Savannah Fletcher, a senior in CC, worked from May-June of 2013 on Monmouth University’s Fort Charles Archaeological Project on the island of Nevis in the West Indies. This was the first field season at the site, which is a 17th century British colonial fort built right on the water. The crew worked on clearing and mapping the site as well as dug a few test pits both around the cannons and near the primary structure. Through this research they hope to better understand how the island related and connected to others in the Caribbean as well as the changing cultural significance of the fort itself to the island’s inhabitants.
I am currently in my second week of field school here in the northwest of Spain and I have been completely engulfed by the abundance of cultural resources. The amount of archaeological site opportunities is endless, ranging from Paleolithic stone caches to trenches and bunkers from the Guerra Civil. Due to this excess of archaeological sites, my team has the opportunity to work in three different locations and possibly four by the end of the month. We are currently sharing the days of our weeks between a vast array of civil war trenches and bunkers, along with two other ceramic kiln sites.
Our primary site is located on the very top of a hillside named Mount Paisano overlooking the entire city of Oviedo. The Nationalist army used this location in the mid 1930’s in order to defend the city, which had been breached by the opposing Republican army. The Nationalists constructed trenches and bunkers in concentric formations around the hill in order to launch artillery and stage defensive assaults against the invading Republicans to enable an evacuation route for the civilians. Through very detailed historical research and anthropological interviews, our instructor Alfonso Fanjul discovered the location of the concentric trench system around the top of the mountain. He garnered a good understanding of a broader location of the site but defined it more thoroughly through aerial photographs received from the government along with the performance of topographical research done by our team. In the first week we conducted both intensive and non-intensive surveying with a hired topographer, Icaro Muniz, who gave us a very informative lecture on the use of topographical electronics such as the Top Con GRS-1 for Auto Cad and a Sokkia ETS. Once we constructed our topographical map we began cleaning the area of terrain blockage while also implementing the use of a high powered metal detector to locate any artifacts positioned in the top crevices of the trenches due to the irrigated wash cycles the mountain performs naturally during the raining months of the winter. After the primary cleaning, we began removing layers inch by inch with our trowels to discover artifacts from the war starting with 22 in the top and middle layers continuing onto the floor of the trench, which produced over 60 artifacts! At this point we have a total of 82 artifacts consisting of ammunition, communication wiring, storage vessels, nails and tent spikes, dog tags, and a preserved pair of leather boots with cleated bottoms. We still have meters and meters of trench to go over the next few weeks, therefore we anticipate at least 50 more artifacts before the month is over.
While our Mount Paisano site is a fantastic representation of what this field school has to offer, it is not our only site. The methods used for battlefield archaeology during the 19th and 20th century place heavy emphasis on metallurgy techniques, which are not entirely transferable to other types of fieldwork. Therefore half of the week we go to two separate ceramic kiln sites in the countryside. Our first ceramic kiln site is located next to a chicken farm in the country side which has been carbon 14 dated to late 11th and early 12th century. Through anthropological study and historical texts we have narrowed the date to 1120 AD. The anthropological side of our research is very hands on involving multiple interviews conducted by each team member. It has been surprisingly easy to accumulate interviews because of our team’s diversity.
One of our members is actually the last classical ceramic potter left in Asturias. During the late 18th century the province went from thousands of families producing classic kiln, black glaze pottery to only four because a large porcelain factory began mass producing table and hollow ware, henceforth the overhead for these families was too expensive to maintain the same standard of living. This specific site, which we have labeled “The Chicken Coop” has provided us with over a hundred shards and fragments of pottery and the greater kettle which served as the firing kiln. From the photograph to the left many of you will recognize a striking resemblance to Jessica’s laboratory. Every night we do lab work researching and reconstructing the ceramic shards to create vessels through techniques I have been able to share from the experience many of us have had in the lab (THANKS JESS!).
Our second ceramic kiln site is located in a small town named Faro in the mountain valley of Oviedo, on the property of an elderly woman whose family was one of the last 4 ceramic pottery producers in the 19th century. This connection between her and other family members whose grandparents worked at the site has enabled another great anthropological resource to be accumulated. Her and our professional potter has dated the site to around the late 18th and early 19th century where its last use was right before the Guerra Civil. Her house was actually used as a scouting spot for snipers in the mountain valley and she has also explained to us that at least four soldiers from the Republican side lost their lives on her property! The amount of crossover between each site and their inhabitants is incredible. So far at this site we have recovered over 200 shards of pottery and have many more to come. We are in the process of cleaning and analyzing them for the Museum of Archaeology in Oviedo for an exhibition we hope to construct in the coming years.
As you can probably tell by now I am very enthusiastic about the experience I have had in the field so far. I hope you all are having very impressionable excavations and adventures. I am excited to hear all about them on the blog!