AMEC Survey Field School

We find ourselves at the mid-point of AMEC’s 2016 archaeological survey field school, which provides a good opportunity for a progress report.  Our efforts during the field school have focused on training students in the methods of archaeological survey routinely employed in the southeastern U.S.

survey in agricultural field

Survey in agricultural field

After a little over two weeks of survey in the Big Black River valley of central Mississippi we have identified 20 prehistoric archaeological sites and two historic sites.  We have also visited two sites that had been previously recorded as “Indian mounds,” and were able to confirm that neither of these sites are prehistoric mounds.  The “mounds” are simply erosional remnants that represent geological, rather than cultural, features.  These efforts have provided students with a broad exposure to the prehistoric and historic material culture of the region (some of which you can see in the photos below), and introduced them to the methods used to identify the locations of previously unrecorded archaeological sites.  Of equal importance is the understanding students are receiving of how past settlement of the region correlates with environmental variables, and how modern land management practices have affected, and continue to affect, the archaeological record.  We have surveyed in a variety of settings including agricultural fields, pastures, pine plantations, and mixed pine-hardwood forests, which provides students with invaluable lessons about how to adapt field methods to these different environments.

Lauren Bailey and Erika Niemann screening a shovel test

Lauren Bailey and Erika Niemann screening a shovel test

Delineating a prehistoric site

Delineating a prehistoric site

Dylan Karges shovel testing

Dylan Karges shovel testing

We are eternally grateful for the generosity of the landowners who have so far allowed us to perform survey on their land.  At present, these include Joseph Guess and Tommy Garrett.  We are also indebted to our archaeological colleague, Cliff Jenkins, who is a MSU alumnus, and currently an archaeologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  Through his connections to farmers in the region, Cliff has arranged for all of the land access we have thus far been granted.  Without his generous assistance it’s unlikely we would have been able to make the connections we have made to landowners in the region.

artifacts collected by general surface collection from a prehistoric site

Artifacts collected by general surface collection from a prehistoric site



Stay tuned as next week one of the field school students will submit a report on the field school providing a student’s perspective on the experience thus far!

– Jeffrey Alvey

Cobb Institute of Archaeology, CRM Program Manager


Shkodër, Northern Albania

Image  The high mountains of northern Albania.

As a PhD Candidate in anthropology, I am currently in the data collection phase of my graduate career. Broadly speaking, I am interested in how various components of a landscape “fit together” and the conditions through which landscape use changes over time. At a more refined level, I am investigating how continuities and/or changes in social relationships are reflected in (and by) the incorporation of mortuary landscapes into living communities, both past and present.

In the 1980’s and early 90’s (i.e. under Communism), Albanian archaeologists (Aristotel Koka and Bep Jubani) excavated 11 prehistoric burial mounds. As a result of their efforts, we have a great deal of information regarding these burial contexts; unfortunately, however, absolute dates were not obtained and a reliance on culture-types still persists. To this end, I am in Albania excavating a prehistoric burial mound and, ultimately, my goals are several-fold: 1) obtain absolute dates for this mound; 2) better understand the construction sequence of this mound; 3) figure out how burial mound fit into the larger prehistoric landscape. I will return to Albania once more to carry out ethnographic fieldwork with the current inhabitants of the region in which I work, where I will study the role that current mortuary tradition has on community dynamics.

I arrived in Tirana, Albania on May 1st, along with my graduate school buddy, Amy Michael. We rented our vehicle, stocked up on supplies, picked up Anisa Mara and Zhaneta Gjyshja, graduate students (and fantastic archaeologists!) at the University of Tirana, and headed north to Shkodër. We spent the first few days doing some reconnaissance work while trying to figure out the best place to dig. We chose Mound 88 and have been busy excavating ever since.

Image Mound 88, Day 1

Image Mound 88, Day 3

Thus far, we’ve been able to identify the prehistoric portion of the mound (i.e. we’ve excavated beyond all of the modern surface stuff) and we are finding older things the deeper we go. We’ve uncovered what we think is the prehistoric floor and, if this is in fact a burial mound, then we should come down on burials sometime in the next few days. Stay tuned for more updates from the field!

Image Special find, metal handle

Image What lunch in the field sometimes looks like.

Image Attending a local music concert; we are now in a music video.

Sylvia Deskaj

PhD Candidate, Michigan State University

Cobb Institute of Archaeology, Archaeologist                                                                                                                                   AMEC, Lecturer