Friday, December 23, 2011

Archeology Dig

I have always been interested in archeology and history especially the people who lived before the Europeans came to the Americas. I experienced the Mayan culture and their ancient pyramids while we were living in Belize. When we were going across country, we visited the Effigy Mounds in Iowa which were build by the Mississippian Culture about 1000 years ago. Last summer we visited the Florida Natural History Museum in Gainesville. We learned about the history of the Calusa people and saw many of their artifacts. There was a woodpecker carving that caught my imagination. I also wondered what it would be like to be an archeologist.

I wanted to know what it would be like to help dig on at an archeological site. The museum in Gainesville had a dig that people could help out with on Pine Island. It’s only about 20 miles from our house as the bird flies but unfortunately cars can’t swim across the bay, so we had to go the long way around Charlotte Harbor which took about an hour and a half. Pine Island has a very artsy and crafsy village, and a lot of mangrove trees. There was only one stop sign that we saw on the whole tranquil island.

We arrived at the parking lot of the Randell Museum fairly early in the morning. We walked into their main office which was an old house that was destroyed by Hurricane Charley and had been recently renovated. The house had pine paneling and flooring which fits with the name of the island quite well. We met some very nice people and about five minutes later, I was sifting away. There were two huge pile of dirt. One had already been sifted through and the other had not. We took scoops of unsifted dirt and poured them onto the sifting table. Since the sifters had a mesh bottom, all the dirt fell out leaving chunks of cracked shells, pottery shards, bones and many other Calusa artifacts. When we shook the tables, a mushroom cloud of dust rose into the air and made everybody run away or get dusted out.

I helped a really nice lady named Pat and we found some bones. These bones were probably from a fish or small mammal. We put them in a collection tray for cleaning and sorting. Next, I found an otolith which is the hearing bone of a fish. I identified that otolith to be from a catfish because of its shape. The principle of an otolith is that when sound vibrations travel through the water and hit the otolith, it vibrates inside a nerve lined sac of tissue. The nerves around the otolith then sends a signal to the brain which the fish senses as a sound. As I sifted some more, I found some pottery shards which were two different colors. There was terra cotta color clay and dark brown color clay. The Calusa had to trade to get the terra cotta color clay which was a better quality. I found a shark tooth tool which is apparently pretty uncommon at this site. My Dad also found a shark tooth.

The find of the day was a carved piece of either deer bone or shell that confused everybody before we realized what it was. Some people thought it was plastic, but I took a piece of shell and tapped it, and I didn’t think it sounded like plastic at all. Later we found out that it was a rattlesnake carving and it was the first piece of art found on the site which has been worked since 2006. The rattlesnake carving probably came from the Mississippian Culture and had been traded from as far away as Ohio which has its own Serpent Mound. This is not a big surprise since both cultures built large mounds. All and all, we spent about 5 hours of cleaning, sorting, shoveling, shaking, sieving, coughing from dust, and discarding the waste shells and rocks.

We then explored the nearby Calusa mounds and walked all over the site. We found a nice napping area because of the shards of chert. There were some trails that led us up the mounds which had a good view of the bay and the other mounds. There was a little similarity to the Mayan pyramids but the mounds were a little less grand. I was wondering what it would be like to be a Calusa before the Spanish invaded. I thought it was really cool to do archeology and I want to do it again. That’s all for now from the Nudibranch Network.