Before crew chief Ashley and I move into our field house this afternoon, we’ve got a few minutes to catch our breath and report on the test excavations that were conducted at the Garden Creek village site last March.
After a week of magnetometer survey (see the second installment post for more information), my “number one test excavation team” from the University of Michigan (PhD candidate Cameron Gokee and PhD pre-candidates Jess Beck and Lars Anderson) and I selected three different magnetic anomalies to “ground truth.” In other words, Tim’s magnetometer readings indicated that these locations had subsurface deposits that differed from the natural background geology; to determine exactly what they were (e.g., a modern or archaeological feature; a hearth or a pit), we had to excavate them. All of these anomalies were on a county owned lot at the edge of the village site. Though this was not the area with the highest concentration of archaeological deposits, it was important that we demonstrate to local landowners that we could “leave no trace” before asking permission to dig in their yards.
Two of our three test units yielded apparently intact, Middle Woodland deposits. In Test Unit 1, we found several post holes, some Pigeon and Connestee potsherds, and notable amounts of chert debitage — tiny flakes produced when flint knapping a stone tool.
In Test Unit 2, we hit a very dense, sticky, deep clay deposit with almost no artifacts. It seems likely that, in this case, the magnetometer picked up a modern disturbance, possibly related to the construction of a nearby driveway.
Test Unit 3 was our most promising unit (which, of course, we did not open until our last day in the field). Its magnetic signature was a very discrete, sharp edged circle. When we excavated it, we found what appeared to be a round hearth consisting of river cobbles that were severely reddened and cracked by fire. Around these cobbles, we found more chert debitage and a few small pieces of Connestee cord marked pottery. Unfortunately, we had to leave before we identified the bottom or the edges of the hearth, but we plan to return to this feature as soon as excavations resume this week. We will not only complete the excavation of this hearth, but also expand the unit to include a virtually identical magnetic signature (another round, sharp edged anomaly) close by.
In addition to these test units, we shovel tested this terrace with a group of student volunteers from Warren Wilson College. By excavating small holes across this area, we gained a better sense of the distribution of archaeological artifacts there, as well as a comparative data set that will help us interpret the magnetometer survey results. We look forward to continuing to learn about these archaeological deposits, and others across the site, as the summer field season gets underway!