Sweating the Small Stuff

Picking

by Sheila KoonsLab Archaeologist & Lithic Specialist

I took the opportunity to write this blog post as an alternative to what I have been doing for the last couple of weeks in the lab, mainly picking. Picking is the term we use for combing through soils that have been water-screened through window mesh. We are finding tiny artifacts that would normally slip through the typical quarter-inch screens we use in the field. We are finding hundreds if not thousands of tiny lithic debitage in addition to seeds, ceramics, fish scales, bone, and glass.

For me, the small lithics are an incredibly important piece of the prehistoric tool maker’s chaîne opératoire. As discussed in my last post (see Chaîne Opératoire) , the chaîne opératoire of the prehistoric knapper involves a complex sequence of events that can be interpreted from the different lithic debitage recovered through excavation.

The first step is lithic procurement. One must identify a source for the raw material. If the source is far away, then perhaps the toolmaker (AKA knapper) breaks down the raw material into easy to carry chunks and transports them to the production area.

The next step in the lithic technology chaîne opératoire is the reduction of the lithic raw material. One must reduce the material to produce a stone tool form. That tool form may have a specific purpose or it may be what we call an “expedient” tool (basically producing a sharp edge to perform a task).

The last step is utilization. As the tool’s edges are used, dulled over time, or broken, one might resharpen the tool or rework it into a completely different form. This is called the “Frison effect”. The “Frison effect” is the “metamorphosis of tools through a succession of modifications” (Jelinek 1977). This means the final stone tool form we dig up at Old Colchester may not be what the prehistoric knapper produced at first and may have been recycled into many different forms over time. Additionally, perhaps one might trade or transport the tool away from the production site.

Evidence for each of these steps was left in the ground by prehistoric stone toolmakers. It is our job to tease apart what the inhabitants of Old Colchester were doing through time and space by analyzing this evidence. The small debitage that we are finding in the water-screened fraction presents us with some interesting questions. Are the standard screens that archeologists use in the field inadequate? Is the small debitage simply part of the reduction stage that becomes invisible when using standard recovery methods? Are the small flakes indicative of edge-resharpening activities at the site? If so, were the resharpening activities taking places in specific areas at the site? Or are the small flakes actually fragments of larger flakes and thus indicative of trampling and site disturbance over time? We will take a look at the distributions of the small lithics once the picking is complete to see if we can answer any of these questions.

Debitage measuring millimeters captured using a microscope camera.

Debitage measuring millimeters captured using a microscope camera.

Works Cited: Arthur J. Jelinek 1977 The Lower Paleolithic: Current Evidence and Interpretations. Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 6, (1977), pp. 11-32

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CART Summer

Jonathan and Megan working on an MTU. The close proximity to the road makes carrying equipment so much easier!

Jonathan and Megan working on an MTU. The close proximity to the road makes carrying equipment so much easier!

by Kayla MarciniszynField Archaeologist

It is without question that the weather this summer has been unseasonably mild, and the field crew is loving every minute of it! The beautiful weather has certainly made for an enjoyable field season through August of this summer. CART is currently working on surveying an area of Old Colchester Park and Preserve along Hyde Street. This area is the confluence of several sites and CART is attempting to refined boundaries and discern artifact concentrations. The presence of a plow zone in the majority of the MTUs (mini test units), tell us the area has been disturbed in the past and probably had a wide occupation range. The crew has uncovered prehistoric flakes and pottery as well as early and modern ceramics and glass fragments.

While the crew works diligently to finish this portion of the survey, we have been able to admire some of the animal and plant life presence in that area of the park. The open area seems to be less appealing to ticks but there is a lot of poison ivy out there (poison ivy is common in more disturbed areas) and a few ground bees’ nests. Despite these occupational hazards, the CART crew has seen groups of deer strolling through the area, snakes, lizards, and the occasional praying mantis. The exciting wildlife always makes for a more interesting day in the field.

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Biweekly Update – 30 Aug 2014

30Aug2014

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Back to the Blog

The summer is crazy as usual and we have taken a short hiatus on the blog. But we are back with more from our staff and future interns.

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We Get By With a Little Help From Our Friends

by Aimee Wells Staff Archaeologist/Collections Manager

Since 2010, the Friends of Fairfax County Archaeology and Cultural Resources (FoFA) has been working to support cultural resource activities throughout the county.  They show their support in many ways, including hosting symposia, providing funding to under-funded initiatives, volunteering at special events or in the field or lab, and even occasionally supplying sweet treats and coffee to fuel our work.

This year FoFA’s generosity has provided much needed supplies for our upcoming accreditation through the American Alliance of Museums (http://www.aam-us.org/).  Archival materials are often expensive, and with FoFA’s help, the AAM Team has been able to purchase supplies to upgrade old collections to current curation standards.

FoFA also recently staffed a tent at Pirate Fest in order to teach kids and their parents that the real treasure in Fairfax County has little to do with chests full of gold and silver, but instead is our shared history, whether it be under the ground or safely tucked away in a historic house museum, or perhaps even the house itself!  Through member’s generous donations of time and energy, along with a fun compass activity, over 200 visitors were able to learn a bit more about cultural resources in the county.

Planning is under way for a Fall symposium with an War of 1812 theme.  If past is prologue, the event will be sure to draw top-level scholars to share their research of the War, and will be a wonderful venue to learn more about our early post-colonial history.  Be sure to follow their website for more information- http://fofaweb.org.

The CRMPB is grateful for the support of our friends group, and looks forward to a long-lasting relationship with FoFA.  For more information, including how to join, see their website.

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Caring for Archaeological Collections

by Jennifer Torres* – Archaeological Collections Assistant 

Collections management is defined as the process to document and care for museum collections. Often, this includes documenting all objects, ensuring the preservation of such documentation for the future, housing objects in a proper storage environment, and conducting frequent inventories and environmental monitoring. For archaeological collections, maintaining the highest legal, ethical, and professional standards is necessary given the sometimes sensitive nature of such a collection. The Fairfax County Park Authority’s collection of archaeological objects has been undergoing many changes in the hopes of receiving accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), an organization that develops and implements best practices for museums and similar institutions. The process of accreditation is a long-term project, but small changes can make for big improvements.

Conducting an inventory of a collection of objects not only documents the number and location of objects, but also identifies objects that require conservation or improved storage conditions and identifies objects with lacking or missing provenience that need to be further researched or documented. An inventory of the Fairfax County Park Authority's archaeological collection has begun in order to reconcile any problems with the storage and maintenance of the collection.

Collections Inventory

Conducting an inventory of a collection of objects not only documents the number and location of objects, but also identifies objects that require conservation or improved storage conditions and identifies objects with lacking or missing provenience that need to be further researched or documented. An inventory of the Fairfax County Park Authority’s archaeological collection has begun in order to reconcile any problems with the storage and maintenance of the collection.

Acid-free Archival Bag

Acid-free Archival Bag

 

Artifacts that have been not been stored in proper artifact bags have been upgraded in order to adhere to the best practices of storing archaeological collections. Relocating artifacts to a sturdy, acid-free artifact bag protects the artifacts from further damage or potential loss. All associated information is written on the outside of the bag.

 

 

Label on archival paper containing relevant provenience placed inside archival bag.

Label on archival paper containing relevant provenience placed inside archival bag.

 
Labels on archival paper containing relevant provenience have been placed within each artifact bag. These labels mitigate the loss of the associated provenience of each artifact and artifact bag, allowing for the preservation of such information.

 

*The author of this post, Jennifer Torres, was the CRMPB 2014 summer Archaeological Collections Intern and has recently joined our staff as an Archaeological Collections Assistant.
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Biweekly Update – 8 August 2014

8Aug2014

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