Finishing up at Yankeetown

Written by Michele Greenan, Natural History Collections Manager 

Although our dig is winding to a close, the work-pace picks up 10-fold! As with all digs, you end up finding all kinds of stuff at the end. It is one thing you can truly count on as an archaeologist. Working on the riverbank, Kara and I spent the day collecting various soil samples from each layer of the bank. It was particularly funny because Kara — our trusty registrar — thought she was coming out into the field to get away from paperwork. Ha!

Our goal at the riverbank was to bring together various points of research to get a good idea what the environment may have been like throughout prehistory (throughout the history of the banks development). We had all kinds of folks out to help, including geologists and soil scientists. The red and white pins were laid by geologist Ron Counts and mark general areas where we took soil samples. The small pegs at center are where we took our samples for pollen analysis. We were also able to take C/14 samples from some areas up the bank. All of these lines of evidence will hopefully help us reconstruct what this environment may have been like prehistorically.

Landside, the field school was making tremendous headway uncovering feature after feature. Burned posts in place, large pit features (maybe trash/food preparation?), burned soil, a cache of corn … everything indicating a thriving Yankeetown occupation at this location. Students map, photograph and excavate each feature and then screen the excavated soil for artifacts.

Don’t these pictures scream “I love archaeology!”

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Archaeology saves (turtle) lives!

Written by Kara Vetter, Registrar

Even in the field, a registrar can't get away from paperwork!

5 a.m. came too early today, especially for a night owl like me. We left the hotel and headed for the site around 6 a.m. with ominous rain clouds in the distance. During a quick necessities trip to Wal-mart, I wondered if the dry weather luck would hold out. As we arrived, the sky grew even darker and thunder could be heard in the distance. Comments flew between Michele, Amy and me as to whether the rain would hold off. After prepping our gear we descended, very slowly I might add, down the ladder. I got my “wet muck/mud sea legs” under me and got to work. Michele graded the bank face with a trowel high up the ladder while Amy and I created a secondary profile for photography later in the week. If you ever have the job of clearing away the debris beneath someone who is grading make sure you keep your mouth closed. Dirt — no matter where it’s from — tastes awful! With Amy wielding the camp shovel and I the small pick axe, away we dug for about an hour until the sudden crack of thunder warned us to scramble back up the ladder before the rain set in. At the top, we met the unofficial mascot for this dig, Widgee! He’s an adorable little dog, some kind of terrier we think, who belongs to Indiana University professor Dr. Susan Alt. He scampered around, being as doggily cute as possible while I met IU archaeologists Liz and Mara.

Scrapped for the moment, we headed back to Wal-mart for distilled water and beef jerky! The water was for later testing and the jerky was for us hard-working state employees … thanks Amy!

About a half hour later, we went back to the site and resumed digging and grading. But not before we channeled our Curator of Agriculture, Industry and Technology (and known turtle aficionado), Todd Stockwell, by saving a large turtle from the middle of the road … good deed for the day, check! A break for lunch was interrupted with more rain. Soggy PB&Js are a sad thing indeed. After the rain slowed, we braved the weather and assisted Michele as she lined up the grid so we could map out the archaeological and geological features. I even got to prove my upper body strength by pulling a large stake from the ground so we could secure the measuring tape. Just call me Kara “The Hoss Lady” Vetter …ha! After being pelted with wind and various types of rain, Michele called it quits at 1:30 p.m. The weather was just too erratic and making the riverbank too unstable for further work and Michele said that we looked like a miserable lot and took pity on us. On the ride back to the hotel, we saved yet another turtle — this time a box turtle. Two good deeds for the day!

So, my first day of archaeology work didn’t go as smoothly as planned but at least I have some dirt under my nails and light farmer tan to prove I did something, not to mention helping to defend road-crossing turtles everywhere. Here’s hoping tomorrow goes better and that I am able to take notes and map while Michele describes features to me at the same time. Fingers crossed!

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A most excellent find!

Written by Michele Greenan, Natural History Collections Manager

These students are working on a burned post.

A very interesting day to say the least! The trench has really started to show its true colors with features galore! A feature – generally speaking in archaeological terms – is the non-portable cultural evidence. It’s something that, if you take it, you destroy it (so you can’t really take it ‘as is’). Like, for example, evidence that a structure once stood at a particular spot but was later burned down. We see changes in soil and lots and lots of burned soil that form a nice square (in this case) pattern. We found evidence of a structure in 2008, and we have another one now! There are plenty of other things going on, too. There is a line of burned posts in place. We can kinda assume an association between the structures (or, structures in general) and the posts, but not really. We just don’t yet know.

This picture says it all … The sheer joy of doing archaeology and knowing you’re the first one to touch something after it was last held some 800 to 900 years ago. Here, a field school student shows us her find … a chunky stone. In the picture, you can barely see that the stone has been shaped to a perfect round, disk shape. The center of both sides is concave. These stones were used in playing a particular game of the same name. The collections of the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites has some beautiful examples of chunky stones, but most lack good provenience. This is a most excellent artifact!

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A very good day!

Written by Michele Greenan, Natural History Collections Manager

It was a great day to dig! We started a bit later because the storms were brewing in the area. Our site is in the middle of a very large field and any hint of lightning will send us flying outta the site – so we tend to be very cautious. But the rain moved by and the day went along very well – with nice cloudy cover and a pretty darn good breeze. It was a nice little break from those scorchers we had been dealing with.

Digging the riverbank is cumbersome, but this year I’ve got some serious help! In the top picture, we have crew digging a platform from which to work. Sometimes you have to dig standing like Charlie Chaplin – minus the cane, add the pick, but in this instance, they were able to build a nice platform. To his left is a nice big feature that had lots of artifacts in it. As excavation takes place at the feature, crew grabs the full buckets and water screens down by the river (bottom picture).

Back at the trench, the crew continued to reveal a structure and features, which are now starting to really take shape (I will have a picture this for the next post).

We ended the day a bit early. The storms started to kick up again and we played it safe and left. That’s it until next time!

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Figures from the past

Written by Michele Greenan, natural history collections manager at the Indiana State Museum

Have you ever wondered how archaeologists come up with ‘educated’ guesses as to how people in the past looked or behaved? For the archaeologist, art can sometimes be the vehicle that delivers that element of humanity. A few weeks ago, archaeologists at the Indiana State Museum began the long, arduous process of cataloging some of the beautiful artwork created by the people of Southern Indiana some 1,700 years ago.


Figure 1: Figurine Faces

There are many occasions during the day when non-archaeology staff comes traipsing through the lab spaces. Archaeologists are always cataloging something in the labs, so there is a continual flow of things to look at. When these figurines were laid out, the reaction was one of sheer amazement. People would start to walk by then catch a glimpse out of the corner of their eye and stop dead in their tracks. In a low voice, you’d hear something like “…Oh my God!”


Figurine 2: Figurine Bodies

As we pick each figurine up and get a good look at it, we can’t help but think – just for a second – that we are somehow looking into the faces of the people who made these figurines 1,700 years ago. As we catalog these beautifully crafted objects (there are over 400 in the collection), we can see evidence of how they wore jewelry and what their hair and clothing styles were like. Other figurines may indicate religious practice or perhaps social standing. We may never know the intended meanings of these figurines, but they certainly provide a unique glimpse into their culture.


Figure 3: Figurine Fragments

Nowadays, our lab looks a bit more like a CSI episode. We have over a hundred fragments of figurines left to catalog, most of which are parts of feet, torsos or limbs. The amount of information we can obtain from these fragments (we will try and fit them together) as well as the faces and bodies are immeasurable. Staff from the Indiana State Museum discovers something new about them almost every day.

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