In the Trenches, Part II

During the 2012 field season, while other research teams were digging in the 1850-1869 Stamp Mill Complex, working on STP surveys around Clifton, and mapping (as always!), one group laid out a 1 meter wide trench that connected the two curious test pits in the Clifton “Interyard.”  The two test pits, 50N 25E and 55N 25E were named after their coordinates on the grid we set up around the structure we thought was a boarding house.  We therefore named the trench 50N25E to 55N25E, but while technically descriptive, that is an awful and inelegant name. I’ll call it The 2012 Trench on the blog.

This trench was fascinating and it blew our socks off.

The stratigraphy was not very complicated, but it turned out that there were remains buried very, very deeply in Clifton. This had protected it from casual collecting.  Anyone who came to visit last year during the open houses saw that the trench revealed small slice of architecture on it’s south end (uphill, closer to the building and further from Cliff Drive) and some purposefully built ephemeral architecture on the north side.

Here is an overall photo, with some detail pictures that follow:

The 2012 Trench

Lee Presley positions the photo board for closing photos of 50N25E-55N25E (The 2012 Trench) at the end of the field season.

Detail of the remains of the wooden floor in the 2012 Clifton trench.  The wood was waterlogged and badly decomposed, so this was about as clean as we could get it for pictures.

Detail of the remains of the wooden floor in the 2012 Clifton trench. The wood was waterlogged and badly decomposed, so this was about as clean as we could get it for pictures.

Joists buried in clean sand fill with some flooring boards.

Joists buried in clean sand fill with some flooring boards.

Metal artifacts resting on the floor surface, including a large wrought-iron staple and two cast-iron stove fragments.

Metal artifacts resting on the floor surface, including a large wrought-iron staple and two cast-iron stove fragments.

The photos are always useful, but I think the drawing shows more clearly what the excavators could really see.  With so much mud and water, it was hard to photograph clearly. This drawing is measured to scale and shows the details of how the wood was cut and fit together.

Field drawing of architectural remains.

Scaled field drawing of the architecture uncovered in the 2012 trench excavation. Note the wooden floor surface in the south (photo’s top) and the joists embedded in sand below them.

The joists stopped short of the trench’s end as things headed northward toward Cliff Drive.  That meant that underneath nearly 60-80 cm of rich topsoil lay that pale, fine sand. The bottom layers in that space were full of lots and lots and lots of butchered animal bones, including big chunky bones. Lots of them.

So as the field season was winding down, we were digging in an area of the yard near (or maybe just inside) a barn among a group of boarding houses where we’d found a solid wood floor without an exterior wall; connected to a space with joists and perhaps ephemeral floor boards that had been buried in clean, fine sand; all adjoining a place with lots of large, butchered animal bones. Faced with this odd collection of observations, I queried my colleagues in historical archaeology.

Fairly quickly, I received an email from Leslie “Skip” Stewart-Abernathy of the Arkansas Archaeology Survey.  He said that my description of this activity area sounded to him like the slaughtering areas on farms where he worked. He sent me this set of pictures of slaughtering hogs on the Foster-Russell-Riggs place in Randolph Co, Arkansas in the 1950s:

Barn and slaughtering area at the Foster-Russell-Riggs place, Randolph Co, AK (3RA467). Photo 1950-1952 by Miss Maxcine Riggs (1926-1976). Photo courtesy of Dr. Leslie C. "Skip" Stewart-Abernathy, Arkansas Archeological Survey

Barn and slaughtering area at the Foster-Russell-Riggs place, Randolph Co, AK (3RA467). Photo 1950-1952 by Miss Maxcine Riggs (1926-1976). Photo courtesy of Dr. Leslie C. “Skip” Stewart-Abernathy, Arkansas Archeological Survey

Hog killing at the Foster-Russell-Riggs place, Randolph Co, AK (3RA467). Photo 1950-1952 by Miss Maxcine Riggs (1926-1976). Photo courtesy of Dr. Leslie C. "Skip" Stewart-Abernathy, Arkansas Archeological Survey

Hog killing at the Foster-Russell-Riggs place, Randolph Co, AK (3RA467). Photo 1950-1952 by Miss Maxcine Riggs (1926-1976). Photo courtesy of Dr. Leslie C. “Skip” Stewart-Abernathy, Arkansas Archeological Survey

Hog killing at the Foster-Russell-Riggs place, Randolph Co, AK (3RA467). Photo 1950-1952 by Miss Maxcine Riggs (1926-1976). Photo courtesy of Dr. Leslie C. "Skip" Stewart-Abernathy, Arkansas Archeological Survey

Hog killing at the Foster-Russell-Riggs place, Randolph Co, AK (3RA467). Photo 1950-1952 by Miss Maxcine Riggs (1926-1976). Photo courtesy of Dr. Leslie C. “Skip” Stewart-Abernathy, Arkansas Archeological Survey

Photo courtesy of Dr. Leslie C. "Skip" Stewart-Abernathy, Arkansas Archeological Survey

Photo courtesy of Dr. Leslie C. “Skip” Stewart-Abernathy, Arkansas Archeological Survey

Everyone on the site had a major “Ah-HAA!” moment.  Ephemeral architecture. A barn structure, built post-in-ground style with no walls. An ephemeral platform area where a pig, once killed, drained of blood, and cleaned, could be laid while it was butchered before scalding in a boiling pot to remove the hair. And presumably lots, and lots, and lots of primary butchering waste.

Lee Presley was ecstatic. I am not kidding. She was tickled. It seemed like we had randomly stumbled upon an animal slaughtering and processing area in the middle of Clifton, while doing the initial survey as she was designing her dissertation study of food systems.

We knew we had to learn more to confirm our theory of this as a slaughtering activity area, so we set up for the 2013 season!

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About Timothy James Scarlett

Associate Professor of Archaeology at Michigan Technological University.

2 responses to “In the Trenches, Part II”

  1. Bubba Jo McGee says :

    Awesome!

    I am ready for some ribs tonight after seeing those pictures! Maybe Professor Presley will join me?

    Nice find. Interesting to see what role luck and skill play in uncovering artifacts and the
    Interpretation

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