Potsherds, Pits, and Profiles

Despite a torrential downpour, the second half of our sixth week in the field was a whirlwind of productive activity. Most of the crew worked to expand the trench through the possible earthwork feature, while Shaun and I continued to work out the stratigraphy and extent of Feature 1.

Unit 6, the earthwork trench, in the foreground. Unit 4, the midden, was just left of the canopy. Unit 3, the pit, is near the cherry tree in the distance.

Claire and Erika continued excavating the central 1×1 m square in the earthwork trench (Unit 6), where they discovered some large Middle Woodland potsherds and sheet mica fragments. Once we reach the bottom of this unit, we will have north and south profiles showing the natural stratigraphy of the feature. We will trace these levels back through the rest of the trench, where we have already removed the plowzone, thanks to the efforts of Dylan, Jordan, new arrival Christina Perry Sampson (UM graduate student), and special guest Curtis Wright (Alice’s baby brother).

A sizable check stamped sherd among a rock cluster in Unit 6. Another sherd of similar size was found nearby; it refits with this one.

We anticipate that the construction history of this earthwork feature will become clearer as we continue excavating. In contrast, the more we dig, the more puzzling our big pit (Feature 1) becomes. At the very least, Shaun and Claire did a great job cleaning the last of the charcoal off the the pit walls for a photo.

Feature 1, more or less at the base of the pit. In this photo, the red, burned clay that lined the western pit wall had been removed, but it was still in place against the north and south walls. All of the holes except the uppermost one (the auger hole) seem to have been caused by roots.

At this point, we were surprised to find more charcoal behind the western clay wall. In response, we began removing the non-stratified “balk” in the northwest portion of this unit, in which we discovered a low but undeniable frequency of artifacts. Furthermore, as this area was excavated, we discovered that the south wall of red burned clay continued to the northwest.

Our best guess now is that this “pit” was divided by a wall of burned clay, or that it is a couple of overlapping pit features (thanks to my UM archaeology/paleoanthropology brothers for this latter idea!). The already excavated eastern portion of  the pit was the site of multiple dumping episodes, as seen in the profiles (below). As yet, it is unclear what was happening in the western portion of the feature, except that there is a thick layer of charcoal at the base. We will likely need to excavate a few more 1x1s before we get a handle on it; any input from folks who have encountered similar features would be greatly appreciated!

East wall of Feature 1. We see five zone below the plowzone: one small intrusive pit in near the center; two thick levels of yellowish fill; one level of gray fill and charcoal; and a thick layer of charcoal at the bottom. The top of this charcoal overlaid the bottom of the red, burned clay pit wall lining (seen in profile at the left). It's about 80cm from the grass to the pit bottom.

About Alice Wright

Alice is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Appalachian State University. She tweets about archaeology, Appalachia, and cats @alicepwright.
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