Tag Archives: Carson Mounds

2014 Carson Mounds Video

Hey All,


I’ve finally published a video from our 2014 excavations at Carson,  its about 30 minutes long,  but I think pretty thorough,  enjoy!

And thanks again to all the students, my wife, my adviser, and Rick Marksbury for making the field school happen!




August 13, 2014 · 11:49 am

A quick video on the 2014 Excavations at the Carson Mounds site

Hey All,  here is a link to a quick little video about the research this summer by the Tulane University field school at the Carson site in Clarksdale, Mississippi.



More posts coming soon!



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June 9, 2014 · 4:05 pm

2014 Carson Mounds Archaeology Field School, Coahoma County, Mississippi

Hey All,  good news!  Tulane University will be running a field school at my dissertation site this coming summer,  check it out!

You can learn more at this website, more information to come – http://www.tulane.edu/~sumsch/summer/carson_mounds.htm



2014 Carson Field School

2014 Carson Field School




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A Sneer of Cold Command and a preview for things to come

Hola Amigos!


I’ve been thinking about monuments lately and wondering what they might tell us about the past.  Inspired by a poem I read recently,  I’m giving a paper at the upcoming Society for American Archaeology conference where I will present a study evaluating the size of monuments at the Carson site (my research site).  I won’t give my conclusions here, but I think the large earthen mounds at my site were likely sponsored by some very powerful leaders whose “sneer of cold command” can still be read in those earthen tumuli.   That’s all I have to say for now,  but I’ll leave you with Shelly’s sonnet which lead me to this paper.


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear —
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

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The Great Carson Experience (Mass Confusion) – Part 2

Hello!  It is now two weeks into my Carson fieldwork,  and thankfully, I think I might know more now than I did a week ago. Maybe.  However,  I’m also far more confused, but I’ve had many helpful suggestions from friends. So, first of all,  thanks to everyone for writing and posting,  your suggestions and advice have helped immensely!  But I imagine you’re also wondering,  “well,  is it a wall trench?” – sadly,  I doubt it is. But there are many other possibilities….

Before I get started,  it has been quite a busy day and I’m going to crank this post out as fast as I can – please forgive any mistakes today.  I went up to the Hollywood site today and helped Bryan Haley by excavating some sediment cores on the top of Mound A using an Oakfield – we got down 3 meters using extensions! We also did some magnetometry on the top of the mound and possibly identified a structure on the summit.

Where did I last leave off?  Well,  pretty much I was 20 cm down into a 1 x 2 meter trench and had found a soil feature that stood out quite prominently against the light brown soils around it.  Due to its linear shape, and vertical wall profile,  I began to think I’d uncovered a wall trench.  This would certainly have been an interesting soil feature, as there are several (if not many more) examples of mounds with berms and/or wall trenches around them – perhaps to demarcate a specific area for the mound, or alternatively to keep the sediments in place while construction is going (think of all those orange silt fences around construction sites).  Well,  as we started to remove layers from the downslope (far western) unit,  it became readily apparent that the wall trench was actually a much larger feature – remember how it got wider towards the south end of the unit – well,  as we removed dirt,  it got wider towards the north as well.

TU1 bottom of level 4 - Feature 1 is now a lot biger - notice the slope in the north wall

At this point,  after removing 40 cm of soil from TU1,  it had become fairly evident Feature 1 was some sort of mound stage, deposited as sheet loads of similarly colored sediment, and at a much steeper angle than the current angle of repose of the mound. This darker colored fill dirt is not at all evident in TU2.  Given the slope of Feature 1, I was curious to discover how thick it was (abt 50cm),  so we continued to dig down through the unit to meet the bottom of TU2, which was about 80 cmbs. By the by,  in TU2 we have only encountered a ubiquitous 10YR 4/3 (brown?) silt loam that is likely mound fill – we are continuing to dig this unit in order to reach the buried anthrosol at around 2.5 mbs and the crevasse sands at 3 mbs – looks like my work is cut out for me.

Anyways,  after digging a few more levels in TU1,  it  became obvious that we were dealing with mound construction episodes, as seen in the banded layers of darker mound fill and lighter fill dirt.  I am certainly curious to know if this pattern of alternating colors in mound construction will continue,  as there are so many cool things to say about alternating colors in mound fill.  Time to keep digging…  What is also  interesting and kind of weird,  is that the feature 1 deposit does not follow the existing slope of the mound! Check out the picture below from the bottom of level 6.

West wall of TU1, at the bottom of level 6

And now the picture from level 7 –

TU1, bottom of level 7, feature 1 keeps diving down! in this pic, the darker soils slope at a much steeper angle than the mound

Its a little hard to tell from the above picture,  but we decided it would be prudent to open additional units – therefore we opened a 1 x 1 unit west of TU1, and next week, when I get Mississippi Archaeological Association volunteers,  I’ll open a unit either north or south to see how far this feature extends – and if it is sheet deposited mound fill,  maybe it extends all around the mound?!?  Also, a few well placed Oakfield cores might help delineate the feature. A neat suggesting by Bryan Haley  is that given the slope of this feature, and how it differs from Mound D,  perhaps this feature represents a previous mound that predated Mound D that was decommissioned or destroyed for the purposes of building Mound D.

Special thanks go out Benny and Gena,  two fantastic volunteers who really know their archaeology – thanks!! Below is a picture of TU3 that they got started last week.

Thanks to Benny and Gena Roberts, from Byrum, Mississippi - two great vols!!

Bottom of level 2 in Test Unit 3 - floor of unit shows the darker soils of the sloping feature I am calling Feature 1, likely sheet deposited mound fill - the slope depicted in the floor of the unit is not the same as the slope of the mound.

Also, many many many thanks go out to Rachel Stout Evans, the wonderful NRCS soil scientist who is helping me with this project. She’s on the right in the picture below.

From left to right: Gena Roberts, Benny Roberts, JM, John Connaway, Rachel Stout Evans


Sediment coring is going swimmingly and we’ve conducted an entire transect between mounds D and C –  I wish I had time to explain our findings right now,  but I still have to make the weeks grocery run to make and to prepare for the weeks excavations.  So, enjoy the pics.  BTW,  eating dinner at the Stone Pony in Clarksdale, MS, just down the street from Ground Zero – the Stone Pony has fine pizza and healthy salads – a respite from Delta fare for sure!

And just for fun…

What an awesome mustache!


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The Great Carson Experience – Week 1

With a great exhalation of relief, I can finally put the first week of fieldwork at Carson behind me – well, at least for the time being, as I begin preparations for week 2.  Sitting here at the Oxbow Restaurant in Clarksdale, Mississippi, enjoying excellent tuna tacos and well-made sweet tea, it dawns on me that summarizing this week’s findings is easier said than done. As always, Carson leaves me more confused than ever, as if every time I pick up a couple of marbles I fail to notice that three more have fallen out of my bag. So,  with such convincing and confidence inspiring proclamations, I begin my Carson post.

The six hour trip from New Orleans was held up only for two minor stops,  one at Mississippi Archives and another at Forestry Suppliers for  a Razorback shovel (there is no other kind.) – and, of course, for some excellent Vietnamese food at Saigon.  Rather than speeding up I-55,  I took the scenic route up 49 –  passing by the Pocahontas mounds and the concrete teepee, cruising up the Yazoo Bluffs and down into the floodplain, I passed from the comforts of my urban lifestyle into the agrarian bounty of the Mississippi Delta.  Shocking me farther back into the past was the facade of my month-long rental at Moon Lake, the historic marker planted out front,  and the actual antiquity of Uncle Henry’s Inn, previously haunted by Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner – maybe I should have brought my typewriter instead of my laptop…   And at my backdoor is the Yazoo Pass, famous for its role in the Union Army’s failed Yazoo Pass expedition – for more,  http://www.americanwars101.com/campaigns/630200E.html

Preparations for fieldwork took a couple of days to get in order,  but by July the 4th,  Euan Wallace (a Tulane undergraduate) and I finally got to work on a 1 x 2 m trench in the western flank of Mound D,  the mound which used to serve as the platform for the original Carson family plantation house.

In the farm prep field, looking east, at the west face of Mound D

I decided to dig in 10 cm arbitrary levels following the natural ground surface  to maintain the possibility of keeping artifacts within cultural strata – while a stair-step trench may have proceeded more quickly, I didn’t want to mix ceramics from different strata.  Partially covered in trees and mowed down grasses,  today no house is visible on the surface. If one were to brave the snakes and poison ivy however, you would discover there are brick piers and a cistern hidden in the wooded part of the mound – given my poison ivy woke me up this morning at 5am, take it from me, its not worth it.  Dirt moving proceeded fairly slowly at first, as Euan and I worked out the bugs in our system, but by this Friday,  we’d figured it out and were making good progress.  July 4th was also a wonderful day because the UNC students had an amazing cookout and Independence Day celebration – kudos to the whole crew,  but Mr Bojangles deserves a special shout out for his some-kind-of-berry cobbler with sprinkles.

In our excavation unit,  Euan and I are mostly finding later Woodland Baytown wares in the mound-fill, which simply means the dirt mined for the mound (wherever it came from) was full of Late Woodland pottery.  However, excavations in our westernmost unit started to reveal a roughly north to south (about 25 degrees east of north) dark linear stain.

Feature 1 in Test Unit 1

In our first level we didn’t make much of Feature 1 (I initially thought it was a plow scar),  but by the middle of the second 10 cm arbitrary level, when the stain started to appear fairly well-defined,  it became apparent we may have an important feature.  John Connaway’s suggestion of wall trench has since vexed and intrigued me.  To get a clearer picture of the the linear stain (named Feature 1), we removed a third arbitrary level from the unit immediately east of Feature 1 (TU2), and then proceeded to dig from the east to the west in TU1, removing the soil matrix and sifting it seperately until we encountered the darker soils of Feature 1 – and sure enough, it stayed discreet and well-defined within the soil matrix.  Plan views of the feature demonstrate it didn’t move around within the unit, although as we dug deeper in TU1L2, it did get wider towards the SW.  As of right now, Feature 1 appears well-defined within the surrounding matrix, and it appears to continue deeper into the sediments – if indeed this is a wall-trench, then we might expect it to continue for about 1 to 1.25 meters below from where we detected it (based on comparisons with wall trenches found close to the summit of Mound C). Ceramics from the feature have yet to be analyzed,  but I cant wait!

South wall profile of test unit 1

Feature 1 is still present at the bottom of the excavated portion of TU1 - trowel is pointing west - is that a post in the trench?

We have also started sediment coring at the site, and in Core 28, excavated on the western toe of Mound D, we have found evidence of the crevasse splay we detected in the earlier 2009 coring campaign.  This might indicate that mounds D, B, and E were all built after the crevasse  happened – this supposition is based on a minimal number of cores, and over time with additional coring, I may find data to corroborate or revise this idea. A small version of Mound C, however, was built on a dried out sharkey clay backswamp – the crevasse splay seen under Mounds D, B, and E, actually abuts the early version of Mound C. At some point after the flood deposit dried out, the second stage of a much larger Mound C was constructed.  The research plan for 2011 is to trace the flood event across the landscape between Mound C and D, and to evaluate the nature and scope of the crevasse deposit, as well as much more recent 18th and 19th century flood deposits likely emanating from the active channel in what is now Horseshoe Lake (cutoff in 1848)  – those floods have left upwards of 2 meters of alluvium across the site. We also plan on coring just west of the set-aside where the village is located, as there may be the possibility of mound remnants on a higher ridge of land left relatively undisturbed by land leveling.

Ok,  enough said for now – these are just some initial thoughts and who knows what will happen at site,  so, dont be too harsh if I’ve bored or confused you.  And let me know your thoughts!  – mounds with palisades/fences at the bottom (or top)?  Flooded sites?  How to dig 1.5 of dirt in about 12 days with really hard dirt? Suggestions?


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Catch up

Hey All,

So I came back from Mexico this summer, and also did some field work in Mississippi, but unfortunately can’t add more pictures online since my camera and phone were stolen. The summer was excellent, I learned a great deal and post my reactions on the summer soon.  Today’s post is to show off some pictures I took with my new camera and to summarize my presentation for the Southeastern Archaeology Conference.

Dinwiddie Hall

The biggest news is that we have a new building on campus,  shown above.  This used to be the home of the geography department and the Middle American Research Institute,  but now it all belongs to Anthropology, with MARI on the third floor.  Chris has a great lab in the building and once I have some artifacts to deal with,  I’ll be doing my artifact analysis in there.

Sukkot on campus

Above is a picture of me in a sukkah on campus,  sukkot was last week and these were up everywhere.

So,  moving on to my work for this coming Southeastern Archaeology Conference.  This will be my second talk about the Carson Mounds site, and I’ll be focusing on some geophysical research we’ve conducted out there. In the summer of 2009, we conducted two weeks of sediment coring – based on our findings, it appears the site was built on a linear E-W crevasse splay. This crevasse deposit may have interrupted construction at some of the mounds as sandy loam soils appear in a ubiquitous layer across portions of the site. This is particularly interesting because it suggests the site was built in a dynamic environmental zone, contrary to many other Mississippian sites in the Delta built on relict oxbows.

My SEAC paper evaluates the utility of the down-hole magnetic susceptibility studies we did at the site. The down-hole meter measures the magnetic capability of soils down the bore hole made by the Giddings rig.  The idea is that anthropogenic soils will have a stronger magnetic reading as they have greater amounts of carbon – this method is useful when coring through massive and visually undifferentiated soils.  I’m still working on the write up currently,  but it appears this method of investigation showed us at least a few horizons that were not detected through visual assessment.

Hillshade of the Friars Point quad

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