About Me

My Photo
Saint Augustine, Northeast Florida
Going public with archaeology for outreach, assistance to local governments, and service to the citizens and state of Florida. Visit our website at: http://flpublicarchaeology.org/nerc/
Powered by Blogger.

Blog Archive

Archive for February 2011

Coming Around the Bend...

It's nearly here people, Florida Archaeology Month! 

The doctor will be in!

March begins next Tuesday and with it the official start of our month to celebrate archaeology.  This year's theme is native use of plants and seeds.  To kick things off, Dr. Michele Williams from FPAN-SE will be giving a lecture, "Weeds and Seeds: A History of Dining Out in South Florida" co-hosted with the St. Augustine Archaeology Association Tuesday night at 7 pm in the Flagler Room at Flagler College.

But that's not all!  Wednesday, March 2, we start the first in our nine part "Archaeology: It's Out There!" series featuring archaeologist Chris Newman, reviving her Tour de Guana offering!  Join us at 11 am at the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuary Research Reserve (affectionately called the NERR) for a welcome before we hit the trail and bike back into Florida's Menorcan, British, and prehistoric past.  Want to know what to expect?  Check out our sneak peek video with footage from our last visit to the preserve.  For your troubles we have special prizes for the bikers who come out to show their archaeological support (hint, it's for your bike!).

Never ones to rest on our laurels, we'll be back out Saturday, March 5th at 11 am at Camp Milton in Jacksonville.  We will meet participants and talk archaeology before biking back to location of the Civil War earthworks, discussing native plant and seed use during prehistoric and historic times.

New earthworks constructed at Camp Milton.

These and many more events are going on in our region.  Check back frequently to our Center's program/events page, FPAN homepage for other regional events, or for statewide activities visit the Division of Historical Resources official FAM 2011 webpage.

Amber and Sarah on a prelim run of the ride at Ravine- See you soon!

"What Is It?" Wednesday

This week we met with staff and volunteers of the Beaches Museum and History Center in Jacksonville Beach.  On display was this large artifact without a label.  Let's help them out!  Send us your guess of what it is (I have a few guesses, but not quite sure) or recommended label text.

Amber added in for scale (and dramatic gesture!).


A Penetrating Look at the Past

As you may know, FPAN’s mission has three basic tenets: to engage the public in archaeology outreach and education, to assist local and county governments, and to support Florida’s Division of Historical Resources. The Northeast Region uses a variety of strategies to meet each of these aims, and we always get excited when an activity accomplishes more than one of them.

With help, nearly anyone can operate GPR equipment.

Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) is one such tool. If you’ve hung around the FPAN Northeast ladies, you already know that Sarah and I think GPR is, in some ways, a public archaeologist’s dream. When we take the machine out, we use volunteers to set up our grids and can let virtually any member of the public operate the equipment. It allows us to change the focus from “finding treasure,” which is not what archaeologists seek, to “learning about people of the past.”

I could tell you about it all day long, but I think it’s more fun to show you. Here are some examples from our most recent GPR efforts in St. Augustine:

The Plaza

St. Augustine's City Archaeologist Carl Halbirt excavates a test unit in the Plaza.

At this site we engaged the public while assisting the City Archaeologist, Carl Halbirt. He recently excavated a test unit in the southeast end of the Plaza and found evidence of a large post. He asked us to do GPR to see if we could detect other posts nearby. If we could, it might help him figure out which direction the structure went, and how large it was.

For all the projects this time, we used 3D GPR. To do this we had to lay out a grid and run the GPR over the grid several times north-south, then east-west. We set up two grids, one north of Carl's test unit and one to the south. We didn’t have any volunteers signed up to help us that day, but it didn’t matter. We talked to 30 people while we were out there, and several of them took turns operating the machine.

A local man tries his hand at GPR.

The most common question people ask is, “Are you looking for treasure?” Usually, I groan inwardly when I hear that question. Aside from the notion that we study dinosaurs, that’s probably the greatest misconception archaeologists face. As archaeologists, we study people and cultures of the past. Though some artifacts are pretty spectacular, more often than not we piece together what life was like by observing some pretty mundane stuff—itty bitty ceramic fragments, rusty nails, and animal bones for instance.

An archaeologist's treasure: animal bones provide a
wealth of knowledge about diet.

Another treasure: ceramics can inform the date of a site
and offer clues to financial and social status.

With GPR, I was excited to field that question. It is a terrific teachable moment. Why? We weren’t looking for treasure, or any artifacts at all!  We were just looking for soil of a different density than the “normal” ground. The posts to that structure rotted away long ago, changing what the dirt was like. GPR could help identify these locations.

Fountain of Youth

Carl and volunteer Janet excavate a posthole in the middle
of an older shell foundation at the Fountain of Youth.

Next we partnered with City Archaeology, the Fountain of Youth, and the University of Florida. We went to the Fountain of Youth Archaeology Park, where Halbirt excavated last fall. Gifford Waters of the University of Florida joined us too. He came to tie the maps from their UF's field investigations to our GPR work.

When City Archaeology dug there in the fall, they uncovered the foundation for a mission-era structure and a shell midden predating the mission. We set up a grid just north of the area of investigation to see if we could pick up those features.

We map each GPR site to keep track of any objects that may interfere with pushing the machine (for example, the tree near Gifford's forefinger).  THIS is the kind of map you get when you accidentally hide the forms.

Nombre de Dios

Next, Gifford and several volunteers met us at Nombre de Dios. Last year we took a 3D GPR grid of the area just south of the chapel, and we followed up this time by exploring an area further south. In one of these areas may be an earlier mission structure. UF has studied this site for many years. Paired with the Fountain of Youth, they make what was almost certainly the landing site and earliest encampment of Pedro Menendez.

GPR at Nombre de Dios

We didn’t see quite as many people as we did at the Plaza, but we talked to a few. As always at these St. Augustine stops, some were local, and some were visiting. The “Longest Distance Traveled to Witness GPR” Award that day went to a couple from Michigan.

Colonial  Spanish Quarter

The last day of our GPR adventures, we went to a city-owned site—a large open area that makes up part of the Colonial Spanish Quarter. Carl and his crew had been digging just to the east of the GPR site. We planned to find out if his site continued to the area where we laid out our grid. Gifford again joined us (as Kathy Deagan, formerly of UF, had excavated there several years ago), and we had a handful of volunteers to help us out.

Volunteers lay out the grid and operate GPR equipment while I bask in the sunlight, snapping pictures.

Sadly, this area wasn’t open to the public, but we did enjoy visits from some of the Colonial Spanish Quarter staff.

Deleted scene from "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure?"  No! 
Colonial Spanish Quarter staffer & City Archaeology Volunteer Lynn collects GPR data.

GPR is a terrific tool for getting an idea of what’s in the ground without (or before) excavating, but only digging can confirm our predictions. We carry out these types of investigations for different reasons, too—in some sites, we don’t want to dig—we simply want to find out whether it’s likely that archaeological features are in the area. For instance, when we did GPR in historic cemeteries during prior investigations, we wanted to determine whether unmarked burials were present. If they were, we didn’t want to disturb them.

Other times, we hope to provide direction for future investigations. For instance in the Plaza—if we found evidence that there may be posts to the south of Carl’s unit but not to the north, he probably wouldn’t dig north of his unit. It would save him the time of having to open up ground that is unlikely to contribute to his investigation.

We don't have results yet for the grids we explored, but our conclusions about using GPR with the public are as strong as ever.  We had a great time sharing with the people we met, and loved letting them try their hands at real archaeology.  Next time you see us pushing this thing around your neighborhood, feel free to come out and play!

~~Amber J.

UPDATE: Amazing City Archaeology - Carl on San Marcos Continued

New Finds - New Theories on St. Augustine's Bay Front - The Trolley Stop Dig

Trolley Stop Dig with Castillo de San Marcos in the background

Last month FPAN reported from the field.  The action was at Carl Halbirt, the City Archaeologist's, dig across from the Castillo de San Marcos.  Well the action is still happening! To bring you up to date, the City plans to build a Colonial Spanish Quarter trolley stop across from the Castillo.  Carl's investigations in the area have uncovered some very tantalizing features, large post hole stains, a very large well feature and some aligned trenches.  Work has continued through mid February and theories of what lies beneath the ground have vacillated from an early wooden fort built before the current Castillo to a warehouse on the waterfront.

St. Augustine City Archaeologist, Carl Halbirt, points at a long trench feature.
Carl has a theory! 
And the weather has not cooperated - Carl and his intrepid volunteers have sandwiched their field work between days of heavy rain and cold.  But this past Wednesday dawned a beautiful day with some amazing archaeology.   The crew excavated some of the large post hole stains to see if they were in fact posts and if they aligned to form the outlines of a structure.  Carl had a theory! 

Large post hole soil stains
 Well - some of them were deep post holes and some of them were not.  But toward the end of the day, one very large stain revealed what could be the smoking gun!  The stain turned out to be a large deep post hole and --- below the water table, there appeared the remains of a large wooden post.  Voila - here was tantalizing evidence of a very large wooden structure that may continue east under the road and the Castillo parking lot.   And the artifacts from the post hole, mostly native pottery, confirmed the 17th century date.  This could be it the very first evidence of one of St. Augustine's nine wooden forts built before the Castillo!

Toni Wallace excavates a post hole.
Ahh - archaeology is such fun in St. Augustine!  Next Carl will excavate the large well feature to the north of the post hole.  Could it be the very well that served the wooden fort in the mid-16th century?  If you would like to volunteer with Carl, contact the St. Augustine Archaeological Association and help us uncover the buried history of the nation's oldest city.  St. Augustine was founded by the Spanish in 1565, 40 years before Jamestown, Virginia, only the second oldest.

Phil Gulliford begins excavation of the well.
Marylea Klauder wet screens soil from the post hole and searches for pottery. 
Look for further updates on the City's exciting archaeology at this blog, the Dirt on Public Archaeology.

"What Is It?" Wednesday

We have a mystery artifact from FPAN Southeast's excavation in the Dry Tortugas that was featured in last week's blog post.  One artifact in particular looks so familiar, yet we have been unable to positively identify it to our satisfaction.  We'd appreciate any thoughts you might have...


White block to right of copper alloy item is one cm for scale.

Florida's Guardian: Archaeology of Ft. Jefferson

I recently gave a paper at Southeastern Archaeological Conference SEAC that presented the preliminary results of my analysis of the Ft. Jefferson historical materials collected during Florida Archaeology Month 2008.  I thought I'd post a few pictures and findings from my analysis and show you the kind of thing we share at professional conferences (though many in the session did it more impressively than I!).

Florida Archaeology Month Poster 2009.

First, let me set the stage.  I was not there two years ago when Michele Williams was invited out by the Southeastern Archaeology Center who manages the park.  Michele was happy to respond to their request to help host a public event out at the park, let people interact with real archaeologists and ground truth some of the ground penetrating radar findings.  They excavated in the southwestern section inside the fort and recovered about 5,000 artifacts.

Last spring we had the chance to look at the artifacts after they had been washed and before they were returned to the National Park for permanent storage.  The artifacts had already been washed and sorted by general material type: metal, ceramics, glass, synthetics, and ecofacts (bone and shell).  We opened each bag and took a line of data that included material, form, weight, and measurements when appropriate.  Two other important factors were taken into consideration: function and burning.  To understand how that area of the site was used, it was important to assign a functional category to each artifact: kitchen, architectural, military, maritime.  We had over ten function groups pre-selected and adjusted as we saw a large amount of maritime artifacts in the assemblage.  If the artifact exhibited signs of being burned, we noted that as well.  A storehouse that burned in the 1850s stood on this area of the site and the park managers wanted to know if the artifacts came from that time period.

Michele Williams and Amber Weiss doing analysis.

Putting yeay nails back into the bag.

After the data were entered into the computer, I calculated dates based on the ceramics and the window glass.  All ceramics are made from clay and often decorated in a way that let us know when they were manufactured.  We use the manufacturing dates to get an average, multiply that number by the number of sherds of a certain type, and then divide by the entire assemblage number.  For example, if we had four sherds (or pieces of ceramic) that was manufactured from 1800 to 1900, we'd multiply 4 times the average of 1850 and then divide by the total number of sherds to arrive at a mean ceramic date of 1850.  In the case of Ft. Jefferson, a date of 1888 was arrived at using the mean ceramic dating formula.

Pipe stems dated too late to run formula but testiment to personal artifacts.

Mine ball recovered from the site.

Next, I did a window glass analysis based on the thickness of flat, broken fragements of glass.  Glass formulas are not new but not often applied to Florida collections.  The idea behind the formula is that window glass gets uniformally thicker over time--that the earliest window glass will be thinner, later glass will be thicker.  We measured the thickness of each glass fragment (remember they had to be flat, not curved!) and plugged the numbers into Moir's formula.  The first date I got was 1865, which is not bad considering the site was most heavily used and constructed between 1848 and 1888.  I didn't stop there though- I wanted to see if the soil in this area of the site had "integrity," or had not been mixed past the point of being archaeologically usable.  In fact my lower level dated 10 years earlier based on the window glass than then 10 cm level of soild above.  This is good!  This means that the older artifacts are still found deeper below the surface and that the site still holds a high research potential.

If anything, the analysis helped bring to light--for me at least--the long period of use of the Fort, and while it was used as a prison during the Civil War, the history of the site goes earler and later than that event.  The lighthouse was first constructed in 1826, and we found pearlware ceramic sherds that date to that time.  We also found a whisky bottle fragment and amethyst glass that told us people used and lived at the site well past the Civil War and into the early 1900s.

Ca. 1900 Maryland Planter Rye bottle.

The most surprising thing to me as a terrestrial archaeologist was the maritime artifacts.  Looking at artifacts from digs well in land, I'm not used to seeing the ship fasteners that were found at the site.  The nails and rivets looked similar to what I find on typical 19th century sites, but instead of being made of iron with chunks of rust, these maritime artifacts were made out of copper alloy and an a neat, slightly green finish. 

Brass nail indicates maritime function at site.

The other surprise that while this was supposed to be in the area of a burned storehouse, very few of the artifacts were burned, and very few matching ceramics were found--as I'd expect at a warehouse.  Instead a great variety of artifacts, notably personal artifacts, were found and give us at present a direct connection to those who used the site in the past.

If you're ever in south Florida, don't miss a chance to visit this colossal giant, the largest masonary structure in the western hemisphere.  Keep checking back with us, we'll let you know if they're planning any more digs out there in the future.

Thanks to:
April Andrade (FAU)
Paul Callsen (FAU)
Brian Conesa (ASSF)
Amber Grafft-Weiss (NE-FPAN)
Sarah Nohe (SE-FPAN)
Crystal Geiger (FAU)
Carla Hadden (NPS-SEAC)
Melissa Memory (NPS-Everglades & Dry Tortugas)
Margo Schwadron (NPS-SEAC)
South Florida National Parks Trust
And the generosity of the NPS-Dry Tortugas staff, volunteers and visitors!

- Copyright © Going Public - Skyblue - Powered by Blogger - Designed by Johanes Djogan -