THE AMATEUR ARCHAEOLOGIST ONLINE
2013 Fieldwork in Colbert Co., Northern Alabama
Richard Michael Gramly, PhD
Since 2010, the Society's archaeological fieldwork within the Tennessee River lowland has focused upon sites near Brush Pond in Colbert County. We have operated upon the assumptions that Brush Pond once was larger and deeper and that its current stand was achieved only during the Early Holocene.
Intensive collecting in the neighborhood of Brush Pond and the nearby community of Leighton, beginning with systematic studies by educator, Horace Holland, have depleted many sites of culturally diagnostic artifacts. We have been forced to rely upon the new dating technique, Infrared Laser Spectroscopy, for a general idea about the antiquity of sites that have been under cultivation for decades and subject to collecting.
Infrared Laser Spectroscopy and chance finds of characteristic artifacts reveal that several Clovis-age encampments lie 15-20 feet above the current level of Brush Pond. In addition, there are indications of older sites than Clovis at even higher elevations. One of these sites — not far from the historic Old Leighton Cemetery on State Route 20 east of town — yielded an early type of Cumberland point made of Ft. Payne chert.* Other Ft. Payne chert artifacts recovered within the vicinity of this point, when measured by ILS, gave stored light values 11-29 % greater than has been observed for Clovis specimens made of Ft. Payne chert. A range of age from 14,600 to 18,000 calendar years BP is suggested — significantly greater than the 13,000-13,500 calendar years established for Clovis.
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One goal of our 2013 fieldwork was to collect a large sample of Ft. Payne chert artifacts from the surface of the site where the early variety of Cumberland point had been found and to submit these specimens to David Hunter Walley for ILS dating. Several hundred artifacts were collected with the aid of a GPS device. In general, the tool assemblage is what we have come to expect for Cumberland manifestations (see Photograph 1) and lacks certain elements usually present at Clovis encampments. However, open sites are challenging to interpret, and the Old Leighton Cemetery locality may not prove to be a "closed component," that is to say, a site having only artifacts of a single stage or cultural phase. The Old Leighton Cemetery site, however, does have the potential of being one of the oldest dated archaeological sites in Alabama and, for that matter, anywhere east of the Mississippi River.
During the fieldwork we were visited by David Hunter Walley, inventor and patent-holder of the ILS device, who measured the radon concentration at the Old Leighton Cemetery using a gamma-ray analyzer of advanced design and improved detecting ability. His findings will be useful in standardizing ILS light readings for Palaeo-American artifacts from other geographic provinces and contrasting them with specimens from Colbert County sites.
Our second goal of the May, 2013 archaeological fieldwork was to test a large site complex upon a low-lying peninsula jutting into Brush Pond and also a small, circular island offshore of the peninsula (see Photograph 2). These lands are owned by a local farmer, but they remain wooded and are used only for recreation and hunting. In living memory neither the peninsula nor the island has ever been cultivated. The island, we noted, supports several large trees and the remains of others that had fallen down either because of old age or winds.
Both the island and peninsula were rumored to be infested with snakes, and as a matter of course, these places are shunned by fishermen during the hot season. At the outset the truth of this rumor was confirmed, and we decided that the island, heretofore unnamed, should be called Moccasin Island in honor of its resident population of pit-vipers (see Photograph 3).
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Despite incessant heavy rain, two 2-meter square test-pits were excavated on the peninsula. Flaked stone tools and waste, a few rough stone tools (hammerstones, manos, and hones), and abundant fire-cracked rock were their sole contents. Projectile point fragments and the lack of ceramics suggested an Archaic age — likely Middle-Early — for the occupation. The cultural remains lay either upon the surface or just a few centimeters deep within fine-grained sediment, rich in clay-sized particles. It appeared to be a lake-bottom deposit, which had weathered heavily during thousands of years of exposure.
We then turned our attention upon Moccasin Island and devoted several days to clearing brush and trenching. The Archaic deposits were more concentrated there, and offered a better return of diagnostic artifacts for labor expended in their recovery. As we had observed on Brush Pond peninsula, artifacts and fire-cracked rock lay upon the surface or were buried very shallowly (see Photograph 4). Only traces of hearths remained due to thorough bio-turbation, and nothing but lithic materials had survived. No potsherds were recovered either by troweling or sieving.
Approximately 1500 pounds of fire-cracked rock were extracted from a trench 8 meters long and 3 meters wide. 7,529 flaked stone waste items were found along with 236 flaked tools, tool fragments, or unfinished objects (see Table). Rough stone tools (N = 27) constituted an interesting and diverse lot (see Table), and among them were 8 well-shaped manos or handstones — each showing a well-used grinding surface. The assemblage was rounded out by 16 pebble manuports and a few chunks of burned clay, which are perhaps daubing or remnants of clay-lined hearths.
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On the final day of excavations we demarcated the faces of our trench with plastic sheeting and back-filled it nearly to the original level (see Photograph 5). Fire-cracked rock was used to "top up" several 1-meter test-squares that had been excavated during November, 2012, by the site's discoverers — ASAA Members Michael McNew (Alabama) and Dave Martens (Illinois).
Our efforts revealed that Moccasin Island and the Brush Pond peninsula clearly were first inhabited during the very Early Archaic, to judge by the presence of Dalton points, limaces and other characteristic flaked tools of that ancient period (ca. 11,000 calendar years BP). Occupation continued, perhaps with interruptions, through the Middle Archaic but appears to have ceased by the Late Archaic. On the face of it the Brush Pond peninsula and island were important to aboriginal populations only during the warm and dry period of the Early Holocene; no later remains have ever been reported.
The presence of a nearly pristine, productive Archaic site within a county that has been heavily canvassed by generations of relic-hunters is a cause for wonder. For the serious student of early Alabama prehistory, who is able to cope with challenging field conditions, Brush Pond offers a remarkable opportunity for today's scientific endeavors.
Participants in the May, 2013 fieldwork were: Dennis Vesper (KY); David Walley (MS); Dave Martens (IL); Michael McNew (AL); Steve Alred (AL); Don Munroe (FL); Dave Webb (AL); Nick and Cindy Miller (PA); Nancy Moore (VA); Richard Sojka (FL); Carl Kowalski (NY); Brian Wood (AL); John Hill (AL); Tim Tucker (AL); Jerry and Harriett Botdorf (PA); Roger Breton (Quebec, Canada); Tim Yokum (IN); Ricky Findlay (AL); Wendy Zebehazy (NY); Grace Lawrence (NY).
Table. Artifacts from Units A-H within Test Trench, Moccasin Island, May, 2013
Flaked Stone (N = 236)
A. Indeterminate biface fragments 35
Rough Stone (B = 27)
A. Hammerstones 12
Miscellany (N = 18)
A. Pebble/cobble manuports 16
Captions and Photographs
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