The Carson Mounds Archaeological Project (CMAP) is focusing on structure excavation this summer, 2014. The Carson site is a large, multi-mound Mississippian settlement that was occupied from around AD 1200 to around AD1500 and I’ve been working at the site since about 2008. This site was first mapped by the Bureau of American Ethnology in the late 1800’s and back then, the site had over 88 mounds. The figure below shows the map drafted by William Henry Holmes and Cyrus Thomas, although the original surveys were likely conducted by other field surveyors.
Most of these mounds were likely fairly small, perhaps even just smaller-sized house mounds, but unfortunately, few of these still remain, or none of the smaller ones have been excavated. There are still 5 large mounds remaining on the landscape and they are the mounds alpha-numerically labeled in the above figure. Mounds A, B, C, D, and E still remain – a very small rise can still be detected where F used to be.
My research and the work of CMAP focuses on structure and mound excavation. I have been excavating at Mound D for over 3 years now and have developed a detailed understanding of the stratigraphy and stages of mound construction. Like many other large Mississippian mounds, Mound D was built relatively quickly with just 3 stages of construction. While the mound is not incredibly tall (still, at 7 meters, it is quite big), the footprint of the mound is huge and it contains an immense amount of soil by volume, much more than mounds A, B, C, and E at the site.
I don’t want to review too much the history and archaeology of Carson, I’ve covered those points in previous posts, so instead, I’d like to focus instead on our current season’s work. As I pointed out earlier, the goal this season was to excavate structures and we have two in particular that we’re focusing on – a mound-top structure on Mound D and a square, wall-trench, semi-subterranean structure over near Mound A.
Previous posts from earlier seasons –
I found the mound-top structure on Mound D back in 2012 and started preliminary testing but never really got that far on the excavations. The image below, shows my drawing of Structure 1, which is what I’m calling the Mound D summit structure. I don’t really have much in the way of material remains from the structure, which is why I plan to use micromorphology of the structure floor to designate activity areas inside the structure, and to potentially identify structure function. Personally speaking, I would like the data to indicate the structure was used as a “bone house” or an “ancestral house” where the bones of kinsmen were stored.
I love this picture above since it shows quite clearly the fired earthen/clay floor of the structure and the darkened exterior wall trench.
This season, I have 10 excellent undergraduates, 1 recent graduate, 1 linguistics graduate student, my wife, and my two dogs with me. In previous years, I’ve traveled and lived in Clarksdale alone or with just a few other people. I’ve never been able to bring my wife or my dogs with me – this year I have both, plus a whole field school of students. My undergrads come from Tulane, University of Alabama, and the University of Pittsburg. I am running a 6-credit hour field school through Tulane University and with this archaeological field school, students will get credit in the Department of Anthropology or in the Environmental Studies major. In addition, while we’re up here, we’re doing a few service projects with the Griot Arts afterschool enrichment program. The Griot students came up to visit us at the site and worked with us for a half-day. We also visited the students during their end of year recital and were fortunate enough to watch them perform their various talents. These students are incredibly talented! They rapped, danced, and played the blues for us and their families, and I’m consider myself very lucky to have witnessed their performances.
Tomorrow, the whole Tulane field school is heading into town to help the Griot kids build garden boxes for their afterschool center. Cali Noland, their leader and teacher, wants to start incorporating gardening into their afterschool activities. A handful of us will help build the boxes and a few others will help out with arts and crafts and the primary school summer camp. Tulane believes strongly in service learning, as do I, and I think these interactions with community members will prove to be an instrumental part of teaching, instruction, and the experience of living and working in the Mississippi Delta.
The picture above shows two Tulane undergraduates, Mike Benson and Molly Cloutier, working on excavations near Mound A – they are beginning excavations on a large, semi-subterranean structure (#31), likely a residential building. This structure was identified by John Connaway, archaeologist with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and he has been kind enough to allow me to train students on structure excavation based on his original findings. John has been working at the site since 2007 and his work is absolutely amazing! He is out there almost every day – the map below, shows just a portion of his efforts out at the site. He has identified thousands of postmolds from structures, thousands of pits, and several lines of posts that were likely related to the construction of a log palisade around the village portion of this site.
The structure we are working on is not actually shown on this image, but it’s located approximately in the SW quadrant of this image. By excavating this structure, I hope to obtain some information about how structures were made in this village area, and to compare the archaeology of this structure to the summit structure on Mound D, the largest mound by volume at the site.
Here again is an oblique view of excavations over Structure 31, the semi-subterranean structure my students are working on. The white flags show a line of posts inside of a wall trench. I was hoping to catch them with the DJI Phantom before they put up their tarps…
This picture above shows structure excavation near Mound A and the picture below shows structure excavation near Mound D – I realize you can’t see very much in the photos – all they really show are students digging in excavation units.
So while we’re out in Clarksdale, I also got my students involved in doing some service learning and outreach. We partnered with Griot Arts and on the last day of our service learning, we went out to their offices and helped them build some garden boxes for a new gardening and jobs training program. Some of our students hung around and helped with a summer day camp for 2nd through 5th graders – here are some of the pics below. Building the boxes was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed getting to work with a handful of local students and educators on this project.
So for the next coming week, my students and I will hopefully avoid the rain and finish excavating two different structures – one on top of Mound D and one in the village near Mound A. I’m particularly keen to finish the mound-top excavations (maybe there will even be another structure underneath it). So look forward to pictures of structures and more excavations as the excavations come to close. I’ll also try to post more in-depth discussions of our service learning and aerial photography! Living on a farm with no Wi-Fi has its perks (like getting to have your wife and puppies with you), but that also means sporadic blog updates.
More soon… or maybe in a few weeks..