Submitted by Amanda Shively, Georgia Southern University undergraduate
My field school experience this past summer was an invaluable lesson in Georgia archaeology, Native American history, and archaeological field techniques. Led by Dr. Jared Wood of Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, our group of ten set out on a five-week-long adventure to learn the tricks of the trade. Every morning we commuted from the Georgia Southern campus to our nearby destination along the Savannah River in Screven County, Georgia. The weather was nice in the beginning, but quickly became hot, humid, and full of mosquitoes. The first couple of weeks performing shovel tests were difficult, but not unbearable. Once I became accustomed to the physical exercise and the copious use of bug spray, I was able to take in the beauty of my surroundings, appreciate the wildlife that inhabited our neck of woods, and enjoy the work we were doing.
Our field school was focused on completing a systematic survey of about 30 acres along the banks of the Savannah River. We learned orienteering and pacing skills, how to dig shovel tests, how to record soil profiles, and the difficulties of screening wet clay. It wasn’t until we were almost done with our survey that we started to come across positive shovel tests. However, as Dr. Wood would say, even negative shovel tests tell an important story. We were especially interested in a cluster of positive shovel tests with Middle Mississippian Hollywood phase pottery (A.D. 1250 – 1350) that should tie in to Dr. Wood’s other work at several nearby mound sites.
Once we had our excavation area planned out, we prepared test units. We split into two groups, filled out the appropriate paperwork to begin excavations, and practiced many parts of the process: Total Station mapping, planview and profile recording, depth measurements, and photography. I had done this kind of work before when I volunteered for Georgia Southern’s project with Time Team America at Camp Lawton, but it was much different participating in all parts of the excavation process. It felt good when we started to see artifacts appear after all of our hard work. We were lucky enough to find broken projectile points and many late Woodland and Mississippian period pottery sherds. Some days the rain would keep us from our work, and we had to protect our test units with plastic tarps. When we weren’t in the field we spent our time in the lab washing, analyzing, and categorizing the artifacts we found. I learned so much about how native peoples lived by examining the tools they made and used.
This may sound like hard work, but our field school wasn’t all work and no play! We visited and helped at other sites, including the salvage of a small mound on the Savannah River and the investigation of a Clovis period site on the Ocmulgee River. We learned so much by visiting with other seasoned archaeologists who specialize in Georgia archaeology. We had fun getting to know local landowners, and made lasting friendships. I had an amazing learning experience that will stay me for many years to come!