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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/
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Archive for March 2015

Lab Time: Prehistoric Pottery

We always tell people that it takes 5 days in the lab for every 1 day archaeologists spend in the field. But what does all that lab time look like? Let's take a look!

I've been working on a small project with the University of North Florida Archaeology Lab. Dr. Keith Ashley has been directing a project out at the Mill Cove Complex along the St. Johns River in Jacksonville. Lots of materials have been recovered: shells, faunal remains, lithics, pottery and even exotics like copper and ochre. I've been looking over the ceramics found in one component of the site, in hopes to compare them to other components.

This is just one of the bags: over one hundred pieces!
Each sherd is cataloged separately. We collect information like paste/tempering, weight, thickness, surface treatment, designs and modification.

Some tempering agents, like sponge spicules, can only be seen under a microscope.
Thickness can help us determine what part of the vessel we have: rim, body or base.

When we're done looking at the individual pieces, we can also look at the pieces to try to determine what the pots would have looked like before they broke. We can determine the orifice diameter based on the arc of the sherds. We can also look at the shape and size of the pot based on the profile of the pot sherd. Sometimes we're even lucky enough to find some that fit back together!

Charts like this one help us easily identify the diameter of the pot as well as the percentage of the vessel.
We create a database with all of the pottery information that can be manipulated to look at type, size, design and more. Next step: writing all of that information up in a report!!

Stay tuned for an update on the findings! For further information, check out some of Keith Ashely's article about the Mill Cove Complex.

Fantastic Archaeology Resources

A quick shout out to all the people who came out tonight for the Fantastic Archaeology: Florida Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries lecture at Brevard Museum of Science and Natural History! Special thanks to the Florida Historical Society and Florida Historical Society Archaeology Institute for the invitation and including me in celebrating Florida Archaeology Month

I'm told the lecture and slides will be available on YouTube by the museum, so check their website and social media for updates. But to tide you over in the mean time, here are a few resources for more information. Practice skepticism every day! And if you ever have questions about something you see in the news, give me a holler and I'll help research from my end if it's authentic archaeology, or fantastic archaeology.

Slide from presentation featuring artwork by Theodore Morris.

Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries:  Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology.
Kenneth Feder

Demon Haunted World
Carl Sagan

Fantastic Archaeology: The Wild Site of North American Prehistory
Stephen Williams

Cult Archaeology and Creationism
Francis B. Harrold and Raymond A. Eve (editors)

Inauthentic Archaeologies:PublicUses and Abuses of the Past
Troy Lovata

Bones of Contention: Controversies in the Search for Human Origins

Roger Lewin


Baloney Detection Kit (Michael Shermer citing Carl Sagan)

Larry Zimmerman On the Wild (but funny!) Side of Archaeology (slide presentation)

*Both syllabuses contain a wealth of books, articles, and more up to date resources

Have a favorite resource you don't see?  PLEASE post below!

Text: Sarah Miller, FPAN staff
Image: slide from Fantastic Archaeology presentation featuring artwork courtesy of Theodore Morris

WWII Plane Crash Archaeological Survey in Osteen FL

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate in an uncommon archaeological survey, and wanted to share it with our FPAN Northeast blog followers.

Over the past several years, landowner Rodney Thomas located thousands of miscellaneous aircraft parts on his property near the town of Osteen (pronounced OH-steen) in Volusia County. At first, he admitted that he thought the pieces belonged to some antique farm equipment, but held the suspicion that perhaps they were something more.

All of the wreckage Rodney recovered thus far

Tag inside the artifact case at the museum 

After submitting some sample pieces to the nearby Deland Naval Air Station Museum, he learned that the artifacts actually belonged to a WWII-era SBD-5 Dauntless aircraft! After a little more research, they found that the plane crashed in 1944, but also discovered that the wreckage could belong to one of six crashes that occurred during that year.

Photograph of the SBD-5

Fast forward…..

George Schwarz, an underwater archaeologist with the Naval History and Heritage Command for the Navy found out about the wreck, and immediately took interest in investigating the site. According to George, roughly 95% of plane crashes are in the ocean, so it was an extremely unique and rare opportunity to investigate a wreck site of this era on solid ground.

George contacted local military personnel, veterans, archaeologists, a local metal detecting club, and others to put together a 3-day survey of the crash site.  There was even aid from a local forensic team and cadaver dogs, in case of buried human remains. The volunteer archaeologists included two people from the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Project—LAMP, right here in St. Augustine, two University of West Florida (UWF) graduate students, and myself (Ryan).

Day 1 took the form of a media day—it began with a briefing on the plane, the crash site, and essentially all the knowledge that had been obtained up to that point. Local news crews, some 50 veterans, and others were in attendance.  The audience also included local historians, archaeologists, and general enthusiasts of historic preservation.

Dr. George Schwarz, Navy Archaeologist, addresses locals and the media

After lunch on Day 1, we headed out to the site. There were more interviews with the media, and the cadaver dogs completed their initial survey of the property. One area sparked their interest (or should I say noses), but more on that later. Once the dogs were finished, the archaeologists began their work.

Addressing the media once more out at the site

The goal for the latter part of the day was simple—walk the transects that George had previously established on his GPS, and create waypoints along the way to “draw” the layout of the site, and to test whether the transects were easily traversable (we were in the woods after all!). Transects were placed 10 meters apart with the goal of uniform coverage of the site. Because the survey itself was being done by metal detectorists, any closer may have caused the machines to interfere with one other.

Walking transects, this one was easy!

Day 2 and Day 3 protocol were followed the same format. The metal detectorists would follow the transects (marked by orange flagging tape), locate and unearth metal objects, and then call upon the archaeologists to examine, photograph, and record each object individually.

Sample photograph, poor example, you shouldn't have alternating shadows! 

 In the evenings, the archaeologists processed the artifacts in the lab. When all was said and done on Day 3, several hundred additional metal objects had been documented and processed. Because there is additional analysis to be performed, however, it remains to be seen how many actually belonged to the aircraft.

Archaeologists documenting metal artifacts
As for the site that piqued the dogs’ interest, nothing ever came of it. The forensic team took numerous core samples and did not come up with any evidence for human remains, and adjacent test units did not yield any either.

Overall, the survey was a wonderful opportunity and experience. I got better with my GPS skills, and was able to partake in the search for a rare, land-based aircraft wreck site. Hopefully more details emerge soon, and all those involved will discover which plane went down, and who the pilots were.

Text and Images, Ryan Harke, FPAN Northeast Staff. 

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