Tuesday, January 2, 2018

This December, Christmas came early for me as I found myself at Shell Bluff Landing at the GTM Research Reserve, helping with a small archaeological survey! For five years, I've been visiting the site, worrying about the erosion, and trying to document it as best as I could. Why not dig at the site sooner? Well, it takes a lot more than some curiosity and a shovel to do archaeology.

To conduct an archaeological survey, one must have a good research question; the means to do the fieldwork; the space and resources to clean, analyze and curate the artifacts; and most importantly, the follow-through to write a report about the work that was done and the results. And because Shell Bluff Landing is on State-owned land, you also have to apply for a permit to do the work, a process that includes showing the land managers and State Archaeologist's office you have all of the aforementioned in order.

Trowel in ground at last!
After documenting dramatic shoreline loss over the past year, I was able to coordinate some fieldwork with two of my colleagues from the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research to better document the site before more loss occurs. We spent three days at the site in a whirlwind of documenting, collecting samples and setting up plans for better monitoring efforts in the future.

First, we relocated old rebar from a baseline for shoreline measurements installed in 1988. We were able to find all of the old rebar, measure the shoreline, and compare to the old numbers - almost 15 meters have been lost in some areas!

We used old maps, a metal detector and some good ol' fashioned sleuthing skills to find all of the old rebar.
Second, we clean up the eroding profile and mapped in the stratigraphy of the shell midden. We also removed a bulk sample of the shell midden to take back to the lab in Tallahassee. By removing all of the soil - not just taking the shell and artifacts recovered through screening - we can find smaller items like seeds, tiny lithic flakes and other objects that easily fall through the quarter-inch screen. This means we can learn a lot more about the site!

Shake, shake, shake - screening wet shell midden can put your arms to work.
Archaeology is all about documentation. We map and photograph every hole we dig.
Map faster! The tide is coming.
Muck boots required for removing this column sample.

Finally, we rounded out the project (on a very wet day) with a few shovel tests on the eastern portion of the site, to see how far the shell midden stretches in that direction.

On Thursday, we had help from HMS Florida Scout Marvin, who has helped monitor this site, among others, over the past year.

 We hope to continue measuring the shoreline to track changes. We'll have updates on what we learned about the midden after the bulk sample has been process and analyzed in the lab. Until then, go check out the site yourself at the GTM Research Reserve. And don't forget to file a HMS Florida Scout Report while you're there!

You can also see more of the project in Jessica Clark's story on the work from First Coast News.

Text and images by Emily Jane Murray, FPAN Staff.

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