Friday, October 16, 2009

Getting into the zone...plowzone that is!

In the spirit of our return to Port Tobacco to continue excavations I figured today would be as good a time as any to discuss an archaeologist's close encounters with soil...of the plowzone kind.

At Port Tobacco the first and second strata excavated are often plowzone deposits. Plowing accounts for the mix of artifacts often found while screening plowzone soils, as the movement of a plow destroys any vertical stratigraphy, jumbling together ceramics, glass, metal, etc. that were deposited during different time periods. Additionally, plowing the soil (while wonderful for cultivation) often interferes with features and damages artifacts. All of this mixing and damage may seem depressing, but all is not lost! Although artifacts may be moved vertically through strata during plowing, they do not move very much spatially (horizontally). This means that artifacts in the plowzone generally are still located near to where they were originally deposited.

Since plowing only minimally moves artifacts spatially, it has been possible for us to name different excavation areas at the Port Tobacco site. For instance, both historic and prehistoric ceramics were found in the plowzone in the Aboriginal Locus (not named because the sole artifacts found are associated with prehistoric occupation, but because the density of aboriginal artifacts is much higher). While this mix of artifacts spanning thousands of years in age may make it difficult to date occupation periods, the high concentration of aboriginal artifacts still suggests that in this particular space there were likely aboriginal activities occurring. So, while plowing may make dating and feature identification near-impossible, plowed soils can still offers clues as to what types of activities did and did not occur in an area of a site. This also has important implications when analyzing soils as, once again, while soils from different strata have been combined the soil is still representative of that particular area.

Also, since we looked to awful chilly in yesterday's picture, I thought it might be nice to recall those beautiful sunny days of the Field Session back in May by posting a couple of pictures of us and the wonderful volunteers tackling some plow zone. Many thanks to John Fiveash of the Archaeological Society of Maryland for these pictures--please check out the ASM website for many more pictures from the 2009 Port Tobacco field session (as well as others from past field sessions!).

Stay warm...I heard there is a possibility of a bit of flurry activity early on tomorrow morning!


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