The Prehistoric Finds at Ames Plantation


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Photo journal of an archeological dig at Ames Plantation near Memphis, TN. Students from Rhodes College were led by Professor Milton Moreland during this summer 2009 project.

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The Prehistoric Finds at Ames Plantation

  1. 1. “When we arrived Professor Moreland handed us a huge stack of papers, in addition to two texts we had purchased.” Olivia Ryan ’11<br />Liv Ryan and Monica Gehrig begin work immediately on history and archaeology assignments. Their reading assignments informed them about the history of Ames and the chronological order of inhabitants in the area; one fact that surprised the girls was that stones and rock used in the construction of the plantation are not native to Tennessee. <br />
  2. 2. “The gradiometer is kind of like a glorified, extremely expensive metal detector.” Chris Moore ’11<br />After studying the history, the students must figure out where to dig. The student walks over the area and the device scans the ground. It can detect ferrous materials but also disturbances in the ground. Later he can study the information for artifacts and architectural features.<br />
  3. 3. &quot;It&apos;s important to make sure you do not dig too deep with the flat head shovel so as not to damage any evidence under the soil.“ Olivia Ryan ’11<br />Excavation begins by skimming a flat head shovel along the surface. Monica Gehrig is in the process of excavating the manor house. The dirt is then dumped in buckets to be sifted. Other tools include trowels (device that looks like a cake cutter), flat head shovels, sharpened bamboo, brushes and picks. <br />
  4. 4. “I found a tiny silver calendar, the size of a pinkie nail from the early 19th century.” Olivia Ryan ’11<br />Sifting works by taking buckets of dirt and dumping them into a giant sieve. The dirt falls through and the artifacts remain. Behind them you can see the sifters above a mound of dirt. <br />
  5. 5. “Guy Weaver, the Senior Archaeologist at the field school, and I are articulating features.” Sarah Mitchell ’10<br />Trowleing is an incredibly meticulous task done by moving the trowel in a sweeping motion to made the ground as even as possible. A feature is anything interesting or unique, from an artifact to a post mold. A post mold is a slight discoloration where a wooden structure has biodegraded. It leaves behind a discoloration which indicates there may have been a structure, such as a porch, in the location. <br />
  6. 6. “Where you find something is just as important as what you find.” Chris Moore ’11.<br />The blue device atop a yellow and orange tripod is called a Total Station. The Total Station is used to map the excavation site. There will be someone at another point with a pole. Electronically, it records the points so that it can be plotted on a computer. Any features or artifacts left in the unit are recorded. The students use the principle of distribution and abundance of objects to hypothesize the purpose of each room. <br />
  7. 7. “The pig jaw suggests that this was a slave house because slaves didn’t have choice pickings and were often left with the feet and the head.” OmairKhattak ’11 <br />Pig jawbone<br />Large metal hoe.<br />The students found brick fragments as well as a large metal hoe and pig jaw. Olivia Ryan ‘11 “For the pig’s teeth we had to use tiny little tools like dental picks to remove the dirt.” This area could be the base of a fallen chimney because of the of the brick’s positions relative to the structure and because pig was one of the most commonly consumed animals. Out of mode pottery sherds were also found which supports the slave house hypothesis because masters would often pass their old china down to their slaves. <br />
  8. 8. “Corners are incredibly important because they help you figure out where to dig next.” Chris Moore ’11<br />This is a photo of an excavated corner of the slave house. Photo documentation occurs at each level, or 10 cm of excavation. The arrow always points north and the board lets you know the corner’s unit, location, site, and date it was photographed. Cailin Meyer explains, “&quot;For posterity&apos;s sake, the cleanliness of the unit and the presentation of the feature for the photo is incredibly important.&quot;<br />
  9. 9. “The house we are sitting on is similar to the house we worked three weeks excavating.” Sarah Mitchell ’10<br />Ames has several reconstructions of 19th century houses. Each was taken from a different part of the plantation and rebuilt on this site for people to tour. Each house is from a different time period. This particular one is a dogtrot structure. <br />
  10. 10. “The reason we are smiling while washing bricks and rocks is because those types of artifacts can tell you where a culture was getting its building materials and sometimes they have small artifacts stuck to them.” Sammie Wicks ’10<br />After digging the students wash artifact bricks and nails found during the day. There is a great chance of misidentifying artifacts if they aren’t properly cleaned. The newly cleaned brick fragments are weighed to determine how many bricks were used and therefore estimate the size of the structure. At the end of the table is the float machine which separates dirt from botanical remains. <br />
  11. 11. “From seeds you can figure out plants, and see what was available at the site at that time period.” Becky Vanderwalle ’10 <br />Becky Vanderwalle is examining and sorting botanical remains in the field lab at Ames. Botanical remains are found by dumping buckets of dirt from the dig site into a float machine. The machine filters the dirt away and allows organic material such as seeds, grass and twigs to rise to the surface. Then sachets of botanical remains are hung to dry and later examined under a microscope. <br />
  12. 12. &quot;Nearly all of the important finds are discovered in the lab, not in the field.&quot; Cailin Meyer ’10<br />After being washed the artifacts are catalogued into a systematized record. Each artifact is given a number code based on its grouping—ceramic, glass, brick, or nail. Under each category are subcategories. For example, for glass there’s window pane glass, bottle glass and hand-blown glass. Ryan says, &quot;We learned about tricks for discerning different types of ceramics. For example, if you lick porcelain it won’t stick to your tongue, whereas white ware will.” Other discoveries include a spoon, a calendar, a locket and several buttons. <br />
  13. 13. “That’s the tricky thing about archaeology, the best you can do is make inferences.” Olivia Ryan ’11<br />The last step in archaeology is to analyze and discuss data and artifacts. Students learn to combine their firsthand observations with the historical background. As the Society for American Archaeology explains, &quot;Historical archaeology is more than just a treasure hunt. It is a challenging search for clues to the people, events, and places of the past.&quot; <br />