Doing archaeology on small and heavily vegetated islands in Georgia

Island Archaeology and the Native American Economies (2500 B.C.–A.D. 1700) of the Georgia Coast.

Thompson, Victor D., and John A. Turck 2010. Journal of Field Archaeology 35(3):283-297.

 Another article currently available for free download from Maney Publishing, this one is interesting because it focuses on small islands – specifically marsh islands located between the mainland and the barrier islands of the Georgia coast. By small, the authors mean islands less than 0.5 sq km (or about 123 acres) in size, and by marsh, they mean islands surrounded by tidal marsh, tidal creeks, or estuaries. Thompson, a professor at The Ohio State University, and Turck, a graduate student at the University of Georgia, make the point, correctly, I think, that even among island archaeologists, such very small islands get little attention. Yet such islands are abundant (according to the authors, there are over 1,400 of them off the Georgia coast alone) and, I suspect, are much more likely to have avoided the rampant development that has affected most of the barrier islands all along the Atlantic coast.

 Thompson and Turck did shovel testing on four of these marsh islands and examined exposed areas along the shore of one them, Pumpkin Hammock (much of the hard work of slogging through the dense vegetation was done by University of West Florida field school students). Sites were dated using ceramic chronology (ceramics are present in the Late Archaic in this area – actually this area has some of the earliest pottery in the U.S.). All four islands had evidence of Native American occupation, though artifacts are apparently limited to ceramics and shell. They point out that between 5% and 16% of shovel test pits contained pottery, but no shell. There are a few things missing, though. Are ceramic and shell really all that was found, or did they recover stone or bone artifacts and just not mention them? How deeply buried are these artifact-bearing levels, and are they stratified or not?

 They conclude that there was “intensive occupation of these marsh islands, although when pottery is used to differentiate time periods of use, the results are not linear. There are unexpected periods of non-use (e.g. during the Late Archaic on Mary Hammock and the Early and Middle Woodland periods on Pumpkin Hammock), as well as periods of  intense occupation (e.g. during the Late Mississippian on Mary Hammock, the Late Archaic on Patterson Island, and the Historical Contact period on Pumpkin Hammock).” (p. 294)

 They close with some thoughts on the significance of their study for island archaeology. They “suggest that the question of connectivity and isolationism is essentially what defines island archaeology. As opposed to studies on mainlands where connectivity is assumed, island archaeology must first ask the question: To what degree are groups occupying or using different islands connected? Following this, we ask: How were these connections facilitated?” (p. 295) Fair enough, but to me the big deal is simply that all of the islands they tested had evidence of thousands of years of occupation by Native Americans, and that evidence was widespread. Perhaps this was already well known, but I wonder whether similar studies have been conducted on similar islands up and down the Atlantic coast, and if so, were the results similar?


How to write an Honors Thesis

Yay for undergraduate honors theses!

“[Corey O’Driscoll] and a colleague knapped flint reproductions of spear and arrow points from the Middle Stone Age in Africa and attached them to wooden shafts. With a group of University of Queensland students, he ran 15 experiments, throwing replica spears and firing replica arrows with bows or a calibrated crossbow at lamb and cow carcasses. After boiling the carcasses or burying them for rapid defleshing by microbes and insects, O’Driscoll found 758 wounds on the bones, which he examined microscopically, and compared to 201 cut marks in an experimentally created reference collection of butchered animal bones.”

“He found “quite a difference between the butchering marks and projectile impact marks,” he says. His study revealed six types of distinctive projectile impact wounds, from drag marks to fracture marks and punctures. O’Driscoll also noted that most projectile impact marks were located on vertebrae or rib bones and that 17% percent of the marks overall—and 50% of the punctures—held microscopic bits of embedded stone from the flint points, due to the high velocity of impact. By contrast, none of the butchering marks contained such stone fragments, another key distinction.”

“These findings prompted O’Driscoll and the University of Queensland’s Jessica Thompson to take a new look at three bone specimens from large unidentified mammals—a rib and two vertebrae—from Pinnacle Point Cave in South Africa. Thompson had earlier detected embedded stone fragments in marks on these bones. Using O’Driscoll’s diagnostic criteria, the pair identified projectile impact marks on all three bones. Two dated to between 91,000 and 98,000 years ago—making them the oldest direct evidence of the use of projectile weapons, according to a paper presented at the Society for American Archaeology meeting in Honolulu in April. (O’Driscoll’s thesis will be published by the Australian Archaeological Association in June.) A third bone dated even earlier, between 153,000 and 174,000 years ago.”

When Did Humans Begin Hurling Spears?
by Heather Pringle on 17 May 2013, 5:55 PM

State of the art (c. 2011) on the peopling of the new world


A Tale of Two Migrations: Reconciling Recent Biological and Archaeological Evidence for the Pleistocene Peopling of the Americas

Bonnie L. Pitblado 2011 Journal of Archaeological Research 19:327–375

This gem of an article, currently available as a free download from the JAR website, avoids being dogmatic while reviewing the past decade of scientific research.

What does the recent scientific writing reveal? “that the peopling of the New World occurred in two pulses, both originating in southern Siberia. The first proceeded along the Pacific Rim and coast of Alaska via watercraft 16,000–15,000 years ago, and the second 1,000 years later on land by way of Beringia and the ice-free corridor.” (p. 329) The groups in the first pulse used boats, were focused on coastal and other water-based resources, and eventually made it down to the Monte Verde site in Chile. The members of the second pulse, as they were moving down an interior ice-free corridor, were obviously not coastal-oriented, and it is the latter group that developed the distinctive Clovis technology. Continue reading

Ur Excavation Records Get Crowdsourced

Leonard Woolley. Source: Penn Museum

The Sumerian site of Ur in Iraq is one of the coolest archaeological sites in the world. Now researchers have scanned thousands of pages of excavation records from the University of Pennsylvania/British Museum excavations in the 1920s and 1930s and are attempting to crowdsource the transcription of these records.

Signup at and found out how much Leonard Woolley paid out in baksheesh in 1925.