Hello again! This is Amy Broussard, and this is my third and final update on the archaeological study that was the focus of my internship at NCPTT. The project incorporated metal detecting in an archaeological investigation of a colonial homestead near Natchitoches, Louisiana. My previous posts gave background information and explained the field methods we employed – now we’ll talk about what we found at the site.
As I briefly mentioned before, the most plentiful items collected were bullet casings and both modern and historic nails. Other metal artifacts included a couple of Civil War-era lead bullets and a hammer from a cap-lock firearm. Even though we placed our shovel tests at pin-pointed locations where metal was targeted, we also unearthed various other types of artifacts including historic glass, brick fragments, and ceramic sherds. After the artifacts were cleaned in the lab at NCPTT, they were bagged along with tags that record exactly where they were collected in the field. The objects were counted, weighed, and tabulated in spreadsheets.
Archaeologists pay special attention to historic ceramics because chronologically-sensitive, stylistic shifts in ceramic glaze and decorative techniques can be indicative of a certain time frame, when a certain type was being manufactured and commonly used. In the 1980’s, previous studies at the site yielded fragments of Native American pottery, ceramics imported from France, and ceramics produced in Mexico. While we did not find any samples that were definitively Mexican-produced, we did collect a few different types that seem to be varieties that were brought from France to Louisiana in the eighteenth century.
In summary, we worked a total of 24 days in the field and dug a total of 254 shovel tests. The fieldwork conducted by Commonwealth Associated Inc. in 1981 resulted in over 300 ceramic pieces collected, but fewer than 12 nails. Our collection resulted in far less ceramic – only 38 fragments – but we collected 136 nails.
These discrepancies may be explained by several factors at play. Obviously, our collection had a severe “metal bias” due to the use of a metal detector. Also, the site had been previously collected – officially and unofficially – multiple times over the years. White pieces of ceramic on the ground surface are usually very visible, so they’re one of the first things people pick up at a historic site. There was one large pre-existing “pot hole” at the site, about 3-4 feet in diameter, which one previous report attributed to “treasure hunters.”
Finally, in addition to historic metal artifacts, we also found around 40 casings from rifle and handgun bullets, and shotgun shells, as well as modern litter on the surface, like beer bottles and aluminum cans. There seemed to be much evidence of modern visitors, who may have taken some souvenirs home with them.
Nevertheless, the few ceramics that we did collect fit in nicely with the estimated date range of the site’s occupation, which is the early colonial period, ca. 1760 – 1820. The use of a metal detector enhanced the earlier data by revealing the heavy concentration of metal artifacts that was previously not represented. The multitude of historic nails and spikes that we collected would definitely benefit from further in-depth analysis… but that undertaking could be a separate study within itself, which would take many more months than the duration of my temporary internship.
For now, we will update the site record form for Division of Archaeology’s database, and probably submit an article to the Louisiana Archaeological Society. The complete report is a work in progress (70 pages and counting). It has been a great experience interning at NCPTT and and I’d highly recommend it to anyone pursuing a career in archaeology / cultural resource management!