Cross-sectioning the earthwork

This weekend, I’m writing from the great state of Michigan, where I am picking up new members of the GCAP excavation team. In order to make this trip, we were only in the field a few days this week, but we nonetheless made quite a pit of progress on the earthwork. This is largely thanks to the energy of Christina Sampson and Claire Talbert, who will be greatly missed the rest of the season!

"Crouching tiger, hidden archaeologist" -- Christina excavating the earthwork ditch.

As mentioned in earlier blog entries, the major goal of our 5 x 1 m trench is to cross-section a magnetic anomaly that we interpreted as a probable earthwork ditch. By cutting straight through one of the sides of this roughly square-shaped ditch, we wanted to see and begin to understand the history of earthwork construction and in-filling.

After more than a week of careful excavation, during which we found fragments of mica sheets, stone tools, and plenty of Connestee ceramics, we finally reached the bottom of the ditch feature more than a meter below the ground surface. We then cleaned all walls of the unit. Two of the walls (below) show the ditch in cross section. The other two walls include the far edges of the ditch, which was about 1.5 m wide at the top; once we could see these in profile, we excavated them in natural levels.

East cross-section of the earthwork ditch. This wall is 130 cm wide, because at the time this photo was taken we had already removed the remaining ditch fill to the south of the original 1 x 1 m unit. You can see similar layers of fill waiting to be excavated on the top of the north wall.

West cross-section of the earthwork ditch.

By design, the ditch feature ran right through the middle of our trench. This configuration allowed us to sample the deposits immediately inside and immediately outside the earthwork. North of/inside the ditch enclosure, we found a small but artifact rich hearth (below). Additionally, Claire identified and excavated several large postholes both north/inside and south/outside the ditch enclosure.

Cross-section of hearth feature north of the ditch. Above the charcoal layer in the profile, there was a considerable amount of burned clay (removed for this photo). A small ring of fire cracked and fire reddened rocks enclosed the charcoal at the base of the feature.

Next week, when we return to Garden Creek, we will begin excavating another unit over earthwork anomaly. In this case, however, we aim to increase our sample of materials from the ditch deposits, so our unit will be directly over top of/in line with the ditch, rather than perpendicular to the ditch. Still, having done the cross-section, we now know what sorts of deposits to anticipate, so excavating in natural levels should be fairly straightforward. We’ve already removed the sod and plowzone here, so hopefully it won’t be long before we have more to say about these efforts!

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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One Response to Cross-sectioning the earthwork

  1. Bennie Keel says:

    It was really great to vist you last week. You are doing a great job, it made me very jealous, but I had my time at the site. I am looking forward to seeing you in Jacksonville in November.

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