Phase II Testing at Redstone Arsenal

Monteagle Chert knife/scraper, in situ at base of Holocene-age gravel bed.

Monteagle Chert knife/scraper, in situ at base of Holocene-age gravel bed.

In spring 2013, Brockington archaeologists began Phase II testing at three previously identified prehistoric sites at the U.S. Army Garrison Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. Typically, the goal of Phase II testing is to gather enough information to make a recommendation about whether a site is significant for the National Register of Historic Places. At Redstone, older site maps were no longer sufficient: we made more accurate maps of the boundaries of each site using GPS technology and typical Phase I methods such as surface plowing and visual walk-over collection survey, as well as large-scale shovel test grid survey. Phase II methods allowed us to delve deeper into the sites, both figuratively and literally. We excavated hand dug 1-by-1 meter test units, and we worked with a backhoe. The backhoe work allowed us to expose subsurface levels over a large area and to dig deep trenches to study each site’s geomorphology, which tells us how the site developed over time.

All three sites are prehistoric lithic scatters, comprised of small flakes and flake fragments that are the byproduct of making stone tools. These types of lithic scatters are common in the Southeast, and usually indicate a campsite or tool manufacture location. Several stone points have also been recovered. The earliest of the identified point types is the Dalton (Late Paleoindian subperiod, 8500-8000 BC), followed by Kirk Corner Notched (Early Archaic 8000-5500 BC), Morrow Mountain and White Springs (Middle Archaic subperiod, 5500-3000 BC), and a Ledbetter and Elora point (Middle to Late Archaic subperiod, 3000-700 BC). This area of north central Alabama contains an unusually high concentration of early prehistoric sites. The relatively early dates for the stone tools found at the three sites we investigated, especially the Dalton point, left open the possibility that these three sites could contain important information about the first people to live in the region. As our testing progressed, however, it became increasingly clear that these sites could be simply too low-intensity to convey much information on the prehistoric people of Redstone.

Detail of Monteagle Chert knife/scraper discovered in gravel bed.

Detail of Monteagle Chert knife/scraper discovered in gravel bed.

In the third week, we sunk a long, deep trench into an upland site located just above a mountain outwash stream, spanning both the lower and higher sections of ground. The geomorphologist, hunkered down in the trench, defined several layers of soil by studying its exposed sides. At the bottom he recognized older, Pleistocene-age soil, dating from a time before people are generally believed to have been widely distributed in the Southeast. Above the Pleistocene soils, the geomorphologist identified a gravel bed laid down by water-action in the Holocene, when people could have been roaming the Alabama hills. At the base of the gravel bed he unexpectedly encountered a large stone biface tool (pictured at right). The tool’s position at the base of the gravel bed suggests that it could date from the Early Holocene. The Early Holocene roughly corresponds to the Late Paleoindian or Early Archaic transition at the end of the last ice age, about 12,000 years ago. This makes the biface possible evidence of some of the earliest inhabitants of Alabama. Brockington’s laboratory has identified the biface as a knife or scraper made from Monteagle chert, weighing 49.5 grams. The discovery of the biface adds depth to the context of the site and to our understanding of the people who lived in the area.

Employee Profile: JOHN O'DONNELL

Crew Chief in Brockington’s Atlanta Office

John O'Donnell circa 1991.

I was born John B. O’Donnell on October 22, 1958, in Buffalo, New York, the middle child of five (two brothers and two sisters). As the runt male at a mere 6 ft. 3 in., I have had to learn to live with my inferior stature. A 1980 graduate of SUNY Buffalo with a B.A. in Anthropology, I had no idea a career in archaeology was possible until my older sister called me about a huge job she was working on in southwest Wyoming. She thought I would be perfect for it, and she was right. I was awarded rookie of the year on a crew of 70 people (I don’t think I was the only rookie). When that job ended a friend on that project learned of a large job starting in southeast Georgia, so many of us moved on down. As that project went on, the crew from out west, who said they could work in 100 degree plus heat, started to melt away, leaving only this Buffalo boy behind.

I then moved to Athens, Georgia in early 1986, and married my wife Judy in 1997. On January 2, 1988, I was wooed away from my previous employer by Paul Brockington, who I had worked with before, to begin a survey on what is now Reynolds Plantation. Back then we were based out of Paul’s basement. We did lab work or anything Paul wanted us to do (we even hung sheetrock), and we often raided the upstairs refrigerator before Paul woke up. We stayed in that office until we were snitched on by a local competitor and moved to the first of five official Atlanta offices. Only Paul and I have the distinctive honor of having worked in each office.

When I’m asked about my particular interests in archaeology, or the most interesting site I’ve ever worked on, I never know. I’ve worked on so many fabulous projects here, and each one brings its own level of satisfaction and personal interest. Of course, some projects really stand out archaeologically, whether it’s an historic site or a pre-contact site, and we’ve had so much opportunity here that other firms are always jealous (I’ve heard it from them).

Another positive aspect of working in the field, other than getting to work on a great archaeology site, is the particular place you stay in. Whether it’s a small podunk town in a dry county, or a large city, or anything in between, we usually stay long enough to blend into the local culture, and enjoy the local cuisine. (Editor’s note: John never blends in).

I will say one of the most satisfying parts of my job here is all the dozens and dozens of coworkers I’ve gotten to work with over the years. Since field archaeologists have such a tough job, there’s a high turnover rate (people readily move on). But I’ve gotten to be friends with generations of like-minded, educated people. In summary, although field archaeology can be a physically demanding job away from home, in sometimes brutal conditions, I’m glad I am where I am. My problem is I’ve probably forgot more projects than most people will ever work on!

Bulloch Hall

Meagan Brady Talks Archaeology with Summer Campers

Meagan Brady, the laboratory supervisor for our Atlanta office, accepted an invitation to talk to kids at Camp Bulloch in July. The annual summer camp is hosted by historic Bulloch Hall in Roswell, Georgia, which was the childhood home of Theodore Roosevelt's mother, Mittie Bulloch. The Camp Bulloch "Rough Riders," a group of 6-10 year-olds, were able to handle and sort real artifacts, just like Meagan does in the lab. In a second activity, they learned more about archaeology in the most delicious way possible, with chocolate chip cookies! In the "cookie excavation" activity, kids were asked to carefully excavate chocolate chips from their cookies with toothpicks, in a way that is similar to how archaeologists try to carefully remove artifacts from the ground. The activity encourages forethought and patience and demonstrates how archaeologists don't just "dig" in the ground, they excavate using precise methods. Of course, the campers were able to enjoy their cookie sites at the end of the lesson!

Bulloch Hall

Brockington Professionals Spend the Day with the College of Charleston Field School

On June 28, 2013, Brockington archaeologist Josh Fletcher and historian Charles Philips spoke to field school students from the College of Charleston about the role of cultural resources managers. The day’s activities took place at the Ponds residential development in Dorchester County, near Summerville, South Carolina, where Brockington was recently working on several sites. The Brockington researchers spoke to the students about how they are assisting the developer, Greenwood Communities, to comply with Section 106 cultural resource law. Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Philips chose to talk about the Percival site at the Ponds community because of its close relationship with the nearby Lord Ashley site where the students had been working for the previous two weeks of the field school. The group was joined by Greenwood Communities General Partner John Morgan, who explained how the company works to use its historical sites to better educate and inform their residents, and the general public, about the historic use of their lands.

The History Workshop
King-Tisdell Cottage: A Memory Box

Rendered exhibit plan for King Tisdell

The History Workshop had the pleasure of working with Ms. Vaughnette Goode-Walker, project coordinator at the King-Tisdell Cottage in Savannah, Georgia, to develop a plan for new interpretive exhibits at this popular house museum. We helped Ms. Goode-Walker develop a program that gives visitors the opportunity to experience the historic house through both self-guided and docent-led tours. Owned by two middle-class African American families in the early twentieth century, the cottage tells the story of the burgeoning African American middle class in Savannah. The exhibit follows the lives of the Kings and the Tisdells and explores how the cottage served as the setting for the intertwining of the two families. We look at the development of the African American renaissance in Savannah and how determination and perseverance helped the Kings and Tisdells build middle class lives for themselves and their children.

In addition, the new exhibits consider the larger issue of historic preservation in the African American community. Although King-Tisdell Cottage is now located in the Beach Institute neighborhood of downtown Savannah, the house originally was built on Ott Street in 1896. When the house was scheduled for demolition in the early 1970s, local historian and civil rights pioneer Mr. W. W. Law successfully championed the preservation of the cottage. It was moved to East Huntingdon Street in 1979. We will share this inspiring story of determination, entrepreneurship, and preservation with visitors through interpretive panels and reader rails, hands-on activities, a large touch-screen map, and several unique artifact displays.

One of the most touching objects in the museum’s collection is a box of old trinkets and photographs acquired by W. W. Law. He collected many historical artifacts, documents, photographs, books, and art objects associated with the African American community in Savannah. We have designed a special case to showcase this memory box. The objects contained in the box are suspended on fine filament and appear to float out of the wooden box. In many ways, the memory box is a metaphor for the cottage itself – saved from destruction by Mr. Law and preserved to honor the stories of the people who lived in the home, as well the efforts of Savannah’s African American community to build a new middle class life.

The History Workshop recently signed a contract with the King-Tisdell Cottage to complete our proposed plan. The new exhibits are scheduled to open in early 2014.