2017 MSU Excavation Field School: The Hester Site (22MO569)

By: James Strawn

My relationship with Hester began as a research paper when I was an undergraduate about 2 ½ years ago, and it is now the site on which my graduate thesis will be written. For four weeks in June and July, off a little dirt road in backwoods Mississippi near the town of Amory in Monroe County, Dr. Miller directed a crew of graduates, undergraduates, and volunteers during the MSU excavation field school at the Hester Site. The excavations this summer were two-fold: Undergraduates and graduates get to participate in a field school and gain valuable experience and the data collection for my graduate thesis was also be collected. The last fieldwork that was conducted at Hester was in 1978, and we were glad to be able to get the opportunity to continue what Sam Brookes, Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) archaeologist, and his crew started back in the 1970’s.

Work actually began several months prior to the beginning of the field school. At the conclusion of the 1970’s excavations at Hester, the site datum was removed, so, to get her back on a grid, we went out and placed new datums for the site. Our good friends from the school up north (The University of Mississippi), Dr. Tony Boudreaux and Stephen Harris, graciously offered their time and brought out a magnetometer, as well as ground penetrating radar, to help us locate a trench and block that had been excavated in the 70’s. Success! Their work allowed us to decide where exactly we wanted to place the excavation units for the field school. Dr. Stephen Carmody (below) came out the last week and took some float columns from the block. Can’t wait to see the results!

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Over the course of the field school, June 14 – July 14, fourteen 1×1 meter excavation units were opened at Hester and excavated in 5 cm arbitrary levels. The sandy soil at Hester was then screened through 1/8” mesh, with any artifacts measuring 2 cm or greater being pedestaled and piece-plotted with the total station. While sand is easy to dig in, it also presented challenges. Needless to say, the walls of the excavation units were…fragile. Below are just some of the diagnostic artifacts recovered during excavations.

 

Each day of the week had its own “theme”, as far as dress code is concerned, and the smooth melodies of songs such as Toto’s Africa and Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street graced our ears…Almost non-stop. Tuesday was Tropical Tuesday, Wednesday was Wolf Wednesday, and of course Friday was Maroon Friday. Hail State! Below, graduates and undergraduates, as well as Sam Brookes (Tropical Tuesday photo), show off their attire for Tropical Tuesday and Wolf Wednesday.

 

The daily schedule was pretty simple. Arrive at the site around 8 am. Excavate until noon. Take lunch. Excavate until 4 pm. Go home and repeat. The weather was quite kind to us considering it was the middle of summer in Mississippi. It’s not uncommon for thunderstorms to pop up and ruin an otherwise fine afternoon this time of year. However, we just popped the old “Jimbrella” (another story for another day). All around us the rain fell on quite a number of days, but never on that little blue dot on the radar where we were excavating. Somehow the storms diminished before reaching us, or just bypassed us altogether. No complaints here! The wildlife, or lack thereof, was also kind. Other than a few arachnids in the units when we peeled off the unit covers every morning, snakes were elusive. The last couple of days we did have a visit from a raccoon on several occasions.

We had quite a few visitor to the site over the course of the excavation. Whether having a brief visit, or volunteering their time to give us a hand with the excavations, it was enjoyable getting to discuss how remarkable of a site the Hester Site is and their efforts are truly appreciated.

As a TA and field supervisor for the field school, I personally learned a great deal. First and foremost, it was interesting to see how plans change in the field. More specifically, it was the number of units opened and their layout with respect to what was originally in my draft proposal that changed. Second, it was very difficult for me to not be in a unit, but I now have a deep appreciation for that as I was able to know everything that was going on with each of the fourteen units during the course of the field school. Something that will hopefully make life a little easier at 3 a.m. in the months ahead. I did get to dig a little here and there over the course of the field school.

Over the next couple of days a few undergraduate volunteers are helping get the last of the units down to where we need them to be. Once that’s all finished up, we’ll be heading back to Cobb Institute of Archaeology at Mississippi State to get the lab work started.

I want to thank everyone that got the Hester field school rolling, to include all the knowledge about the site going into the field school, permissions to excavate at Hester, and especially the staff, undergraduates, and graduate students involved. The summer heat in Mississippi is torturous, but it didn’t slow this crew down one bit. This is certainly an experience that I will not soon forget.

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