Week 11 Update

Archaeology Update for the Week of December 19

“Ho! Ho! Holy Moley!” We’re wrapping up for the Holiday and we have so much to do!

Welcome back to another update from the excavations at the Headwaters at the Comal! It’s been a busy (and cold! for the first part at least) week out at the site.

The giant rock jumble in Block A is comin’ out!

In the first days we’d exposed it, Feature 50 was thought to potentially be a hearth feature, but upon more excavation and closer analysis, we’re concluding that this feature is the remnant of an earth oven. The giant scatter of rocks which surrounded it are now most certainly identified as elements of a burned rock midden, which we’ve identified as Feature 55. As neat as these features are, we need to see what’s below them to learn about what went on here before this feature was made and used. At the same time, we want to move outward and expose more of Feature 55 to see just how big it is. So, this week, we’ve been hard at work doing both.

We’ve bisected (split in half) Feature 50 and removed it one side at a time. In addition, we’ve been digging out all of the rocks in Feature 55, one row of units at a time, exposing the soils below for more exploration. As we dig one row away, we’re opening up a new row of units to the east, expanding the block as we go. So far, there isn’t a whole lot below the midden feature, but we will keep going and look forward to what might actually be waiting for us a few layers down!Working to bisect Feature 50 from within Block A. Can anyone guess what that weird shape is in the wall next to Feature 50?

We’re finally back into Block C after a soggy week…

The rains from earlier in the month made Block C a sloppy mess. If we were to go walking around in that block, our muddy footprints would wreak havoc!

It dried out enough that we were able to get back in and do some more digging this week. This block is shaping up to be quite exciting with lots of artifacts and many interesting features. We’ve noticed a good amount of bone fragments in this block, as well as projectile points and a ground stone fragment. Ground stone is a different type of stone artifact. While points and bifaces are made by chipping away at stone to make a sharp edge or point, ground stone artifacts are made by actually wearing the stone away to the preferred shape. Here’s a link to some examples of ground stone artifacts from Texas Beyond History.A mano (the smaller rock in the center) and metate (the larger, flatter rock) recovered from earlier phases of investigations at the Headwaters site. These two ground stone artifacts would be used together to grind foods much like our modern mortar and pestle. These are both ground stone tools that are typical of sites like these.

Block D has been a little quiet this week even though we’ve been digging…

Over by the well yard, archaeologists Noel and Jason have been slinging out several almost entirely-sterile layers now that the large midden feature is out of the way. Although the crews did expose and document a small rock feature (we gave it Feature Number 57), Block D has been pretty boring the past week or so. We don’t expect that this archaeological desert zone will continue forever. We’re probably going to come down on an older occupation zone somewhere farther down in the soil column and our crews have personal goals to make it to at least six feet below the surface before we wrap up for the holiday. Sterile (or artifact-poor) zones like this are actually pretty common. These zones are often sandwiched by particularly artifact-dense layers. The high-density zones are often indications of a stable living surface. There are a number of reasons why this phenomenon occurs: people may have lived at the site, creating the lower dense zone, and then the site may have been abandoned for a long time before people returned and created the dense upper zone. It could also be the result of flooding, with water carrying lots of silt which would raise the landform from the earlier occupation to the later one. You may have seen this profile elsewhere on the website. The graph on the right side shows the density of artifacts recovered within each 10-centimeter level of excavation. You’ll see distinct peaks and valleys as we go down.  Excavated soil profile from an excavation unit dug near Block D. Note the distinct peaks and valleys in the artifact densities on the right side of the graphic. We would expect similar patterns within Block D as well.

In other news: A visit from the Corps of Engineers and Texas Historical Commission, some r-e-e-e-a-l-l-l-y cold first graders, and another evening presentation in the can!

Even with all of the digging going on, our archaeologists were making their lists and checking them twice for a lot of other goings-on. On Thursday, archaeologists and other cultural resource specialists from the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Texas Historical Commission came by to see what we had going on. This excavation must comply with some federal and state laws which manage important archaeological and historic sites, and these folks are there to make sure it’s all done effectively. The tour went very well and we were happy to have the chance to talk through our findings and work out some ideas as we keep going. Principal Investigator, Tim Griffith, talks with Tiffany Osburn from the Texas Historical Commission (left) and Joseph Murphey and Jimmy Barrera from the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Fort Worth office at Block D (above) and Block A (below).We also had a visit from 100 first graders from nearby Clear Spring Elementary School. Despite the frigid (well, by central Texas standards at least) temperatures, the kids got to see the excavations, learn a little bit about the site, and do some screening. They even got a chance to talk with Mindy about Minecraft and its connection with archaeology! Thank you very much to all of the kids and teachers who made the trip! It was a lot of fun for us! Last, but not least, we had a full house at last week’s evening guided tour and talk. This month’s talk was given by yours truly (I’m Mason Miller, by the way) and it was entitled “Archaeology and Climate Change: Looking Backward to Explore a Possible Future.” We explored sites in Syria, Central America, and Thailand that show evidence of distinct changes in human culture that were at least in part caused by changes in the climate. We also explored evidence of this here in Texas. You’re welcome to see the presentation here.On this week’s live video, we are going to get really square, daddy-o… We’re going to talk about test units. What are they? Why do we use them? Why do we string them up all together like we do at this site. It should be interesting! Please visit our YouTube page and Like and Subscribe… Tomorrow morning at 10 AM CST… be there or be… (sorry…) Square!

Because of the holiday, we’re going to take a couple weeks off from our updates and live videos. We will be back on January 9th, ready to get right back up to speed! See you then!

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