Day 4: done already

Summary: we dug a lot more holes. We didn’t find anything battle-related. We didn’t find anything prehistoric.
Even though it’s very disappointing for us archaeologists that we didn’t find anything, it’s good news for the people who hired us. And even though didn’t find anything, we’ve still learned things that will help other archaeologists. We know that no battle-related artifacts are present within the area we surveyed. We know that the pipeline construction in the area has caused a lot of disturbance to the ground, affecting the context of any deposits in similar settings. We can’t say for certain that troops weren’t in the area, because of all the construction and disturbances, but we can say that we didn’t find any evidence, and that it’s likely that troops weren’t in the area. This will help future archaeologists working in the San Jacinto Battleground area.
We finished a day early, thanks to the excellent work done by my crew and because we didn’t find anything. We decided that we will go see the State Historic Site and visit the museum, to learn more about the battle and see some of the artifacts that we hoped to find. Then, we will return home to Austin. I’ll post tomorrow about what we do after the fieldwork is done.


Day 3: disappointment

Today was the day that we surveyed in our highest probability area. As I mentioned yesterday, about 100 meters outside of our project area, several hundred Battle of San Jacinto-related artifacts were located in 2008 by archaeologists with Moore Archeological Consulting, assisted by metal detectorists from the Houston Archeological Society.

There is a transcript of a newspaper article on the Moore webpage that will let one of the archaeologists involved explain their findings. Click here to read it, and then come back to read the rest of this post, please!

The probable surrender site was edge of a small creek drainage. Part of this drainage looked like it might extend into our project area, and there is a dry creek bed that crosses our line. Since the other artifacts were found in a similar setting so close to our area, we thought there was a good possibility that there would be some more stuff for us to find.

Unfortunately, and despite a very thorough effort, we did not find anything old around the drainage. We had around 75 hits very close to the drainage, but all of them were modern trash or iron scraps. I think that all of the crew were pretty disappointed by this, but we all did our best to maintain a positive attitude when we weren’t swatting mosquitoes.

For the entire day, we dug almost 350 holes!! This includes some hits left over from yesterday, plus most of what we detected today. The large number of holes that we’re digging will be important because it shows that we engaged in what is known as “due diligence”. This means that every effort (what we call a “good faith effort”) was made to identify resources that would be impacted by the construction of the pipeline. Or, put simply, we dug up every piece of metal that we could find, and none of it (so far) is from The Battle of San Jacinto!

The project area is more or less L-shaped, and we finished detecting the longer of the legs today. There are still a few hits to dig up tomorrow morning, then we’ll move on the the slightly shorter leg. This will actually take us closer to the Battleground, and the Monument will be visible! There’s also still a chance that we might find some battle-related artifacts, and we’ll also be passing near some other archaeological sites. Maybe tomorrow is the day we finally find something!

A site visitor, and Day 2 results.

I tried to post a picture from the field this morning, but unfortunately the WordPress app on my phone kept crashing on me. I was hoping to post some updates while out in the project area, like I did yesterday, but now I don’t know if that will happen again.

This morning, we had a visitor to the project area:

An armadillo visits the site

My co-worker had never seen a live armadillo in the wild, so she was very excited! I could understand, as I had lived in Texas for almost 12 years before I saw¬† a live ‘dillo for the first time (also while out in the field for work).

We did not find any battle-related artifacts today. Between four people, we dug around 140 holes, and still no artifacts. This is actually very common on archaeological survey!

We are getting closer to the area where we think we have our best chance of finding battle-related items. A previous metal-detecting survey was conducted in 2008, very close to where our project area is. I’ll go into more detail tomorrow, but the archaeologists and metal detectorists for that project found a large number of artifacts in a relatively clustered arrangement. This cluster was about 100 meters (or a little but longer than a football field) outside of our survey area. However, it was focused around a water feature which continues into our area, so maybe there will be more items for us!

I hope so! They found lots of musket balls, but also some really cool things like bayonets, buttons, buckles, uniform decorations, and a spur.

Our metal detecting methodology and day 1 results

We didn’t cover a whole lot of ground today. The drive to the project area from Austin (my home, and where my office is based) is a little over 3 hours, and we stopped to buy some water and ice so we can stay cool and hydrated in the field. There were only two of us today as well. Still, we finished around one-third of a mile along 1 survey transect out of 3 or 4, depending on the width of the cleared area.

This is what the project area looks like (click to make larger).

A view of the metal detector survey area.

We’re working in the area along the left side of the photo, to the edge of the trees. The metal detectors wouldn’t be able to work in the trees, as you need to have a clear area close to the ground. As it is, the grass in some spots is a little tall and clumpy, which can make the metal detector sound like it has a “hit”. Two of us walk within a 3 meter (10 foot) wide transect, with one on the left and one on the right. One person is several steps behind the other, because the metal detectors will interfere with each other if they’re too close together. When he hear a beep, that signals a possible hit. At this, we stop, swing the detector over the area a few times to make sure it’s a real “hit” and not a false reading. If it’s a good hit, we stick a pin flag in the ground to mark the spot.

After we finish metal detecting a good stretch of the transect, we go back and start investigating the hits. We have a shovel and a hand screen (a box with metal mesh, sometimes referred to as a “sifter) to dig the whole and sift the dirt. We still have the metal detector, to re-check the hole. There may be more than one artifact!

Once we’ve found the metal item, and made sure there’s nothing else, we have two options.

1) If the item is modern trash like foil, bottle caps, can tops or cans, wire, or other items, we make a mark on our form, so that we can keep track of how many hits we’ve investigated. It would take a long time to write a detailed description of each modern trash find, and as the saying goes, time is money! The field director or crew chief (me, in this case) will be taking detailed notes about the project area, what the dirt looks like, what sort of depths the trash and artifacts are coming from, and anything else he/she deems appropriate. This way, some information is recorded.

2) If we have a battle-related or other historic-aged artifact, we get excited and yell so everyone knows we found something! Then, we start filling out our “hit log” We note how deep in the ground the artifact was, the color and texture of the dirt, and what and how many artifacts were recovered. Then, we use a GPS unit (not like the ones in cars) to record the location of the discovery, with 1-2 foot accuracy. Finally, we put the artifact in a small bag, and fill out a tag that goes in the bag with it. This tag includes the project name and number, the date of the find, the hit number, how deep it was, and what and how many artifacts are in the bag.

Today, it was all the first option! We had somewhere around 50 hits, and all were modern trash. A lot of it was metal rods and wire that may be related to the construction of the buried utility pipelines in the area. Some were cans and pop-top tabs, and there was some foil too. This wasn’t too disappointing, as it was what we expected in this area. Sometimes, you feel satisfied with just doing a good job and covering some ground!

The day so far

It obviously rained in the project area over the weekend, as the ground is a little damp. It’s also quite humid, as the area along Galveston Bay and Houston in general tend to be. This has brought the mosquitoes out in droves!
So far, the two of us have surveyed a little strip farthest from the battle area. We’ve only had a few metal detector hits, and all are modern trash. Some have been as deep as 8″ which means there’s a lot of disturbance in the area and a low chance to find something battle-related.
Ok, break is over, back to work!

Welcome to the Surveying San Jacinto blog!

This blog is intended to document a week-long archaeological survey project near the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site near Houston, Texas. This survey, taking place September 19-23, 2011, will involve the use of metal detectors in an attempt to locate and recover battle-related artifacts prior to the construction of a pipeline. The project location is outside of the main battleground area. Please read the About page of this blog for more information

The Battle of San Jacinto was the final battle of the Texas Revolution. The Texian army, led by General Sam Houston, defeated the Mexican army, led by General Santa Anna. The capture of Santa Anna and the surrender of the Mexican forces led to the peace treaty that secured Texas independence.

Lots of archaeological and metal detecting work has been conducted at the battle site, and in the vicinity. The proximity of the battleground, and the positive results of previous archaeological work nearby, led the Texas State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) to require a metal detector survey of the current project area before construction could take place. This process is part of what is known as Section 106, a part of federal law that requires that projects involving public lands or federal permits take into account impacts on significant cultural resources.

Due to state laws and the sensitivity of the cultural resources related to the battleground, as well as to protect the client’s interest, the specific project area will not be mentioned in this blog. Unfortunately, a lot of people like to collect artifacts because of their “value”, whether it is a monetary value or as an art object. For an archaeologist, the main value of an artifact is the information that it can provide about the past. This can be about a specific event such as the Battle of San Jacinto, or about past behaviors, such as what types of items soldiers left behind while they were retreating. An important aspect of this is the context in which the artifact is found. This includes where an object was found in relation to other objects, in relation to the surrounding land, and how deep in the ground (if at all).