Interesting Finds at Topper

On May 11, 2015 I left Starkville, MS headed to the Allendale Chert Quarry near Martin, SC for the 2015 MSU archaeological Survey Field School. When it was announced by Dr. Miller that he would be conducting a field school at the Topper Site in South Carolina I knew it was a field school that I did not want to miss. With all the prep done and supplies gathered we were soon on the road leaving Starkville and on our way. Needless to say the caravan on the way to South Carolina even had its moments. So far it’s been an educational camping trip (we sleep in tents and for the most part are “unplugged” from society).

The day of 12 May started bright and early at 0800 (as it would for the remainder of our stay). That morning, breakfast was brief. We had a morning briefing at the campsite regarding weather, safety procedures, the days’ work, etc. Soon enough we were off to the field. The main focus of the field school is survey so we had to get everyone in the group on the same page as far as shovel test pits or STP’s are concerned. The first STP that went in the ground was demonstrated by Kelsey and Ryan with commentary from each and Dr. Miller. We went over topics such as the types of chert that is commonly found on site, soil textures, and the general procedures and paperwok involved with the survey we’d be conducting. The STP’s we are digging are 50cm wide and a meter deep. A few student volunteers also helped dig the initial hole. The remainder of the day I worked with Charles Van de Kree and one of the volunteers, Carol. We completed two more STP’s in the afternoon. In the two STP’s we completed, numerous flakes and pieces of charcoal were found in addition to a couple of potsherds. Several of the flakes found were thermally altered. Today we also established the call to take a water break: “Hootie-Hooooo!”.

image3  Latif and Nikki

image1  James and Natalie

May 14 was the day I will remember for a LONG time. Charles and I were partners again, this time working with Paula, another volunteer. The first few STP’s we dug contained only a little bit of cultural material such as flakes and ceramics. Then….BAM! STP 2015-61. Charles has referred to this STP as “The Motherlode.” Indeed it was. Before getting too far into the contents of STP 2015-61 it is only appropriate to give a little backstory on the STP and the “luck” involved with finding it. This is also where I started to develop a disliking of tree roots. Dr. Miller is constantly setting out flags at the points he has mapped out for survey. So, we calmly arrive at our location a bit bummed at our previous results (though, we know that even negative STP’s are of importance). Kelsey is still nearby as we begin to dig (I was on the shovel for this hole). The first shovel that goes into the ground encounters a fairly large network of roots that our shovel nor snippers could handle. We do have a 1 meter buffer around our STP’s that we can dig so Kelsey moved us away from the roots. This only resulted in finding more roots. In any direction she moved us around within 1 meters of the original flag a large root was encountered that we could not defeat. She decided to move us 1.8 meters south of the outer margin of the original flag at that point. We put a shovel in the ground, all seemed well, and Kelsey moved on to check on the other crews. Not long after starting to dig in the new location a network of roots was encountered. Instead of having Kelsey come right back over we tried to find a suitable location within a meter of the new location only to find that the entire area was covered in roots. At this point Charles went to find Kelsey and see what she wants to do with the STP. It should be noted that with every shovel that went into the ground, flakes came out of the holes. There was absolutely NO WAY that we were not going to dig a hole here and see what was in the ground. So, while Charles was gone, I found a pretty good spot 3.1 meters WSW of our original flag location. As Kelsey arrived with Charles it looked like all was good to go and we began to dig. Level 1 (0-25 cmbs) produced minimal flakes. Level 2 (25-50 cmbs) produced more flakes than the first level, and was comparable to other STP’s in terms of quantity. Near the end of this level, a shovel full of flakes emerged…We all just looked at each other. Soil texture and color was noted using a munsell color chart and we began on level 3 (50-75 cmbs). Every shovel that came out of the ground from this point on contained copius amounts of flakes ranging in size from less than a cm in diameter to palm-sized flakes. Primary, secondary, and tertiary flakes were found. Near 75 cmbs a medial biface preform came out of the ground. In addition, what appeared to be blade and an overface flake were found at the lower depths. We estimated that at least 500 flakes were removed from this STP. We could only speculate as to whether or not we would have had the same results in the original location. Needless to say, Kelsey was happy!

IMG_0180  Natalie and Kayla

About a week later, I was working with a University of Tennessee undergrad who came over to experience survey. We found another interesting STP in the “Swag” (so named by Dr. Goodyear). A few days ago, I was working with Janaka, from West Georgia University, and we found yet another STP that was interesting in the “Swag” that contained several tools and a large core.

image5  Kayla, Celina (UTK), & Judith (Volunteer)

image2 Dr. Anderson, Dr. Miller, & Derek Anderson

So far my experience has been unforgettable. Dr. Miller, the grad students, and the undergrads that are attending this field school have been great to be around and work with. It has also been great to get lectures from Dr. Goodyear and to be able to talk with Dr. Anderson from UT. It has also been a privilege to work at a site like Topper! Today was the last day we dug STP’s prior to starting some 1×2 meter test units. In total, the MSU crew dug in the neighborhood of 460 STP’s in 2 weeks.

-James Strawn

AMEC Undergraduate

Awardee of Rafferty and Marshall Scholarships


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