Friday, August 10, 2012


I just want to take a brief moment to thank everyone that I have interacted with and was involved with for this internship. I'd like to thank Bob Genheimer for guiding me and helping me throughout this internship and actually giving me the opportunity to be a part of it.  I would like to thank my volunteer coordinator and other people at the museum that made this possible for me because otherwise I wouldn't be learning as much as I would now.  And I would like to thank everyone else I've worked with to make this such a positive experience and for sharing smiles and memories with me.  It truly was a wonderful experience and I look forward to any other work that I will be doing with everyone in the future.  Cheers!

Thursday, August 9, 2012


Once we're done in the field, everything (dirt, artifacts, people, ideas) gets sent back to the lab.

Everything that is not living (besides research ideas) is bagged up and labeled.  The artifacts are separated according to unit, feature, level, date.  The same applies to the dirt set aside for flotation.  This bag of dirt is taken to the flotation machine I introduced to you in an earlier post.  The residue is then taken to a screen where the small, botanical remains are separated from the heavier artifacts.  The artifacts like bones and pottery are washed and placed in the containers like pudding cups and medicine bottles to be analyzed and labeled.  The same applies to the other artifacts in other bags.  These artifacts are washed, sorted, then washed one more time.

The lab expert then sorts the artifacts even more based off their distinctive characteristics such as whether it is thermally altered, had cordmarks, or is a certain type of organic material.  These characteristics along with where the artifacts came from (unit, feature, level) as well as an identifying number are written down on a piece of paper for the lab workers to write down.  The identification number is written on the artifact with archival safe ink, which is then covered with a clear protective liquid called soluvar.  The information about the artifact is written on an archival bag and an acid-free tag and placed in a bag to place in storage for further research when needed or placed on display in the museum.

It may seem like there is only a little work done in the lab, but we are still working on artifacts from 2010, meaning that work can get backed up and the work being done is time consuming.  However, that does not mean that the work done is not enjoyable.  In fact, I enjoy it incredibly and find it to be the best work I could do because I get to play with artifacts all day long.


In previous posts, I described artifacts and how there may be evidence that Fort Ancient Indians may have "recycled" older tools and techniques of making pottery.  What I want to briefly discuss is how we archaeologists take the time to recycle objects and use them to our advantage in the field and in the lab.  In the field when we excavate, we tend to accumulate large piles of dirt, as to be expected.  When we need to scoop all of that dirt up with "tools" like an ice scoop from a hotel!

And the buckets we use to put the dirt in were previously containers that held cat litter or chlorine for pools.

When we are trying to extract stubborn artifacts from the dirt, we use letter openers or tools used to bevel lines into pottery instead of using our trowels.
In the lab, we save a variety of containers to place artifacts in after washing them: TV dinner trays, pudding cups, medicine bottles, etc.
You can see the usefulness in everyday items because when you don't have a large sum of money for funding excavation and research, we have to find ways to accommodate for the lack of money.  Hence, we recycle.  And in recycling, we can make comparisons to how we use everyday items that may seem like trash and see how the Fort Ancient Indians took what may have been "crap" and utilized each item to their full potential.  I love working in archaeology because I am able to make these everyday connections from modern times and compare our lifestyles and behaviors to those that happened centuries ago.  We are still so similar in so many ways.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Flintstones! Or just flint. Take your pick.

When you think of Fort Ancient Indians, get this above image out of your head.  First of all, people did not live with dinosaurs, especially Hopewell Indians like those of the Fort Ancient Culture (remember time periods, people: 1100 - 1650).  However, Dino their pet dinosaur does indeed suggest the domestication of animals, and in this case, dinosaurs.  Second of all, there is no indication of agriculture or traditional instances of ancient development of culture.  A more accurate depiction of our "Fort Ancient Flintstone Family" is this:
Here, we see the collective group effort of gathering corn and distributing roles apart from traditional gender roles seen in The Flinstones. The only thing that we can take from The Flintstones that can be of some value is their use of stone, especially flint.  Fort Ancient Indians are known predominantly for at least 3 or 4 different styles of knapping flint.  The first example is their triangular point that does not have a notch or stem that is usually seen in projectile points like arrowheads.
Here is a collection of projectile points that were indicative of the late Fort Ancient period (Madisonville).  Some of the points were broken off, leaving behind only the base of the point or its tip.  As you can see, all of the points are missing the base where a notch would be except for the earlier point in the lower right-hand corner.  That point is archaic, showing again that Fort Ancient Indians reused points they found from earlier time periods.  Another type of point is a serrated point that is also triangular and missing the base.  In fact, it is entirely similar to the other points but just has serrations.
I think these are my favorite points simply because it shows the extra work that has to go into making points because the natives have to be careful in the way they strike the flint otherwise it will not make notches and instead shatter.  Finally, as you could see in the previous picture, the early Fort Ancient points were early woodland period and were similar to Mississippian cultures.  When I was excavating in the latrine this summer, I found a Mississippian point that was re-utilized as an early Archaic point, again indicating this notion of recycling in ancient cultures.  
The special features of the points at the site I work at have that special "hump" in the middle of the point.  The meaning behind this hump has yet to be explained, but these humps make these points distinctive at the Hahn site for Fort Ancient Indians.  In the first picture, the points to the left have this hump, or at least a small trace of it. 
Other examples of flint knapping include scrapers for tanning hides of leather and knife blades.  
All of these are my favorite things to find because, though pottery is exciting and pretty and a challenge to make, I find flint to be a beautiful manipulation of the world.  The native has to pick the proper flint (flintstone is not a proper term for it), hit it in a special way, and out of these multiple attempts at striking at this rock, a beautiful tool is created.  It's incredible to see how we use tools today and how tools were created and utilized centuries ago.  Seeing the beautiful manipulation of rocks and uncovering it from the ground, though the sharp little pieces of chert may cut up my hands, I fall even more in love with digging in the dirt and finding more connections to the world in the past.  
If you wanna learn how to flint knap, here's a decent youtube video!


I think it's important to start educating the masses on one of the most popular artifacts we encounter in the field: pottery.  Just like how Fort Ancient had multiple time periods, it also had many different types of pottery as well.  It's amazing how the tiniest sherds of pottery can be identified as having this type of temper or this type of decoration.  By being able to observe this under a microscope or just in our own hands, we can tell that these Fort Ancient Indians had a knack for creativity, for wanting to deviate from the norm, for even taking influences from other cultures.  First of all, when observing pottery, it is important to notice what time of temper it has.  I don't mean it's disposition or how easily angry it gets - I mean what type of clay and the materials in that clay are used to make its structure and coloration.  Most of the pottery we pull from the dirt has shell tempered clay.
(I borrowed this picture from another university's website because it's a better image than the ones I took)  As you can see, this piece of pottery has bits of white flakes in it that indicate the use of mussel shells.  This temper preserved well and thus was used more in making pottery.  The only downside to using this temper is that when heating the shaped clay, it tends to shrink from its original size, which could explain the variation in sizes of pottery sherds we have found.  What I find fascinating about shell-tempered pottery is that it is largely indicative of Mississippian cultures, though Fort Ancient is a Hopewell culture.  By observing these meshing of two cultures, we can see a constant theme of influence and recycling.  Mississippian cultures have a lot of influence over Fort Ancient artifacts, and there is some indication of Fort Ancient Indians recycling older and distant artifacts from other cultures.  This could point to the fact that not only were Fort Ancient Indians probably trading with other cultures but were also preserving the notion of recycling by reusing other materials they deemed appropriate.  I will explain this in other posts as well.
Other types of tempering include grit and grog tempered pottery, but these are not as prevalent as the shell-tempered pottery.  Grit essentially means sand while grog is crushed pieces of fired clay.  
(grit tempered pottery)

These are indicative of more Early Woodland periods where the pottery is more plain as opposed to later Fort Ancient pottery sherds. 
Decorations of pottery are usually incised or engraved, meaning that there were different indentations in the clay to create various designs.  One of the most popular yet simple decorations is cordmarked, which is essentially when the person takes a string and wraps it around the clay to make linear lines in the pottery.  
(cordmarked lines and rim sherd)
Other techniques include a guilloche design and line-filled triangle, or sometimes a combination of the two.
(line-filled triangle - not exactly Mississippian or Fort Ancient, but good enough)
These are very exciting to find in the field other than cordmarked because it shows a level of creativity and desire to deviate from the norm.  And plus, who doesn't enjoy seeing pretty pottery like this?
Different sherds can include a body sherd

a rim sherd (cordmarked, even!)

and a strap handle sherd

or a combination of all of them

Like I said, there's a lot to learn about pottery, but I think a visual will do a much better job explaining than I could ever do.  I hope you learned a little bit about cultural remains of our local ancestors, and don't worry - I'll post more.

Monday, August 6, 2012


When excavating each level in a unit or a feature, we need to set aside a bucket of dirt to bag up for flotation.  The importance of this is to be able to essentially investigate the soil and separate the organic materials it contains.  Once the soil is bagged and tagged in the field, we take it to the lab and put it through the flotation machine.  This is a device where you place the dry dirt on the top of the screen to be sifted.  Water then bubbles up from the machine and pushes the dirt through the screen.  This action separates the lighter organic materials like charcoal and seeds from the heavier materials like bone fragments and small rocks that sink to the bottom.

Here's a corny video that properly explains and depicts the process better than I can explain with just words:
When doing my research on the flotation method, I learned that the device was first created by an archaeologist at a Hopewell site in the 1960's, making the site and the flotation methods performed there more relevant.  The importance of flotation is that we are better able to take the organic materials from a feature or unit more in context, since it is separated in a collection of soil rather than separated as the whole of the level goes through the screen.  What I mean by that is that this soil is bagged and tagged and taken to the lab rather than just sifted at the screens in the field.  This allows for a more contextual and wholesome understanding of the soil, permitting us to not only date the organic material but also have an even closer look to what is found in the soil as we go along.  Regardless of the facts, flotation is an important method for dating and equally messy as being out in the field.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Technique Comparison

I was reflecting on the methods we use out in the field and was thinking about how other museums or individuals may find our techniques more "unorthodox" or "lacking."  The reason behind why people would think this is because we do not spend the extra money that we do not have on more archival-safe materials.  I have excavated at only one other site, and this was through the Museum of Texas Tech.  In Snyder, TX I was working at a paleontological excavation on a Pleistocene stream bed.  There, we would excavate at 2.5 cm sublevels (with 10 cm levels - it's like the technique here in Hahn, but broken down in smaller levels) in our own small 1m x 1m units.  Instead of pulling things out of the ground and relying on glue to piece together already broken artifacts, we were to use wooden bamboo skewers to pick out each specimen we find slowly and carefully.  We also have to map and make a tab for each and every individual specimen we find per sublevel, making the paperwork we do take up half to day and excavating take up the rest of the time.  In Ohio, when we find an object that is fragile or brittle, we wrap the artifact in aluminum foil or place it in a box and label it. In Texas, however, we need to excavate around the specimen so that after a few sublevels, it rests in a little "pedastal."  Depending on the size or condition of the specimen, we either take out the whole block that contains the object, or we place a plaster cast around it and excavate it in the lab at the museum.  In the meantime, we need to make separate paperwork that includes a blown-up map of where the object was found and additional information such as dimensions and coordinates.  I will admit, there is a LOT of patience needed to invest in excavation, but the pace at which we excavate in Texas is almost painfully slow in comparison to how many units and features we go through in Ohio.  In paleontology, we do not have "features" but instead just map the natural changes in soil; for example, the sediment we excavated in was called "gleyed deposit," almost like a green clay.  When we encountered pockets of sand, we were to take a ruler and measure the extent of which we find the sand in the sediment and map it in on our paperwork.  Most of the information on our paperwork was similar to what we write down in Ohio - changes in soil we encountered, objects found, techniques used, difficulties experienced when excavating, etc.  I find that paperwork, though tedious, is an extremely important component in excavation because it allows us to keep tabs on what happened on which day, where a certain object was found to allow for information on context, and what to look for when excavating the next level.  All in all, though at the end of the day I sometimes want to pull my hair out when confronting individuals issues I find with each method, I still consider the value of the methodology needed behind each preservation approach and technique, because otherwise we would not have the information about certain sites that we have today.