2016 Week 3



This week at Aztalan yielded some of the greatest excitement yet! Large post molds, too many features to count, potsherds, lithics, and animal bones galore. To wrap it all up we had successful public days on Friday and Saturday (the 10th and 11th of June). The increase in artifact and ecofact density can be attributed to our depth in all test pits, where we have gone below the plow zone and into the features of thousand-year-old walls, and structures. As exciting as this is, it’s not all fun and games or just digging into the ground to find neat artifacts: Archaeology is a science and a deliberate and careful one at that. As budding professional archaeologists, we take care, time and consideration to almost every bit of soil we extract from our pits.

It is a common misconception that archaeologists are just digging in the ground “looking for gold;” the reality is that archaeologists are meticulous and passionate stewards of cultural history who are bound to the scientific method. As scientists, we develop hypotheses about what features may be and test these hypotheses by carefully mapping, excavating, and evaluating the findings. Often we are confronted with situations that challenge these hypotheses and require us to reevaluate what we previously thought.

Post molds in a unit
The outlined circles are possible post molds.

One such example of this is in test pits 7 & 8. One of our predominant features is evident as a grey soil, possibly a house basin, however we noticed circular spots of dark brown soil intrusive into the grey soil and arranged in a linear fashion on a north-south line through both test pits. We have hypothesized that this is a stockade wall, and further excavation will allow us to determine if these circular “stains” persist with depth, helping confirm our suggestion that each of the “stains” is a postmold from a stockade wall. Each feature and level in our pits is wrapped up by extensive paperwork documenting orientation, density of artifacts and any other indications that may be pertinent to supporting or undermining our hypotheses. Record keeping is the most important part of our work as archaeologists because we destroy our “experimental” data in the field as we dig. This process of developing, testing, and documenting hypotheses is a crucial component of conducting archaeological research.

Participating in public outreach, as we did this week during our two public days, is one of the many obligations of conducting archaeological research. It provides not only an educational and enriching experience to all visitors but also exposes people to a unique breadth of science that is founded in the scientific method and fueled by the desire for discovery. Beyond education, archaeological outreach provides an opportunity to share and connect people with ancient cultures that lived here so many years ago. The ability to share this history with the scientific community, schoolchildren, and the general public allows us to correct the misunderstandings they might have about our objectives but also about the ancient cultures we are studying. It is our role as scientists and archaeologists to communicate, to the best of our abilities, the empirical knowledge about the peoples and cultures we study. Most importantly, archaeology teaches us all to never stop asking questions, to always challenge the conventional, and to never be afraid of getting your hands dirty.

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