The Adventures of Joe In CRO


Weeks 6-7 7/12-7/16 & 7/19-7/23

Howdy all,

These last few weeks have seen me back at the SEAC HQ in Tallahassee performing the often overlooked task of “lab work”.More than 75% of archaeology takes place in a lab and not some exotic, far-off local. I’ve been working on analyzing artifacts from the Palo Alto Battlefield (PAAL) in Texas and the Andrew Johnson Historic Site (ANJO), two amazing locations with incredible histories to tell through their material culture.

Lab work is pretty much what one would imagine it to be–sitting around with a bag of washed artifacts trying to determine what it either is or what it could be. Metal artifacts are especially tough because, unless they’re bronze or copper, they’re usually covered in a thick, hard layer of rust and corrosion. The majority of the artifacts that I’ve analyzed from PAAL have been musket balls, canister shot, and cannon balls. It’s almost as if they were shooting at each other out there or something. As for ANJO, ceramics and glass have been the principle artifact that I’ve been running into and let me tell you–at first everything looks the same. One sherd looks just like another, but after a while of looking, reading, taking it over to the comparative collection, reading some more, you get an eye for it.

My favorite sherd type though has been the Ironstone. It’s back history is amazing–there’s actually no iron in the paste (the substance that a vessel is made of) at all! It was a misnomer to keep competition from getting the recipe and allowing the Masons to corner the market on this amazing, refined earthenware type.

Finally, my last task of the week has been a rather important one–reading, editing, and helping proof the Shiloh Mounds Archaeological Report–a document more than a decade in the making. It’s a daunting 650 page monster, but like Captain Ahab completing it will be my white whale.

The more I think I’ve put a finger on what “archaeology” really is, the more it surprises me.

Week 5 7/6-7/9

Greetings! This week the I&E gang were down at Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve/ Kingsley Plantation (TIMU) performing a multi-instrument geophysical survey of a suspected enslaved persons graveyard. It seems that a field school inadvertently discovered human remains during their testing and asked SEAC if we could come out and discover the extent of the graveyard.

Starting on the 6th, we arrived and began mapping. It is important in geophysical surveys to know your surroundings. We wanted to place our grids in and around the field school’s units, but we had to take into account a few things. First, we had to know what instruments we were using and what their limitations were. Since it is always better to use more than one type of instrument when doing geophysical surveys, we used 3: a dual fluxgate gradiometer–a type of magnetometer, an electrical resistivity meter, and a ground-penetrating radar or GPR.

Each of these instruments have their limitations and they must be taken into account before the first grid is even laid down. The magnetometers are extremely sensitive to metals and devices that give off electric frequencies (in Hertz). We saw that there was a power-line above us, so we offset all the grids 20 meters so that they wouldnt interfere with that aspect of the survey. Resistivity meters are dependent on the condition of the soil since they detect the resistance of electric current through the ground. In order for this to happen the soil must have some moisture content. At TIMU the soil was sand and because the weather had been scorching for the last week and a half, it left the first 30-40cm almost completely devoid of moisture. The resistivity meter functions by putting two or more metal tines into the soil and they are only 25cm long. This meant that the instrument would not yield useful data, but it is the primary reason that multiple instruments are used on surveys because it is almost impossible to predict such conditions.

After the instrument limitations were taken into account, we set up grids and mapped. We initially set up 4 grid, but when we discovered how fast we could take GPR and gradiometer readings we extended our search area to almost 14 grids.

The 7th-9th saw us out performing various tasks like setting up new grids; running the GPR/resistivity/gradiometer; shooting in the locations of obstacles such as gopher tortoise burrows, trees, and previous excavation units; setting up and moving tape and cones for those running the equipment; taking photos and other documentation tasks; and finally troubleshooting and fixing the equipment.

Geophysical analysis in archaeology is a very important tool that all archaeologists should utilize. It allows us to do something we usually only dream about–look into the ground and see what’s in it without disturbing it or digging it up more so than it needs. As an aspiring archaeologist who loves technology this survey was very exciting and I look forward to performing more as well as analyzing the data in the future.

Week 3-4 6/21-7/2

Hello all,

Well we wrapped up our work at Little River Canyon this week. Working with Mary, LIRI’s Environmental Biologist as well as numerous members of the LIRI maintenance we surveyed 14 food plots, a future trail location, and a fire cache.

While the weather in Ft. Payne, AL was as brutal as it gets for the southeast, this field project taught me quite a few things. First, it taught me more about the field of archaeology, specifically public archaeology and the ability to deal with new obstacles and situations. Second, it showed me what my limits in the field were. I’m not Superman, and I learned that in the thick brush of the Canyon Center. Lastly, I learned that the rewards of this profession far out-weigh the cons. I think any profession where after a long, exhausting day of work you can still feel a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment is an experience that everyone should have.

Again, digging shovel tests may not seem like the most exciting thing in the world (and trust me–I have some Boy Scouts who can vouch for that), I see that it is still an extremely important and necessary component of protecting our archaeological resources in America.

Until next week,

Week 2 6/14-6/19

Howdy all!

Week deux at SEAC started strong. I worked on 2 projects–PAAL and GUIS, while preparing for my project next week–LIRI.  These are the Palo Alto Battlefield, Gulf Islands (Ship Island–French Warehouse), and Little River Canyon. For the PAAL and GUIS projects I processed and cataloged artifacts. Once the field crew in I & E brought them in, I washed the artifacts that could be washed and mechanically cleaned the rest.

After cleaning came cataloging. This process required me to proof what was in the bags and on the tags, create new bags once they were OK’d, and re-box the artifacts. The artifacts coming out of PAAL were amazing–objects like grape shot, canister shot, buttons, percussion caps, and musket balls. The most exciting part was that it showed artillery from both the US and the Mexican sides!

The rest of the week saw the I & E department preparing for the project I am currently on (and why my post is so late)–the Little River Canyon near Ft. Payne, Alabama. We had to get our gear together, prepare paperwork, and complete all the other necessary logistics before setting out on our 7 hour drive to the site. We’ll mostly be doing shovel tests on an area that the park wants to turn into a walking path, a garden, and an eroding midden I believe.

This is also my first chance to do some “public archaeology” with some volunteers–a local Boy Scout troop will be assisting us with archaeology throughout the week. This is our chance to get a new and fresh generation interesting in our heritage resources, history, and archaeology.

Our field work is very hard. There’s nothing glamorous about digging shovel tests, but it is necessary to ensure that projects aren’t inadvertently destroying the unknown archaeological resources.

Join me next week where I wrap up our adventures here in LIRI/Little River and I fill you all in on my next field assignment.

Week 1 (6/7-6/11)

Howdy everyone! I’m Joe Evans, a grad student in the MAHR program and a research assistant in the Cultural Resource Office at Northwestern State University.  I’m very interested in archaeology so I wanted an internship that would give me not only field experience, but laboratory experience as well. I also wanted to work within the Federal government to learn its working. Therefore I decided that the perfect place for to gain all of this would be an internship at the Southeastern Archaeological Center in Tallahassee, Florida. I was fortunate enough to get placed within the Section 106 Compliance department, and I’m super excited to tell you all about it.

For those not familiar with what Section 106 compliance is, here’s a little overview. In 1966, Congress passed the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) to acknowledge and preserve places that are significant to America and her history. Within the Act is…you guessed it…Section 106 which states:

“Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) requires Federal agencies to take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties, and afford the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation a reasonable opportunity to comment. The historic preservation review process mandated by Section 106 is outlined in regulations issued by ACHP. Revised regulations, “Protection of Historic Properties” (36 CFR Part 800)”.

This means whenever the government or entities that have received funding from the Federal government, go about doing things that may adversely effect both above and below ground resources that could be included on the National Register of Historic Places, things must be done.

SEAC and the I&E Department (Compliance) come into play when there is below ground, or other archaeological resources that need to be handled.

Take for example this week. Last Saturday, the 5th, the majority of SEAC itself–not just my department–was needed out at Gulf Islands National Park(specifically Ship Island) because of the encroaching oil disaster. The job of everyone was to do Phase II–Eligibility, and Phase III–Mitigation and Recovery, on the island. Basically they were looking to see if the oil would be adversely effecting unknown sites on the National Park.

I started off my week by helping out those who were still in the office, which were the folks in curation, check and label artifacts from the Ocmulgee site. This consisted of my learning the labeling station, reading up on what I was using (B-72 Acryloid) and the site report of the Ocmulgee site, and then I got to it. I labeled many types of artifacts, but the most prevalent was the Bibb Plain type of ceramic.

Once my department returned from the field there was a ton of artifacts to wash, process, analyze, and check. I used the wet laboratory to clean the field samples (FS)–the results of both shovel tests and excavation units, as well as started to analyze them.

There’s always something to do or help with at SEAC. It seems the plans for next week are to be in the field for two weeks at a site in Alabama. I cant wait!

Grad School Begins!

I’ve almost finished my first week of grad school, so I suppose it’s time that I update my blog about being a student!

I graduated NSULA on August 14th, 2009 and started graduate school 10 days later on the 24th. Suffice to say that the amount of headache that comes with having to organize these two events so close together would give anyone a migraine. I opted to not walk/participate in the ceremony because I thought adding another thing to do to my already growing and quickly-approaching “things to do list” would make me explode. That’s not to say that I cheated my family out of the privilege of watching me walk and receive my diploma though–that will come in December.

Fast-forward to this week. After getting signed up for classes on the first day…I attended my graduate/research assistantship meeting in my new home away from home: the NSU Cultural Resource Office or CRO lab for short. A little bit of background! CRO was founded by Dr. Tommy Ike Hailey in 1996 as a materials and artifact conservation lab but has since then morphed into a specialized cultural resource management center that opts for the broad, sweeping approach to heritage resources.

On Tuesday I attended my very first graduate class by Dr. Susan Dollar called “Writing the Past”. As far as I can tell it’s a technical writing class that will teach us to become better and more effective writers. As I think about the people who will potentially read this blog I have no doubt that you will appreciate this class as much as I will! The class seemed great and Dr. Dollar is a fun professor. The next class is Dr. Julie Ernstein’s “Heritage Resource Management” class, which consists of the laws and regulations that have shaped cultural and heritage resource management over the last 200 some-odd years. I’ve been knowing Dr. Ernstein the longest of any of the faculty of the program and the class that I took this summer with her is the little brother to this graduate class, so I’m more than prepared for it in spades.

My next round of classes came today on Thursday. I had Dr. Dollar’s class again and what will eventually be Dr. ElizaBeth Guin’s Heritage Resource Methods class. Dr. Guin couldn’t make it to class this week, due to a family emergency so Dr. Hailey stepped in and taught us all how to use UTM 7.5′ topoquad maps. I like maps. I really, really like maps. Did I mention that I liked maps, because I like maps a lot.

Anyway, my goal with this blog will be to keep any and all that are interested in the grad-school experience apprised of my goings and comings. I promise, once we start shooting lasers and microwaves at buildings and satellites, things will get a little more interesting.