Sunday, October 26, 2008

Seeking Lost Towns & Cities

I was preparing a lecture today for a Friday morning class that I give at the local senior center. The subject of the course is recent discoveries in archaeology around the world. Not having studied world archaeology since my undergraduate days back in the 1970s, I've had to do some remedial work. While reading about the recent discoveries in Giza (Egypt) and Caral (Supe Valley, Peru), I was struck by the similar approaches taken by the PTAP team and those of scholars working on some of the most important archaeological sites in the world.

All of us are confronted with the same problem: how do we explore complex sites that we suspect were urban, but for which little evidence survives above ground? The common answer is survey...we all collect information on a broad area that includes and extends beyond the expected limits of the site. We forgo intensive excavation, with its short-term potential for producing extraordinary finds, and employ survey techniques that will limn the extent of the site, and possibly aspects of its internal structure (e.g., streets, neighborhoods, special sites such as religious edifices). As we develop a deeper understanding of the we map its extents...then we can begin to devise questions and select areas for more detailed study.

There is still some survey that we can do at Port Tobacco, including the east side of Chapel Point Road and the forested areas interspersed among the Edelen family's fields; but the bulk of the survey has been completed and it's time to focus more on certain parts of the site. We started that this past June and we expect to test other parts of the town site over the coming year.

We will not find gold masks or elaborate tombs with mummified kings. We will find the many aspects of common life of the common people whose contributions, seemingly mundane, built the foundations on which our society is founded.


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