Where in the hell am I?

September 18, 2011

Temporary project blog started

Filed under: archaeology, archeology, Texas — Tags: , , , , , — John @ 8:35 pm

I’m going to be leading a survey next week. We’ll be doing some metal detecting near the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site. It’s similar to what I did a couple of months back at the Fannin Battleground State Historic site, only not within the park boundaries (actually, around a mile or so away).

A friend of mine, who teaches fourth grade in Austin, teaches about this battle. Having not grown up in Texas myself, I’ve never taken Texas history, but I assume (knowing my adopted home state) they teach about it often. She mentioned that her students would be interested in my work, and I (of course) said, “Well, I can blog about it!” Then, I realized that this blog isn’t always 100% safe for work, and probably not appropriate for younger readers, particularly in a classroom environment. I’d hate to get my friend in trouble for her students clicking back to the Naked Flag Lady!

So, I started a new blog about the project, for a general audience (no cussing, no attitude). The title is Surveying San Jacinto (click for the link) and it should be temporary. In addition to documenting the actual fieldwork, I’ll try and add information from previous surveys in the area and anything else I can find related to archaeology and the battle. I’ll mention the logistical work, and if I’m involved also the post-field lab and reporting work.

If you’ve stuck with this blog for a while, you know I sometimes make promises and don’t follow through very well. But this time, it’s for the kids!

 

June 2, 2011

Fannin Battle Ground survey, day 7

My crew kicks ass!! Instead of resting on yesterday’s laurels, they went out today and did an even more impressive survey job. They surveyed all of the non-built-up portion of the monument circle at the park (click this link for an idea), scoring 249 hits as well as delineating a series of buried sprinkler lines. Then, they went and excavated 207 of them! Sure, it helped that only 13 artifacts were collected, of which only 4 are definitely battle-related (along with 3 early 20th century coins). All the same, let me remind my readers that the original scope anticipated only 200 hits TOTAL, and didn’t expect to find much of anything battle-related. I bought the crew a couple of six-packs of Lone Star tallboys as a thank you for their hard work.

Today also was great because the park groundskeeper came by and said that the local BBQ joint, McMillan’s BBQ in Fannin,  listed in Texas Monthly’s Top 50 Texas BBQ joints (also here’s Yelp and Yahoo), wanted to give us free lunch! We each got a two-meat plate with brisket and sausage, along with beans and potato salad. This was enough for lunch and dinner for most of us (and I got extras courtesy of my vegetarian friend and co-worker), and it was most welcome. Really good smoke, excellent sausage (juicy and savory), good potato salad. If I’m honest, I prefer my brisket moist and with sauce on the side (although the sauce is very tasty on the sweet range of sauces), but the one fatty piece I had was delicious and the drier pieces still had that good smoke flavor with a touch of spiciness! I feel like an ungrateful jerk because I forgot to swing by this afternoon and thank Mr. McMillan for the excellent lunch, but I will definitely do so tomorrow and pick up a chopped beef sandwich for the ride home on Saturday! Note also, I’m eating the last of the leftovers as I write this :)

The main task ahead of us is figuring out a plan of action for Block 4 and the remaining hits in Block 2. There’s roughly 700 of them, and based on patterns (outside of Block 3) 90% of them will be modern. Even at the rate of 9/hour/person that we had today, we don’t have enough time left to dig them all, not to mention the remaining hits in the circle and the hot spot (more important). The current strategy is to focus on those hits away from the fenceline and away from the picnic tables, since those areas have high concentrations that are surely related to modern (or at least non-battle-related) activities.

At the same time, we have found out that this area wasn’t really surveyed before. Furthermore, we’ve already established where the main battle area (aka the Texan Square) likely was, based on the concentration of artifacts recovered in the hot spot, along with the previous markings indicating that this was the main area. Now, learning more about the Mexican lines and the ourskirts of the battle are the challenge. Our survey of these more distant locations may have a much lower recovery, but each battle-related artifact we found here tells us more about the battle then yet another musket ball in the hot spot.

Such is the struggle of archaeology, where you often learn more from less.

May 27, 2011

Fannin Battle Ground day 3 wrap and day 4

Filed under: archaeology — Tags: , , , , , , — John @ 10:38 am

The day 3 live blog was precluded by heat and exhaustion (but not heat exhaustion, fortunately). Plus, as expected, Block 2 proved to be a mix of modern trash and possible historic iron things. Our client, the Texas Historical Commission, is going to receive and analyze the artifacts. So we collected a lot of the large iron artifacts to let their experts sort it out.
There was one exciting find in Block 2. The other team (of course) found a large, old brass spoon with one hit, and then a lead shot about a foot away. There were jokes about someone getting shot while eating their dinner, and we were also calling it Fannin’s spoon.
Hmmm, maybe we should do a press release about that! jk
Today was a short day (mercifully) since we’re driving back to Austin. In fact, I’m currently on US 183 between Goliad and Cuero! The weather was cloudy and very muggy to start, and the grass was wet with dew. We dug around 40 more hits in block 2, with nothing really interesting recovered. We then shifted over to metal detecting Block 4 adjacent to Block 2 and on the opposite side of the park from
the “hot spot”. There are some picnic tables nearby, and I think it was once used as a camping area. We got 300 hits in a 24 m x 100 m area! I’ve got a $5 bounty next week if anyone finds anything battle related there. I suspect it’s a lot of pulltabs, bottle caps, and can scraps.
Speaking of next week, we’re definitely coming back, although it may not actually be next week. Our scope called for 200 hits, based on all the previous work and reports. We’ve already dug roughly 300, and have something like 400 more marked. AND, we still have half of the survey area left, including another very high prob area.
We’re all surprised, including the client. There’s certainly been a lot of modern trash and questionably historic iron, but we’ve also had at least 40 battle-related hits. We’re thinking of resurveying that area with a super-high intensity detector, as a double-check.
But first, Memorial Day weekend! Have fun, y’all!

May 25, 2011

Fannin Battle Ground day 1 & 2 results: SUCCESS

Musket ball

So, we left off yesterday with some background about the Fannin Battle Ground State Historic Site, including why I was skeptical of having significant results. This was influenced by results from day 1 of the survey, which I left out as the post was already getting tl;dr.
Day 1 started by laying out our survey grid. Basically, we have two teams of two people, each with a metal detector. Each survey transect is 3 m wide. Each surveyor can cover about 2 m with a metal detector sweep, so by staggering the people you can cover the full transect, with overlap in the center. There are different methods for marking the transects, often pin flags, which mainly are made of metal, creating a problem. In our case, we bought a bunch of marking/striping paint and used either 100 m long strings or ropes to help keep the lines straight. This takes a while, unfortunately, but it has to be done.
Anyway, the survey itself began along the longest fenceline, which is 200 m, but we broke it into 100 m blocks. We had 8 transects laid out paralleling the fenceline, ending near the road loop around the monument. Somewhere around 60 “hits” were marked with pin flags, and investigated after surveying the block. Several of these were false hits, as no artifacts were recovered and rescans of the vicinity did not encounter any hits. Most were along the fenceline, and were largely wire nails and pieces of fencing. Other areas also had nails, bolts, nuts, scrap, basically anything BUT battle-related artifacts. One possible exception was a large saddle buckle. The coolest find of the day was a 1902 quarter, found on the surface, without a metal detector, near the road. I think it’s safe to say that we were feeling a little discouraged, and wondering if all the “good stuff” had in fact been found. We maintained hope by remembering that the main cluster area from the original survey was yet to be done.
Day 2 started by surveying the other 100 m block paralleling the long fenceline, with even more hits along the fence itself (see the photo linked above, it’s actually from day 2). There were over 100 hits marked in the block. I don’t know that anyone was excited to start digging them up, expecting more of the same. Lucky for us, our Principal Investigator was along, and was anxious to see what was in the “hot spot”. He and the Project Archaeologist had laid out the grid there while we were surveying the other block. Once again, there was a large concentration of hits along the fenceline, thinning out as you got away from the fence or the loop (a photo of this will be up on Flickr soon, if not by the time you click this). It seemed we were in for another let down, and the first few hits away from the fenceline certainly added to the feeling.
And then the other team recovered a small lead shot from around 8 inches below the surface, in one of the hits near the fence! And then another at the next hit! My boss was very excited, and it gave us the hope we needed on a very hot day. More hits along the fenceline yielded a number of musket balls (like in the photo above) and one possible grape shot. Still, it was the other team finding everything, and my partner and I were a little dejected.
Then, Ali calls over to me and asks me to come check something out. When I get there, she’s holding a handful of dirt with little white balls and asks, “Are these what I think they are?” They were, alright, and in the end 65 musket balls came from that hit! We’re speculating that an ammo pouch was lost there. We also wonder how something like that was missed during the previous survey and collecting forays!
Finally, it was my turn. First, I found an iron pot or kettle piece 8 inches below surface. The next hit, roughly 8 feet away, yielded 6 more pieces, including three leg pieces and a handle, all at the same depth. A hit 2 feet away recovered yet another piece. And then, a fourth hit about 1 foot away from the main haul recovered another handle piece and a musket ball at 8 inches, and then a large iron shot (maybe a grape shot?) at 10 inches.
So, while there were many reasons to think that the survey might be fruitless, I was proven wrong, and I’ve never been happier to be wrong! There were so many hits (and deep, in hard dirt) that we still have 20-30 more to look at tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, after that we have to go back to block 2 and the modern trash.

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