Final Prairie Dig Day

Well, we used shovels and buckets but we were backfilling rather than digging. Today we shut down the site and closed up shop. We had a machine to do some heavy dirt pushing, but we also had a team to gently protect our most precious features before tons of dirt was poured back in. 

We saved this frog from a certain live pit burial. We saved a monarch butterfly egg. If this isn’t an argument for the sensitivity and care we put in to the ecological protection of the site… I don’t know what is.

I would describe it like tucking your baby in for a nap. I think it feels that way because I knew I wanted to see the end and close up of a dig,  that was half the goal. But also it doesn’t feel sad to over it if you know that you will eventually get reunited by this time next year. 

I have never excavated finds like these, and the whole experience was completely worth the trip up from Atlanta. I return home with a few more skills and practice. Though I am not looking forward to buying books, I am taking Honors Eng and Hist classes, so that will keep my mind off digging for a few months. 
Today ended with a sense of having earned the accomplishments. Along with my swag!

The clay was really tough on my muscles, along with the sediment sample… But I’ve been slacking on the weightlifting for a few years. Probably wouldnt hurt to curl a few weights before next year.  

I keep saying next year like my mind has already programmed this plan for next year into the future of reality. I need to get on the logistics now, because next year I want to bring my man/bf/fiance. 

There I go again… 

Next year… 

Next year… 

We drove away waving our arms out windows only to end up at the Welcome Center along with a fellow digger. We hugged and goodbyed, and I love the sense of connection you get from being on such a great dig together. 

The Welcome center was interesting, they had good stuff, but we were ready for a shower and a nap. So we went home, and talked about the whole thing and how to improve it next year. (Next year)  I’m bringing a hammock. Ok maybe not. But maybe for my Aunts house… 

I sent thank you emails to the three Lead staff of the dig. And I have to sleep to get up and catch a plane back to modern day reality. Wish me luck. And, remember- next year… 

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Interview With My Dig Partner

I know I dragged my Aunt into this, but she wasn’t necessarily kicking and screaming. She wanted to do it, but then thought it could be a bit much, for a whole week, especially to take off of work for physical labor type job rather than a much deserved vacation. Luckily the adventure of it peaked her interest enough, and I was ecstatic to have a loving family member on a dig with me to see me do my stuff, and just to experience it with me. It was a blessing having someone who’d host me and take such good care of me for my trip. My family is really supportive but, she deserves a special thank you for putting in a whole week of her time to spend with me on such an important project.

I figured an interview was the only thing to do, so I wrote out some questions and had her answer them. (Dig- related questions I assure you)

1. Was this your first dig? This was my first official dig.

2. What was your favorite part? Learning the importance of an archaeological dig, the proper way to approach it and actually finding artifacts.

3. What was your least favorite part? The traffic the first three days really put a damper on things but at the dig site I was surprised at how much physical work and body maneuvering there was.

4. Name one thing you already knew going in…  That Amber was working on her passion and it was contagious.

5. Name at least one good thing you learned… Patience pays off.

6. What was your favorite find? In one of the pits I worked in, we found a drill point and that was very exciting but I especially loved the pottery finds.

7. What part of this dig site’s mysteries has you the most intrigued?  The people that were there.  I want to know their story.  What was this site used for?  Did they live here or just gather here.

8. What do you think is the best Dig Snack and/or Food? PBJ and gatorade and salty snacks.

9. Which Muppet would you be? Miss Piggy 🙂

10.  If you had a space/time machine… when and where would you go? Atlantis then over to Aztecs and Incas. Hmmmm, possibly to Egypt as they built the pyramids and of course I’d like to throw in a little visit to see Jesus and his followers!

Comments:  Going into this dig I was a bit hesitant.  After the first day, I knew I was doomed and the second day confirmed that.  I felt awkward and dysfunctional and in way over my head.  The third day was exhilarating and I found myself full of energy even at the end of the day.  The fourth day was draining physically as I had moved heavy buckets of earth and the temp and humidity stole my energy.  By the last day, I was contemplating my return next year as the dig continues.  Thank you to Amber for sharing her passion and time.  I am delighted to have shared this dig with you.

 

 

Day 4 at the Prairie Dig

Tomorrow we fill in our units, so today was technically the last digging day.

By now, I had met everyone else who came today, though we had two new people. A freshly finished student, and the former archaeologist of our Prairie, the man who discovered our site.

For the last few days a volunteer who came from the Prairie volunteers was part of my unit team, along with an ecology student. Both of whom I began to really like a little more each day. Especially the Prarie volunteer. She went out of her way to teach me, and point out things like the impact point on flakes, what some *arbitrary* words on the paperwork meant. I was glad to have her near by, and she told people I did good work.

So, we took our feature down one level,  (10 cm) and found some great pottery sherds and a variety of bones and lithic flakes. I did find myself learning new things today in everything that I did.

First I learned a little more about lithic flakes, and I screened some amazing finds including a probable mouse jaw, which was so tiny.  (And my Aunt found a point in her unit!)

On my glove, under an inch long, tiny jaw.

We cleaned up our feature, finished it, and recorded its depth at 140 cm from the surface. Then, I watched as we took a pollen sample. (Soil for pollen testing at layers in the feature) Then, we needed to collect a float sample. I didn’t know how to do it but I sort of volunteered, since I didn’t mind digging into a deep pit feature which was getting to arms length from where we had to be situated.

Pollen sampling.

A float sample is a large sample taken from the feature which will be basically mixed with water, and passed through a screen, and it collects all the finds, even tiny ones.

We needed to take a lot of dirt, and our feature kept producing finds, which we wanted to bag. But we had to leave them in the float sample, because we weren’t recording this ‘level’. I dumped the bucket of sample into the sample bag, and off it went.

Yes that’s a tooth on a jaw, for the flotation sample.

While I was taking the dirt for the float, I asked the professor who was one of the three in charge of the dig if I could see the magnetometry results. He excitedly agreed to show me them, and proceeded to explain what we were looking at, what features we found from this print out and where he wants to dig next year.

He’s pointing to my unit on the results!

Soon I noticed other units being recorded and closed. I began to watch the section profile being measured and drawn, and a very bubbily and willing helper volunteered to take apart the screens. I hadn’t done that, I wasn’t sure how they did that, or that they even did. (Though now I suppose it makes sense.)

And then, in the middle of taking the screen apart, our dig lead called for volunteers to take a sediment sample. Of course, I had to volunteer myself. I figured it meant walking to wetlands, through the unmowed, thissle-ridden, patch of bushes. But the actual pushing down of the pipe to get the sample became nearly impossible even with four people working together.

We decided to see what we had and call it off until we had a better tool or area. This became especially apparent as we tried to empty the sample onto a tin foil. The tool was so stuck in the mud. Literally. Our dig lead had to bang it on a cement wall, with me watching and waiting to catch the sample.

We were using one of the bunkers to push against a hard wall but also to have a safe place to get this sample out. The bunkers are crazy, they’re from when the land belonged to the military as the largest ammunitions factory in the US in WWII. These bunkers held tnt and dnt… between 1940 nd 1996 the ammo produced here was used in by the military up until Vietnam. Some pieces still belong to the Government and it is still being broken into pieces to be given to the Forest Service for this grassland site. The concrete bunkers were placed so if one went off it wouldn’t create a chain reaction. They were like a cool damp echo chamber.

We didn’t get much sediment but we tried, it needed a different tool, and now we know. So we recorded the sample for posterity, lab work, maybe for a student to learn how to sample pollen from. I know it didn’t go nearly as planned but it’s still gives me a working experience to how taking a sediment sample should work. (So many firsts today!)

At the end of the day, two units were still active and we began to cover the rest with tarps, to be covered tomorrow with fill until next year. Actually it’s much like our hypothesis for their seasonal use of the site, ha! (Dig a pit, fill it in, return and resue the pit…maybe?)

Anyway, we finished taking tents down, and lining the trenches. And tomorrow we just fill in the dirt. Just as soon as Isaid goodbye to my new favorite unit with pit feature… I whispered (see you next year!)

Prairie Dig Day 3

I both can and cannot believe what has happened today. I can believe it because I lived it, but today was just mind boggling. 

So, first we hit 30 minutes of traffic to get to the site today, and when we are almost there… we see the semi truck ahead of us blow through and break the flashing light railroad barrier, only to be missed by a speeding train by half a second! 

Then after the dig today, my phone with all of today’s photos of today needed tech support… but these are side stories. The main thing is, I’ve got pics from today and I can tell you about the archaeology, even if I am starting to feel roughly under the weather.  

The morning began with fewer people on site than the last two days, just enough to where we can start to remember all of each other’s names, and still have all the activities covered. 

Most of the volunteers are from the Prairie. No, they don’t live there- they work there. Which explains why they seemed to know everyone these past few days.
We spread ourselves into three units today.  I had been assigned to help with the most productive unit of the week so I had no problem with that. However, the day began with screening, and as I waited to screen the material pulled out, my trench-mate found three large sherds of Huber pottery. One with decoration and one with a broken handle. 

As we neared lunch, we had switched so I could trowel.  And then after food, I was ready to dig into this unit, pun intended. 

Well, we had a layer of minimal flakes, charcoal, some shell and bone, but no big chunky pottery for me. Then, we needed to clear out the sterile matrix  (area around the feature). Unexciting, you would think. 

Well, at the last second of screening I grabbed a dirt clod to crumble it, but it had a solid rock inside. I asked if it was something because it looked obviously worked to me. They told me it could have been a scraper, maybe just not a finished one. It definitely has one obvious sharp, worked edge. 

Then we debated whether the pit feature continued or ended at the sterile layer. But a few quick scrapes and the dark stain in the soil started reappearing, like it was meeting me at the surface with every scrape of the soil.  All the while it was hard to ignore the turtle bone sticking out of the wall of the unit.

(Keep in mind, there are two other units active, which I was fully ignoring… except to check on my aunt who was on this adventure with me!) Lucky me, I’m glad I talked her into it! 

So I was only supposed to open the layer up till the next layer, when two passes of the trowel turn up a deer toe bone. Beautiful. This was laying in the ground, for nearly 800 years or so. And I found it where it sat. 

We debated and thought out loud together, and decided that if one was to use a storage pit seasonally, then it makes sense for many of our features to have episodes of covering and returning to dig. A theory is being drafted in the mind of my leads…

And they let me fill out forms today! Wonder if they’ll have me drawing tomorrow. We can only hope.

I’m excited to start tomorrow, it’s possibly the last digging day, as Friday we need to back fill. But at least tomorrow I know I’m going straight into a layer with finds, even if I already found them today. 

Prairie Dig Day 2

Day two of the prairie dig at the Middle Grant Creek site (MGC), we made good progress I think. We sieved many buckets of dirt, found some chert flakes, bone, shell, and pottery again, which wouldn’t be that surprising because we had all that yesterday, but this was coming from a new unit we just opened today. The new unit is so promising, it quickly matched the potential for finds that the other two which are deeper and open yesterday.

The deepest unit had been finished yesterday and today we were taking down  the northern most unit, and we are nearly down to that same deep level. I’m excited to think what we will find in the northern unit tomorrow, as today we had a really great rim sherd and a uniface stone tool pop out out of the feature. 

It’s only two days in and I can say I learned a lot, whether it was physical or observatory…I spread my self out between the three sieves whenever one looked shorthanded, and I got to see a lot of .pieces identified as flakes. But that was after I spent a morning taking a pickaxe to a 3 ft clay wall inside a unit. It was so tiring I was completely okay with just sieving all day.  

There were some who were on their last day and some new people. We had laughs at lunch (when I also saw a hummingbird) and break down went much more smoothly today than yesterday. All in all I feel myself settling into the dirt. Sinking in. Digging in, if you will.

We are mostly targeting pits dug by the Indians for storage and waste material, (oh like broken pottery!?) But the new unit was over an anomaly in the magnetometry, so even though it’s not deep, it’s promising, and I’m eager to see more from it.  We had flakes from it mostly, and a bit of bone, so we will have to wait till tomorrow to get into it! 

Here are some of today’s pictures. 

The photo above shows a sherd of prehistoric pottery which has parallel grooved lines, a diagnostic piece of handmade decoration, we know it’s Huber! 

Middle Grant Creek. Day 1

Today was my first time pulling prehistory out of the earth.  Lithic fragments, pot sherds, and faunal remains. (Otherwise known as stone flakes, pottery fragments and animal bone!) 

We sieved a lot, and troweled back more dirt than I ever have in my life… well… it is only my second dig! 

We are working in the tall grass prarie of Illinois, finding remains of Native American Oneota tribal activities, with finds dating the site to the 1600’s. That means we have no trade materials, because the white/anglo traders had not yet made it to Illinois. 

The area had and has rivers and wetlands where they collected muscles to crush into their clay to temper it for pottery. The pottery on this site is of Huber phase, meaning the decorations on it help give us diagnostic evidence to say who the people were and when they lived there. 

Huber pottery is very often marked with fine lines or grooves made by tracing a point across the wet clay. We saw a piece today with the lines on it, which was exciting.

The best find today was a pretty pink colored point, perfectly preserved. I didn’t find it but if you wanna see it, it’ll probably be on the Kankakee protohistory project blog. 

I am so exhausted after my travels and first day digging I am headed to bed with my bathrobe on and my tea in hand. Enjoy these pictures until tomorrow’s update!

 I leave in 4 days!

The great plains, the prairie land, land where I call home. I am returning to my roots to discover the past. I grew up in Illinois, moved away, became an Anthro major, interested in Archaeology in Georgia, and ended up jumping into an adventure that was opening a door as much as it is coming full circle. 

I remember going to a summer camp on the prairie when I was young. I’ve always loved nature, and exploring outdoors. There is a piece of me which is excited just for the natural habitat, the tall grass, the wildlife which I am familiar with being the focus, or reason for our digging. 

This archaeology project is uncovering settlements to help restore the prarielands which run right into the heart of my childhood. I am glad for the opportunity to help bring restoration to the history which I feel so close to. The prairie is being restored to how it was before the Anglo-African settlements that popped up. Back to how it was when nature ruled and tribes worked with the lands resources. 

Just at this tipping point in history, we have the overlap of prehistory and protohistory, that few hundred years where the native populations in the great lakes area traded with white man, but he hadn’t pushed them out and colonized there…yet. 

In fact I already learned that Joliet (a town near by the site) was the name of one of the first white men to journey in and settle in the Illinois area. 

There is a blog for the Kankakee protohistory project ( for which I’ll leave the link below) and their finds are definitely native American settlement, I am so eager to have my hands on such old layers, contexts and hopefully finds! 

Pottery, bone, antler, stone, just what you’d hope for, has all been found so far. I am going in for the last week of their 4 week dig, this being the first big volunteer year. I am gaining excitement as I breathe! 

Wish me luck & updates coming! 

The project blog:

http://kankakeeprotohistoryproject.tumblr.com/

Info about the site from the forest service:

https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/midewin/home

10 days till… 

So here are the definitions to last blogs tempting vocab words. 

Huber; Upper Mississippian phase that prehistorically occupied the Chicago region…groups in northern Illinois in the 13th through 16th centuries

Oneota; (from wiki) a designation archaeologists use to refer to a cultural complex that existed in the eastern plains and Great Lakes area from around AD 900 to around 1650 or 1700… Oneota is considered a major component of Upper Mississippian culture. It is characterized by globular, shell-tempered pottery that is often coarse…spherical, short necks and/or a flat lip. Decoration includes wavy and zigzag lines, often in parallel.

Mississippian; (from wiki) a mound-building Native American civilization archeologists date from approximately 800 CE to 1600 CE, varying regionally…It was composed of a series of urban settlements and satellite villages (suburbs) linked together by a loose trading network,the largest city being Cahokia, believed to be a major religious center. 

Sherd; or potsherd;
a broken piece of ceramic material, especially one found on an archaeological site

Punctate; having or marked with minutespots, holes, or depressions. (In our case, in the form of pottery decorations.)

More Exciting News

I am preparing to leave for the next dig. I can’t believe I’m saying that so soon, and I’m so happy about it! 

While digging in New York, at the Shaker site,  I met a fellow digger who was more in on the game than I was! – and we were more serious perhaps than most people would get about digging a Shaker building. 

We went to breakfast after our first week together where she suggested seeking out a dig in Illinois which was  taking volunteers. As in, it was free to sign up (! If they did accept you, that was the roll of the dice. )

 Well, I guess also my finances are in a continuous balance with the cards I am dealt,  but the best thing seems to be doing what you think is important, or right, no matter what. And this archaeology stuff is kinda like that for me… 

So I looked up the application page and wrote to then about why I would like to join their dig, and by the next Monday I was to hear back whether they had accepted me or not. I said to myself, if this is so close to my family that I can get their help, then why not ask my aunt and boyfriend to sign up also. 

The next Monday came and went and my hopes were only a bit down but before I could react, two days later we all receive acceptance emails! Then, I had some serious planning to do. And some research! 

What I can tell everyone about the dig is that the archaeology of this site sits in a prairie preservation site in Illinois, south of Joliet. They discovered Native American post molds, pottery and (culturally indicative) storage pits, circa early 17th century, and had the site listed as a National Historic Site. That means they have to keep excavating, and have set a plan to dig for another few years in the future. 

So I went from historical digging in June to protohistory in August! 

Here are some vocab words to look up: 

Huber 

Oneota

Mississippian

Sherd

Punctate 

Hidden History

Atlanta is a lot like many modern cities, it has a deep history but not all of it is still standing or even visible. Its fascinating, though that if you do enough research, you can find hints of those very first buildings, and roads built in your own neighborhood. 

Some times, we stumble on hidden historical gems that are well marked with signposts through out Atlanta. Usually they  mark civil war events, and it makes it evident how central my neighborhood, and all of Atlanta was to the campaigns that wrought war through the southern United States. 
I actually stumbled upon a mill stone once. It was huge. Sitting there like a garden statue, at a forest preserve we visited, and I was just a little stunned at how under whelmed the woman was who ran the place. She emailed me the name of the man who owned the property before her, but it wasn’t much help. I took to the internet and this is all I could find of it, a photo with some guy! Well, at least he didn’t block the stone! 

Soon I was just looking at all the mills listed on the historic mills of Atlanta page on Wikipedia.

I found one near my neighborhood. As it is described, all that’s left is a road name and old maps I can’t wait to find. 

Here are some of online clues I saw: 

And when I glanced into the Wiki for the William’s Father…

So next time I go to Oakland Cemetery, I have a new name to find!

We decided we would just go and investigate the road, after we passed it the other day. We took a walk and found the physical street with the name-place clue! Photos in search of walking the length of William’s Mill Rd….

At the edge of Freedom Park, we found this historical marker. History on the way to see history!

The March to the Sea! How dramatic, i know about it from school but… of course I went home and read about online go refresh.

 But this is one of many war markers and I was after a mill location from a bit earlier in our history, so on with the walk!

The first glimpse of the road is marked right beside Manuel’ s Tavern, a “cornerstone” of fine Atlanta beverage establishments. Tucked away, like a secret garden, an off-kilter road runs off the main modern thoroughfare and gardens and houses lean in on either side. The road curves back until a sharp righthand turn in the road, where it changes names. It’s as if the street is turning over it’s own page in history.

This house had suspiciously large architecture at a higher elevation, which fenced boundary ran down the street several houses…

There you have the name change, Williams Mill to Linwood. The arrow indicating the road turns harshly there, a left turning ‘onto’ Williams Mill Rd NE. 

Here is a view of the street, either way from near this end of the road. Pretty typical, no one would ever guess… it has been such a long used road, to a mill… in this neighborhood. 

Then I got home and I searched for the history which I may have over looked. 

I found this and I was like, hmm..  Yes, interesting, go on…

Then I scrolled down and I almost flipped that I had somehow, through it all missed THIS:

Whaaat– I thoughtlessly kept scrolling for answers to why, rather than reading, I just skimmed down….until. 

*this marker is missing.

 So, that is the mystery I’m now left with. Each time I seek more physical evidence of this place, I get more questions than answers! Typical.