Monday, April 23, 2012


Cataloging a sherd of Westerwald from Wingos in Re:Discovery
Recently, we have been analyzing the artifacts from this past summer’s excavations at Indian Camp and Wingos. Archaeologists do this to gain a better understanding of a site’s history and learn about the behavior of individuals who occupied or used the site.  Once the artifacts have been washed and labeled, then they’re ready to be catalogued.  UTK uses a software program called Re:Discovery to catalog artifacts, field records, and other information recovered during the course of the field season.  Re:Discovery is a useful database for recording attributes of the artifacts including material, form, count, size, weight, manufacture technique, color, where the artifact was recovered on the site, manufacturing date ranges, and other information.

We can then use these artifacts to ask questions that help us address the site’s length of occupation, and explore how site residents expressed their identities based on their access to markets, their preferences  in styles of objects like ceramics or buttons, the restrictions placed on them by owners or overseers in acquiring and using goods, and the ways that they organized space at the site (food preparation areas versus storage areas versus midden areas).  Used in tandem with historical documents, if available, artifact analyses produce a comprehensive, fine-grained picture of how people used the material world in their everyday lives.

Westerwald sherd catalogued above
Right now, the artifact analyses from the sites are in two different stages. The artifacts from Indian Camp are still being catalogued and are only beginning to be analyzed in a systematic fashion.  We are still trying to pinpoint the location of the slave quartering site or sites from the 1700s.  Artifacts that we’ve found so far can help us determine if we want to continue working in a particular area or help us decide to move on to a different area to test.  One of the questions that we hope to answer using the artifacts is from when do some of the features that we found last summer date?  By dating the artifacts and using the laws of stratigraphy to understand sequences of time at the site, we will be able to assign dates to features we identified last summer.  This will help us to determine if a feature dates to a building we may or may not be interested in pursuing this upcoming summer.  If most of the artifacts that we found during a shovel test survey date from the 20th century, and we are trying to find an 18th-century site, we’ll want to find a different area to test.

While we can form a good impression of time period for particular areas while we’re in the field, cataloguing and analysis will confirm, refine, or refute those impressions. 

The artifacts from Wingos are further along in being analyzed.  Everything excavated from 2000-2011 has been catalogued. Several interesting artifacts have been recovered, including buttons, a fob seal (used with wax for sealing documents), an iron fork, pharmaceutical glass bottles, and a variety of other household goods. Beyond looking at artifacts individually, we are now able to map the distribution of historic artifacts across the site, and link their presence to specific features or areas of activity. 

Work in the lab will continue over the coming weeks before we return to the field this summer.