Dirt Sculpting

Still being somewhat vague:

On Monday I finished excavating my burial.  The internment was fairly shallow and therefore extremely truncated, with only the long bones of the legs, an arm, and a few ribs left.  Plows, an orchard, and groundhogs had taken the rest.  There was a small bird bone in it though, which looked like it had been shaped into a whistle.

The excavation technique for these kinds of burials is still very different though–not much contextual information is required.  The burials had been pedestaled by a backhoe so they were little islands on top of the sterile and there was no real way to associate them with horizons or soil changes.  The burial I was excavating was in the top of the midden, with burnt serpentine embedded all around it.  I carefully removed all of the rock, pedestalled the individual bones, dug a moat around it, then we took a photo, drew it, then lifted the bones.    We were unable to determine the age or sex of the burial, beyond that it was an adult.

So, after I finished with the burial, I moved on to more familiar territory–a very large round house feature.  My 1×2 is in the NW corner of the 7m diameter structure and I immediately started coming down onto large (<30cm) rocks (some with fossils!) and mission tile.  There’s a mixture of curved (roof) and flat (floor) tile, but the flat tile is apparently a little too thin, so that part is a mystery.  We’re trying to determine if the tile and rock and fragmented animal bone is historic fill brought in from somewhere else, or if it is the remains of the roundhouse, which would make it one of the only roundhouses to have mission tile.  I got to level within the first day, even though the soil is extremely hard in places–to the point where it the pickaxe and handaxe were just adding a sheen to the clay, not really breaking it up at all.  We’ve been dumping buckets of water into it at night, much to my dismay at having achieved lovely level walls and floors.

I was happy during the first level, as the 10cm depth started to define the clusters of tile and rock.  We’re leaving it all in situ though, and going down another 10cm, which I’m a little unsure about.  Pedestalling is just bizarre if you’re trying to dig stratigraphically, and I would have rather tried to expose the roundhouse with 2 2x2s, getting an areal view, and tried dig out the features as they were deposited.  I think that might be one of the best ways to figure out if the debris was carted in from elsewhere.  Also, there’s a sandy layer at about 16cm which I suspect is more than just groundhog burrows.  I’m also excited to get to sterile, to see if there are postholes or other storage features.

I don’t argue though, as I’m frightfully happy to be out in the sun again, injuries aside.  I’ll put all the artifacts on square dirt pillars if that’s what it takes.

Author: colleenmorgan

Dr. Colleen Morgan (ORCID 0000-0001-6907-5535) is the Lecturer in Digital Archaeology and Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. She conducts research on digital media and archaeology, with a special focus on embodiment, avatars, genetics and bioarchaeology. She is interested in building archaeological narratives with emerging technology, including photography, video, mobile and locative devices. Through archaeological making she explores past lifeways and our current understanding of heritage, especially regarding issues of authority, authenticity, and identity.

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