the center of the pit). We'll work on that on Wednesday.

During the day, we discovered a wandering visitor -- a Monarch Butterfly caterpillar. We took it over to the nearby milkweed patch -- it's favorite food.

On the south wall -- we continued looking for some of our "missing" trenches. We think we have found all four of the trenches for the south wall now. Excavations started on one of them -- below Erik is getting the trench ready for formal photographs (note the dark posthole stains in the trench).

After cleanup, the postholes showed up nicely.

We'll continue excavations on this trench on Wednesday -- and start work on sections of the other two suspected south wall trenches as well.

At (D) -- we excavated what appeared from the surface to be a posthole later filled in the top with rocks.

I was a little concerned about this feature from the beginning -- packing a posthole with rocks after the post is filled is not a typical Native American practice in our region. It is, however, a very typical historic period Euroamerican practice. Upon excavation, we remain uncertain about this particular feature -- it does appear to be a posthole, but it is squared off and flat bottomed. At this point, my guess is that it might be part of a fenceline from the 19th or 20th centuries. We'll have to evaluate this one further in the lab and think about it.

At (E), we started exploring the multiple wall trenches for the east wall. This part of the structure is the most complex and confusing -- at the end of the day, we think we have figured it out a bit. The four trenches appear to all overlap on this wall -- we have at least three lines of postholes (photos on Wednesday!). We did excavate several interesting items from these trenches today -- including the flint arrowpoint shown below.

On my way out of the site this afternoon, I caught this deer jumping the fence...

More news tomorrow.

Results from June 27, 2007

One more hot, humid and even busier day at our site -- the rain once again held off until our day ended.

Thanks to the hard work of our student crews today, we managed to answer many more questions about the large wall-trench structure we've been investigating.

Our crews continued working on several different sets of features today -- labelled in the photograph below A-E: (A) north wall trench near the northwest corner; (B) the big pit to the east of our wall trench structure; (C) several newly discovered wall trenches near the southwest corner; (D) a series of features near the center of the structure; and (E) several overlapping wall trenches near the center of the east wall of our structure.

At (A) -- we completed excavations of the north wall trench. Yesterday, it looked like this with the posts removed...

We completed excavation of the trench fill today -- leaving a long trench deepening towards the center of the wall.

We also started excavations on the third north wall trench today -- at the top it looked like a single very wide trench (shown at left below). However, after investigating a portion of it - the feature now appears to be two almost overlapping wall trenches. We'll continue work on this feature on Thursday.

At (B) -- we finished up the rest of the big pit and started cleaning the units around it to document other features. More news on that endeavor on Thursday.

At (C), we continued work on the southwest corner trenches. Several of the crew quickly excavated another unit to reveal the complete southwest corner of the building.

As the photograph below illustrates (view to the west), we now have the four trenches on the west wall and four trenches on the south wall.

We'll complete excavation of sections of each of these trenches over the next few days to document the southwest corner fully.

At (D), we stripped the two units down another 3 cm or so to reveal the other features more clearly -- two or three features turned up. We'll examine these further on Thursday and Friday.

Finally, over at (E) we continued to struggle to interpret the east wall. Things have slowly started to piece together. In one of the units, we discovered three sets of posts -- suggesting three overlapping wall trenches.

In the nearby unit to the north, we identified at least one set of posts.

Putting this information together with last year's excavations, it appears that all four of the trenches for the east wall are overlapping. The "oldest" trench (first building of the structure) is outlined in black below -- the second version of the trench in white, the third in blue, and the final construction shown in yellow. We'll work further to confirm this hypothesis over the next few days.

More news tomorrow.

Results from June 28, 2007

As our last fews days of the summer field project wind down, we are staying extra busy gathering as much information as possible -- short lunches and a lot of hard work on a 90+ day.

A small thunderstorm passed through before dawn this morning. Many of our neighbors on the property were out and about enjoying the water this morning -- including this bunny.

The milkweed is starting to bloom after the rain -- attracting all kinds of insects including these two butterflies.

And a praying mantis was wandering around the sweetpeas.

Of course, the welcome rain did mean a quick chore this morning bailing the water from our plastic...

'Twas a hot and hard-working day, so the photos and comments will be a bit brief for tonight! In order to interpret the architecture of this large building, we need to have a good handle on all four walls -- particularly the corners. So, we've focused on opening a few more small excavation areas to make sure that we have a solid idea of the corners. For the times, this was an exceptionally large building -- about the equivalent of 1250 square feet.

On the southwest corner, we opened a small 1x2 meter unit to catch the ends of two wall trenches. In the photo below the large trench at lower left is the last version of the west wall and the one on the right is the last version of the south wall. Nice corner confirmed in this area.

In the very end of the south wall trench (the one on the right in the photo above), we identified a small cache of carbonized corncobs. This appears to have been an intentional cache -- perhaps a dedicatory offering at the time the building was erected.

On the southeast corner, we excavated two adjacent 1x1 meter units to clarify the ends of the east wall. We managed to find the ends of two of the east wall trenches as shown below.

On the north wall, we continued excavations of two of the trenches. What we had originally identified as a single trench is now clearly two trenches -- one with a carboned log set in the edge. In the photo below, the arrow is pointing at the charred log set in the edge of the trench.

This is very similar to a pattern we saw last year on the south wall...

Another long day ahead for tomorrow -- although given the weather forecast, we may be working in our lab washing artifacts for part of the day. We'll welcome the rain.

Results from June 29, 2007

Once again, everyone was grateful for the rain last evening (although we didn't appreciate so much the resulting humidity). As has become our routine, bailing was the first chore of the day. Ali has perfected the overhead water toss -- and may be a contender for an Olympic spot.

Most of the morning today was spent on cleaning up our excavation units -- taking several of them a few centimeters deeper to see if we can better identify the features.

In this area, we identified yet another odd-shaped ash-filled feature with the edges burned to pottery consistency. These areas around the large pit feature are a bit difficult to interpret. They resemble natural features -- parts of a tree stump or roots that have smoldered and created an amorphous feature. But, the artifacts included in the ash are somewhat puzzling -- fragments of unburned pottery within the ash for example. We will have to ponder on these features for some time to come.

Elsewhere, the crew worked stripping about ten units down to a lower level.

Larry took on the tedious and mind-numbing task of cleaning the dust and grass out of the older excavation units.

Later in the morning, my nephew Keaton dropped by to help Uncle Kevin show the college kids how to dig properly.

Thanks to the hard work today -- we were able to clear up several of the mysteries of this structure. Having all of the excavation units cleaned up at the same time greatly helps in interpreting the "big picture".

We've now confidently identified portions of all four corners of the structure, most of the walls, and the central post.

Over the remaining three days, we'll be excavating selected sections of trenches and probably opening another couple of units to clarify a few remaining questions.

Soon after lunch, the promised rain began to gather on the horizon -- with several weeks of practice, we closed up quickly and efficiently and headed to the lab for some welcome artifact washing time.

While the showers and small storms passed by for the rest of the afternoon, we washed up a few thousand artifacts in our field lab.

Including this fine example of a small flint arrowpoint.

More news tomorrow!

Results from June 30, 2007

Today was the last of our Volunteer Saturdays. We had a great turnout of students and volunteers -- and despite the heat had a great day. Once again, the day started with bailing water from the plastic.

Our thanks to the volunteers: Howie Brainerd, Jennifer Clinton, Garret Cole, Daniel Connatser, Ellis Durham, Tony Ford and son Gregory, Ann Funkhouser, Susan Ghorbani, Susan Jordan, Caroline Kiev, Alicja Kutyla, Mark McKee III, and Chris and Steve Robbins.

Our students and volunteers worked on excavating a variety of features today -- including sections of wall trenches, large postholes, and a series of small pits outside the structure.

Just to the east of the wall-trench structure, we identified several small pits today. Although our excavations did not get far enough to begin to interpret what these pits were used for originally, they did yield some interesting artifacts such as this handle from a medium-sized pottery vessel.

This handle should date to around A.D. 1200 or slightly before. In a nearby pit, we uncovered another cache of carbonized corncobs.

Work on the east wall trenches met with great success -- including the identification of a large number of postmolds.

And a small ash-filled posthole just outside the easternmost wall trench.

Work resumed on several of the north wall trenches. Below Lynne and Alicja work on one of the north wall trenches while Caroline works on another in the background.

On the west wall, we continued work to identify the ends of several of the wall trenches.

Chris Robbins and his father Steve assisted in these excavations -- Steve was handy with the wheelbarrow as well.

In the center of the structure, we identified another probable large post and began excavating it. At this point, we haven't completed enough of the feature to be certain -- but it definitely looks like a post similar to that excavated last year. If this proves to be the case, we probably have a series of three large posts in the center of the structure.

This posthole produced another handle from a smaller pottery vessel -- this handle should date around A.D. 1250.

On the way out today, I took a quick tour around the property in an attempt to photograph a big, camera-shy fox squirrel who's been playing tag with me for two years now. Once again, no fox squirrel photo. But, I did discover this beehive in an ancient cedar tree in the back forty.

The students and staff are now ready for a welcome day off from the heat and humidity. More news on Monday.

Results from July 2, 2007

As several of us noted today -- you couldn't really ask for a better day for archaeology than today. Not too hot, not too humid, a nice breeze, and plenty of drifting clouds.

We continued work today on so many different features and areas that we'll save the "blow by blow" for the summary on Thursday.

We did have some rather spectacular archaeological discoveries today -- two small pits packed full of carbonized corn cobs, husks, and stalks. While not perhaps the golden treasure that most folks would think archaeologists are looking for -- these items are truly treasures from the past. These rare types of preserved samples of ancient corn will allow us to study the varieties of corn, estimate productivity, and many other aspects of daily life from A.D. 1200.

The closeup below shows several of the cob segments.

The small pit feature show below shows dozens of small cobs filling the pit.

Although these remains were fragile after sitting in the ground for 800 years -- we managed to retrieve dozens of whole cobs through a painstaking all-day excavation.

As our project begins to wind down, much of our remaining time will be taken up in excavations, recording and documenting our finds -- including many dozens of photographs like that shown below.

More news on Tuesday...

Results from July 3, 2007

As our time remaining for Summer 2007 at Castalian Springs ticks away, the entire crew is working fast and furious -- but careful -- to complete the last excavations, complete our final records and documentation, and begin "closing down."

Among the more significant recent discoveries is the second large central post pit. As shown below partially excavated, there are several postholes and at least two insertion ramps visible.

Although the discovery of the remains of these architectural features is of greatest significance, the fill also contains a sample of interesting artifacts -- including this whole deer mandible (jaw bone).

We'll be cleaning up all of our excavations and will provide a "summary" of our accomplishments on Thursday and Friday.