Tag Archives: Angel Mounds

Mound Builders, Staying Cool, and Gen Con!!! Weekly Roundup for 7/12/13.

Hey Everyone! I’m back! Seriously.

As you all probably know, I just spent a lovely six weeks living in a very small dorm room and digging out at the Angel Mounds Site in Evansville, Indiana. This was a great experience, and it’s not over yet. I am currently working on a project involving interpreting the Magnetometer data from the site. I’m already knee deep in the Lit Review, and it hit me a about a week after I got back, this cycle of Lit Reviews is pretty much how my life is going to be until I retire. So Woo. Actually I’m pretty excited about it. It’s nice to put my education to work, and it’s even better having it tie into my GIS focus.

While I was there I had my first legit encounter with a Native American Representative group. The Woodland Alliance came out to see us after a rather uniformed and unflattering article made it into the local paper in Evansville. I’ll hold off my usual rant against lazy reporting and bad media practices. However, my group was on the receiving end of this debacle this time, which was rather unpleasant.

The Woodland Alliance folks were alright; they came out to talk with our Supervisors a few times, and made suggestions about how to interpret some of our findings.  I’m not sure how I feel about the whole thing really; I was surprised that they hadn’t been notified about the dig in the first place, especially since it was a state park. Secondly, I was uncomfortable with communication that occurred between our groups once we were face to face. It seemed kind of strained, and exclusive. Thirdly, because of the article, there was a lot of misunderstanding as to what was and wasn’t found at the site, and what we were doing out there. Also, I don’t completely understand the reasons behind some of the requests the Woodland Alliance made of us; fortunately, it wasn’t up to me to make the final decision. Still, it was a good experience to have, I’ve learned quite a bit from it, and I look forward to using that in future encounters.

But I’m back in my own home, and I think I have this Lit Review thing down. I’m back in my office, and well, I feel slightly more energized about archaeology all over again.

That said, let’s look at what’s coming up for ye ’ol ArchyFantasies!

The Mysterious Mound Builders.

While I was out at the mounds, I learned that the mounds hadn’t always been attributed to early Native peoples.  Which is entirely not surprising, considering the times. However, as I did a little digging into the history of the study of the Mound Builders, I found that even today some people still don’t attribute the mounds to early native peoples. So, I decide to take up this challenge and see if I can set some facts straight. Look for posts in this series in the near future.

CRM Archaeology Podcast and Staying Cool

Chris Webster, with Dig Tech, podcast is still going strong. I haven’t been on in a while, but don’t let that stop you from listing. This last week the group talked about how to stay safe in the heat while working in the field and why Per Deium is paid the way it is sometimes. It’s a great podcast with a great discussion group and fun rants. Go subscribe if you haven’t yet.

Also, Bill White over at Succint Reserch made a great PDF on how to stay cool while digging.

ArchyFantasies Podcast

My own Podcast is in the works. Currently, I have selected intro music and have almost settled on a format. Look for it in August or September. I will be having a Q&A section, so if you have any questions you’d like me to try and answer, go ahead and email them to too me ArchyFantasies@gmail.com.  Be sure to put ‘Podcast’ or ‘Question’ in the Subject line, just to help me out. You can tweet them to me to @archyfantasies on Twitter.

Last but not Least!


I will be at GenCon for the third year in a row! *Yay! Fanfare and all that!*

I’m giving two talks this year, I’m experimenting with Noon times, so brown bag it if you want too.

SEM1341415 Archaeology Vs Pseudo-Archaeology – Friday, August 15th at 12:00 pm

–        Ever wonder what Archaeologists really do in the first place? Or what Cult Science is? Come find out with your friendly neighborhood Archaeologist. We’ll examine this & much more! (This is my regular intro talk, but I’ve changed things up a bit if you still want to come.)

SEM1341416 Archy Vs. Ancient Aliens – Saturday, August 16th at 12:00 PM

–       Ancient Aliens is one of the History Channel’s most popular shows, but how accurate is it really? We’ll examine some of the recent claims from the show and discuss how factual they really are. (This one is for my advanced audience.)

Oddly enough, even though I don’t charge for this, it always ‘sells-out’, which really makes my weekend. Maybe if I can get enough people registered, they’ll quit putting me in the furthest room from the convention center? It could happen.

Anyway, hope you’re all as glad to see me back as I am to be back, and I hope to see a good number of you at GenCon this year. Don’t forget to send me questions for the Podcast, and go listen to the CRM Archaeology Podcast for a look at what I do for a living.

Archy vs. Angel Mounds.

In case you didn’t know what Angel Mounds is, I will link you to the web site. In case you didn’t know what I’ve been doing lately, I’ve been digging at Angel Mounds, to which I link you to our Field School Blog, and you should go read it. Doo eet.

I’ve been here for a week now and we are just now opening units up. Let me explain why it’s taken this long, because it’s actually a really cool reason.

Grad Mentor Matt with the Magnetic Gradiometer, walking lines to get a picture of the ground beneath.
Grad Mentor Matt with the Magnetic Gradiometer, walking lines to get a picture of the ground beneath.

For the first week we checked and set up the equipment we were going to use. Aside from the usual shovels and screens we’re using a Magnetic Gradiometer (aka Magnetomer or Mag for short) this year on pretty much all of the site we’re working on. This awesome little device use two sensors to measure the gradient of the magnetic field in the ground. It then creates a picture from those readings that can fairly accurately show where features are going to be on the site. It can’t show us depth and iron or magnetic metals will create these huge spots in the picture, but otherwise the picture is incredibly helpful in planing where to dig.

Magnetic gradiometer map of Prehistoric fire-hearths (site unknown). Image from Wikipedia.

So, now we have our own image of the site ground showing us a very interesting  image of the first terrace of Mound A. This allowed us to put in four 1 meter by 1 meter  units on the terrace right where the cool stuff is.

Honestly, this saved us tons of guess work and wasted effort, and really it only took one day to get the area surveyed and the image processed. Granted we did have to prepare the area and make sure any modern metal was well away from the area to be surveyed, so two days at max, and we (by we I mean Matt) covered a 60 meter by 60 meter area in a couple of hours. That’s pretty good.

I really can’t explain how much time and man power this saved us, or really how awesome cool the picture is.

Sharpeing trowles
Learning how to sharpen our trowels into razor sharp objects.

But all that was done last week, which means that today we actually BROKE GROUND! (Que Fan-Fair and Confetti!)

We opened four 1 meter by 1 meter  units on the first terrace of Mound A. All of them placed over places where the Mag showed us anomalies. Now, I am used to much bigger units, but I am also used to blindly digging based only on land forms and previous surveys. This is much better. Survey taken, spots identified, units opened, done.

Dr. Bill Monaghan from IU using the Total Station to locate and record points on the site grid on the terrace.
Dr. Bill Monaghan from IU using the Total Station to locate and record points on the site grid on the terrace.

For those who don’t know, the first step here is setting up a grid. Which I am not going into this time. (Did I mention our Field School Blog and how you should go read it?) Once we’ve got that done and we have the Mag image, we picked out smaller areas for the units, which also had to be shot onto the grid using the Total Station (pictured above). If you’ve ever seen a survey crew on the side of the road, that’s the camera looking thing on a tripod they’re using. We use them to for the same reasons and then some. (again, go read the blog)

Once we have two points representing our North line recorded by the Total Station we set about laying in the other points using the age old method of tape measures and math.

Learning to lay in the other two corners of the unit via tape.
Learning to lay in the other two corners of the unit via tape.

Once this is done the real fun begins, because now we can begin to dig. Which is much more then just sticking a shovel into the ground. See, we try and preserve the sod cap, or the grass on top. Usually because we plan to replace it afterwards. So because of that, there is a very specific way to remove the grass on top. (Also, we don’t want to screen the grass, because that takes forever and there is rarely anything useful in the grass.) What is this mysterious technique you ask? I call it, Sharpened Shovel Style!

See, we take square shovels (as opposed to spade shovels), sharpen them like knives, and then chop into the grass just far enough to get past the roots, but not really into the dirt much. Then we pry the grass up and roll it up and set it aside till we need it again. It sounds simple, but it can take a bit to get just right.

Popping the top off the unit.  Note the perfect form...
Popping the top off the unit. Note the perfect form…

Once that’s all gone we begin removing the dirt in arbitrary levels, unless the soil changes or we see a feature, and we begin taking copious amounts of notes. Seriously  we take so much paperwork it makes the trees cry! But we have too, see excavation is destruction, and even with doing as little damage as we will be using the Mag image and all, we still need to record everything we do and find so that later we can reconstruct the events of the excavation via the paperwork.

Grad Mentor Erica teaching us how to fill out the paperwork.
Grad Mentor Erica teaching us how to fill out the paperwork.

We also tag every bucket of dirt that we plan to screen. Which bring me to the next new thing we’re doing here that I’ve not seen done on a CRM site yet. Water Screening! (I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, just that I haven’t seen it yet).

Filling out the tags that will go with the buckets of dirt to the water screens.
Filling out the tags that will go with the buckets of dirt to the water screens.

So, Water Screening is basically regular screening, where you take a bucket of dirt and sift it through a metal mesh screen stapled to a wooden box frame, and you add water. Lots of water, like from a hose. When you do a big dig, or a phase 3, you move a lot of dirt and to get though all of it, you usually have dedicated screeners that rotate with the diggers. You also have large screen tables so you can work on more than one bucket of dirt at a time, making sure it’s all from the same level.

The Water Screens
Setting up the water screening tables.

Water screening works the same way except the screens are a much finer mesh and not metallic, and you get to play with the garden hose. Oh and mud, there is lots of mud.

water screening
And mud.
Playing with the hose.
Playing with the hose.

The benefit of this versus dry screening is a near 100% recovery of anything that comes out of the unit. Also, you get to play in the water on really hot days.

So, that was pretty much what happened on day six of my field school here at Angel Mounds. All the hard work from last week payed off and now the new hard work of digging begins. Interesting features await us beneath the soil on Mound A, and we’re going to find them.

Waiting to dig.
Waiting to dig.

“But wait Archy, where are you in all these cool pictures you just showed us?” 

Where you ask?

Remember how I was telling you about the Magnetic Gradiometer? I was out there pulling tape so that Matt would know where he needed to walk in order to survey more of the area around Mound A. That’s right, there will be more units, and one of them has my name on it. (Seriously, I’m taking a Sharpie to it or something).

Me and my awesome hat, be jealous, it's a Tilley.
Me and my awesome hat, be jealous, it’s a Tilley.