maanantai 28. toukokuuta 2007

Last second excavation

In a sudden and unexpected turn of events, we were forced to dig open and excavate an entirely new trench this weekend. We left the dig site Friday, after covering it up with topsoil and doing our final mapping and measuring, and went home without any idea that two days later we would have to begin the whole process over again, but with less time and more to uncover.

Above: An aerial shot of the new site. The organic layer, which, based on initial interpretation, appears to be made of chocolate cookie crumbs, has been removed from the main trench, outlined in string and pretzel pieces. Underneath the organic was a thin layer of almonds and oatmeal cookie crumbs, and then a leached layer of vanilla cake. In the top corner you can see a fireplace, and in the bottom corner, our sand pile on a tarp.

The stratigraphy of the trench followed the same pattern as our main trench: a cookie-crumb organic layer with some chocolate frosting, a leached layer of vanilla cake, a dense layer of chocolate rice-crispy square ceramics, an enriched banana-bread layer, and then some chocolate chip cookie hard-pan. Most excitingly, the ceramics layer included some jellybean amber beads, something we never found at our original site.

Above: Deciding exactly how to excavate the trench was obviously very difficult, as we didn't want to collapse the layers into each other, or miss anything when dividing it up into pieces. Fortunately, every layer remained intact and worthy of considerable investigation.

Above: A good picture of the profile of the new trench. The rice-crispy ceramics layer is particularly thick at this point, which everyone was very happy about.

So, having completed this surprise excavation (cleverly surveyed for digging by Laura, one of the undergraduates from McGill), we were done with all the heavy-lifting and done with the Field School. It's been a fun and busy few weeks, and we've all learned a lot about Finland and archaeology. It will take some time, of course, before all the things we've found can be fully understood and contextualized, but we all know that it's been an incredibly successful and fulfilling experience. That much, at least, we can guarantee.

That's all,
The Field School

torstai 24. toukokuuta 2007

Day 13 and 14: Site Clean-up and Mapping

After our failed attempt to finish up all the digging on Tuesday, it took us until today to get all of our finds out of the trench. That meant that as we excavated one end of the trench (the east end, where the big clay feature continued much, much further than we expected), we were mapping the other end and filling it back up with the sand we've accumulated over the last three weeks. Of course, that got a little complicated, as the sand gradually encroached upon those still digging. In the end, we managed to completely fill the trench back up again and get all our finds out, although we did have to take all the ceramics left in the sand out in one big chunk and bring them back to lab. As always with archaeology, we found ourselves trapped between trying to do as thorough a job as possible and getting the dig done on time. The mapping process is fairly slow, and while it isn't stressful or difficult, it does require that we have about a day to record all the changes and peculiarities in the stratigraphy of our trench. Hopefully, the maps we make will tell us how much the area had been altered by humans, and how much of it was deposited or moved around by any number of natural forms of disturbance. Like everything, we'll need some lab time to work it all out, and we'll try to post our thoughts or insights on what we find.

As for the Thing, we finally reached the bottom of the last layer of charcoal, which is great, and that means that tomorrow we will take some time to map its profile and then fill it up again. It's a very strange sensation refilling a trench that you've excavated: after all the work you've done, all you want to do is make it look like you were never there. We dig out a mountain of sand, take a couple of kilograms of stuff from it, then put it all back in and roll the vegetation and organic matter back on top. However, we found a very exciting couple of kilograms, and over the next week or so (excluding tomorrow), we'll spend some time in the lab looking over them, preparing charcoal samples to be dated, and thinking about how the artifacts we've gathered change the way we think about Neolithic Finland. What can we infer from what we've found? What have we found that contradicts or reinforces what we already assumed? How does the Thing factor into all this? Of course, many of these questions hinge on some sort of date range to work with, but the ultimate goal of the field school, to paint an accurate picture of life in the Iijoki region a very long time ago, is all about trying to tackle these difficult problems, and doing so with only a small amount of information.

In any event, tomorrow will likely be uneventful, so unless something unexpected happens, we'll just do an update in the next few days with some pictures of the week and a description of the kinds of things we've been putting together and picking apart in the lab.

That's all for now,
The Field School

tiistai 22. toukokuuta 2007

Day 12: The Last Day Rule

We had originally intended to finish all of our excavating today, allowing us to spend the rest of the week drawing the profile of the trench, cleaning, and tying up any loose ends. However, there is apparently a concrete rule in archaeology that states that you will always find the most interesting artifacts just as you are finishing your dig. While the rule always guarantees that we get some good results, it is frustrating if you're in a bit of a rush. Over the course of the day we managed to uncover two entirely new and exciting finds, as well as make some serious progress in our previously unearthed features: the clay feature has been entirely removed (it contains some very large pieces of black comb-ware pottery, which is excellent), and the lowest (so far) layer of charcoal has been taken out of the Thing. And, on top of all that, we seem to have found yet another fireplace, this time in the main trench. So, lots to do, lots to do.

The first big find, three little pieces of clay, came from the western extension of our main trench. While that doesn't sound like a lot, the pieces themselves are very unusual; unlike the clay material we've found so far, which have all been pottery fragments, these pieces don't seem to belong to any known form of pottery that we would expect to find in the area. At the moment, our best guess is that they are part of a figurine - an assumption that may seem at first to be a bit of a stretch, but is the strongest working hypothesis we have so far. Figurines have been found in the region before, even by the Field School in previous years, and we're hard pressed to think of any documented ceramic find that looks anything like these things do. As well, the archaeological definition of art is much looser than in most other fields: in the case of prehistory, anything formed by anyone that has a aesthetic, rather than practical, function is art. A figurine, then, could even be a piece of loose clay molded into a rough shape and fired.

The possible figurine fragments. The rounded, almost spherical shape is what suggests that these are quite different from our regular pottery finds; no neolithic pottery that we know of in Finland has round bumps or protrusions. As usual, only careful assessment and interpretation will make sense of this.

The second big find of the day also came from the western trench, and it appears to be a large part of a tiny undecorated clay vessel. This is the first time a pot of this size has been found by the Field School, and on top of the novelty of the discovery, the pottery fragment has a visible fingerprint on it from whoever made it. This is probably a result of how it was made: unlike the bigger comb-ware vessels, this pot was small enough that the sides could have been formed by pinching them between the maker's fingers.

The tiny-pot fragment: without a scale, you can't get a good sense of the size of the piece, but it significantly smaller and more curved than anything else we've found; hopefully we'll get a chance to estimate its overall size. You can't see the fingerprint in this picture, but we'll try and post a shot of that later.

This has definitely been one of our busiest days so far, as well as one of our most surprising. As usual, we have lots more information than we have time to process and inspect, so we'll try to keep the site updated as we make more sense of these new finds.

That's all for now,
The Field School

maanantai 21. toukokuuta 2007

Day 11: The Clay Feature and Black Ceramics

So today, at the very end of the day, we finally reached the 1000-find mark. It may seem like a lot, and the pile of bags in the lab is certainly impressive, but most of them are very, very small, and not until the end of last week were we getting pieces of pottery large enough to see evidence of patterning, paint, or asbestos tampering. However, while the finds haven't been big, the amount of work needed to catalogue and weigh them has.

Aside from a number of large intact ceramics fragments and a nice quartz tool at the Thing, there were two very interesting discoveries made today. The first was a large spread-out layer of heavily decayed pottery and clay that covers about half of the east-end extension of the main trench. Most of this clay looks like solid pottery, and within it we have found some big pieces; however, the majority of it is composed of tiny fragments of ceramics, and most of it falls apart when we try to excavate it. A similar clay feature was found last year within a dwelling depression, and so it might be either associated with ceramics production or the disposal of broken, used ceramics. In any event, it certainly gives us more to think about concerning the organization of the settlement, how resources were shared or distributed, and what techniques they used to make their pottery.

The Clay Feature: Judging by the different consistency within the feature, as well as the volume of decayed pottery that we've found within it, we're guessing this feature was formed by a significant quantity of ceramics. What they were doing there, however, is still unclear.

The other big find of the day is even more perplexing. In the middle of the wall that at one point separated the main trench from the east-end extension, we found a piece of ceramics unlike any we've uncovered in the area before. For one thing, it is entirely black, even on the sides of the fragment that would not have been on the surface when it was intact. We can't yet discern if the black is paint or fire damage or what, but the fact that the black coloring is on every surface is very confusing; it suggests that it was applied (intentionally or not) after the piece was broken (if it was broken). Secondly, it has surface patterning that is nothing like the comb-ware we would expect to find in this area. Instead of the rows of indents, there seem to be parallel incisions along the fragment. Once again, it's too early to say exactly what it is, but the fragment is definitely exciting: we could be looking at anything from a piece of poorly formed, discarded ceramics to a yet-unrecorded type of pottery. While the latter may seem more interesting, either result will give us some important archaeological insights into the lifestyle of the people we're trying to understand.

Above: The mysterious and inscrutable black ceramics piece. Note the bizarre lines on the surface, and the coloring. Hopefully we'll be able to figure out a little more about this thing before we leave.

And finally, here are some pictures from the rest of the day:

Above: "Even more damn charcoal" at the Thing. The trench is already 1.30 metres deep, and there's still a lot down there.
Above: Some ceramics with good solid pieces of asbestos throughout (the white bars). Fortunately for us, asbestos pottery lasts longer than other kinds (mainly because the other tempers used were organic, and therefore decay rapidly), and we're finding a fair amount of it.

That's all for now,
The Field School

lauantai 19. toukokuuta 2007

Pictures, Week 2

Andre and Professor Jari Okkonen from Oulu University standing in a dwelling depression. We explored some sites in Haukipudas (south of our current site) on Wednesday, and evaluated some new areas to excavate.

Inside a Giants' Church: This particular site was right next to a boulder field (in the top right of the picture), and the structure is quite obvious. You can see that a fair amount of work was necessary to organize and arrange the stones, even if the boulder field was nearby.

More of Andre and Jari. Archaeologists have an innate ability to identify dwellings or features where normal people see nothing; we spent most of our Wednesday morning following them from mysterious depression to mysterious depression.

Pottery: These are among the largest pieces that we've found in our main trench so far, and we usually don't remove finds this big until they're more or less completely exposed. Most ceramics we uncover have decayed so severely that they seem intact until we try to touch them, and so it's always good to be very cautious.

The east end of the main trench. Sam, one of the PhD students leading the field school, is seen here with some pottery and partially exposed charcoal (right of his trowel). At the bottom of the picture is an interesting patch of leached soil that dips well below the enriched layer; we hope that it was some kind of storage pit for inorganic materials, although it could just as easily been the remains of a tree.

Connecting the main trench with a newer one. We left them separate so we could get a good look at the stratigraphy at our site, but the wall has been getting weaker and weaker, so we decided to take it down before it collapsed. Like the rest of the east end of the trench, it's full of decayed ceramics.

The "Thing". The slag, vetch, and charcoal have all come from the west end of this trench (the left side of the picture), which is located in a depression in the middle of the whole feature. In the top-left corner of the trench is the possible fire pit; the deeper we dig there, the more layers of charcoal we find.

The fire pit portion of the Thing. There's lots of charcoal and some slag visible in the middle of the picture (the dark grey/black patches), and the pale white soil around it may be the product of high amounts of heat.

The stratigraphy profile of the Thing. At the bottom of the picture you can see that the enriched and leached layers have been mixed into each other, suggesting that the whole area may have been built up by human inhabitants at one point or another.

Ceramics, ceramics, ceramics. The bottom left piece has clear remnants of black paint, while the other two are good examples of what kinds of patterns we find on comb-ware pottery. Note the size: these are relatively large finds.

One of our PhD students, Dustin, trying to figure out how to use one of the archaeology lab's walkie-talkies.

Kim and Anna, two of the undergraduate students from McGill, putting in geographical coordinates for the 190 or so finds we excavated on Friday. As you can tell, it's a high-octane experience.

Laura, another McGill undergraduate, brushing off some pieces of pottery. Cleaning finds is another exciting aspect of lab-work.

Katie, an undergraduate from University of Buffalo, drying out charcoal. Once dried and cleaned, we can send the larger pieces to be dated (as long as we haven't touched them).

Jen, one of our PhD students from McGill, slaving away in the lab. Jen has been leading the excavation of the Thing.

Eva, our soil expert/PhD student, searching for the charger for our measuring system.

One of the hardest parts about writing the blog is that we can only access the website in Finnish; as a result, I get a lot of error screens, although I'm never sure why.

That's all for now,
The Field School

perjantai 18. toukokuuta 2007

Day 10: Even more pottery

Andre left to the airport early this morning, on his way home to Montreal to spend some time with his family. His departure was sad, as his insights and experience are invaluable (as well as his eerily accurate ability to identify pretty much anything), but he has left us in the capable hands of Ieva, Eva, Dustin, Sam, and Jen, the various PhD students involved in the project, and they will undoubtedly keep us from straying from our busy and productive path.

Today was one of our biggest days in terms of finds: in total, we excavated somewhere around 190 pieces. Much of this was pottery, although at the "Thing" we uncovered another layer of charcoal underneath the slag. It looks, at the moment, like the pits there were probably used multiple times in different eras. This, of course, is very exciting for our project: multiple occupations, some in the Neolithic and some in the Iron Age, allow us to examine the changing activities that occurred at the site over time. Our only concern is disturbance, which we will have to be very careful in identifying. If later occupations dug up and muddled the remnants of previous inhabitants, it will be difficult to date our finds or distinguish between what was deposited early on and what came after. Fortunately, our area suffers from little natural disturbance, so we can usually attribute complicated or unusual stratigraphy to human interference. That said, when trying to associate the vetch, the slag, the charcoal, and everything else we've found at the "Thing" together, we tend to err on the side of caution.

At the main site, much of the pottery we found was severely decayed, but there were more than enough large, solid chunks of ceramics left for us to dig out. Aside from more specimens with asbestos-tempering, we found some pieces of pottery with remnants of black paint. Black paint was one of the more significant discoveries to come out of last year's field school, and finding more is certainly a good sign. We don't yet know its chemical composition or how exactly it was applied, but until last year there had been no well-documented examples of paint or coloring on comb-ware pottery (a type of pottery specific to the Baltic region, named for the patterns of imprints left on the exterior by a comb). Paint is an important find for archaeologists because it implies a lot: like long-distance trade or monumental architecture (like a Giants' Church), a society needs a certain amount of surplus manpower and material to devote time to non-essential activities. Black paint, unless it turns out to serve a more practical function, is strong evidence the Iijoki people had enough time to sit around and consider the visual nature of the world around them.

Moving onto the corrections department, it should be noted that there are actually dozens, not hundreds, of Giants' Churches around Finland, and that there actually have been some excavations conducted on them, albeit a very long time ago. Apologies to those Giants' Church enthusiasts out there; you can attribute it to an excess of creative license.

Finally, for those who are interested, the local newspaper Kaleva posted a three-minute video of all of us digging on their website here. While the video suffers from some serious editing problems, it is good for a laugh or two: at about 2:30, you can see Andre walking up in the background, seeing the camera, and abruptly wandering off into the forest.

That's all for now,
The Field School

torstai 17. toukokuuta 2007

Day 8 and 9: Giants´ Churches and Asbestos

On Wednesday, we were treated to a heaping dose of fine Finnish spring weather: freezing rain. Mercifully, Andre and Ieva decided that it wasn´t a very good day to go digging, so instead we spent the morning walking around a couple of sites south of our area (in the Haukipudas region), exploring possible future sites to excavate. One of our stops was a Giants´ Church, a large clearing encircled by relatively big stones. Giants´ Churches occupy a special place in Finnish archaeology: until very recently, no one had ever been allowed to excavate the interior of a Giants´ Church (there are hundreds around Finland), and so no one yet has a clear idea of why or when they were made. We do know, though, that they were labour-intensive to assemble, and therefore must have served a function that was important enough to dedicate a lot of time to. As well, the amount of work necessary to move and organize the stones tells us something about the people who made them (for example, they must have had a robust enough economy to devote energy to non-food related activities), and if our ¨Thing¨ turns out to be man-made, then we can likely make the same inferences about the Neolithic people we´re investigating.

To compensate for our "day-off" on Wednesday, we had a long, full day of digging on Thursday. We uncovered more pottery, quartz, and charcoal, but our biggest find was a piece of ceramics with asbestos temper. The presence of asbestos in the pottery we found, while not new, tells us a number of important things about the people who lived there. Most obviously, that they had access to asbestos. The nearest asbestos source is actually to the south and close to the border of Russia, so it provides strong evidence for long-distance trade. It also tells us that they felt that asbestos was important enough to them to import from a long way away: trade requires elaborate and extensive networks and connections between peoples, and is not easy to maintain in societies that are producing relatively little excess goods (our site may have been exchanging fish or seal for whatever they could acquire from further inland). However, asbestos-tempered ceramics have peculiar qualities - they are thinner than normal ceramics, and insulate against heat - that make it difficult for us to understand their value. For example, thinner pottery would be better for cooking, but the insulation factor cancels out that benefit. And asbestos pottery would not be significantly lighter than other forms, at least not enough to make the acquisition of asbestos from so far away necessary. Once again, we have found a fascinating piece of evidence that, in the end, tells us little more than that we know very little.

Anyways, more pictures this weekend, and more to discuss. We´re all getting pretty run down by now, so it will help to have some time to sleep, relax, and think about everything we´re finding.

That´s all for now,
The Field School

tiistai 15. toukokuuta 2007

Day 7: More of the Mysterious Feature

Work continued on in our growing number of trenches today (4 so far), unabated by brief flashes of heavy rain (but eventually brought down by the promise of free coffee and cookies at the nearby Stone Age Centre museum). Larger pieces of quartz and ceramics are coming to the surface, in larger and larger numbers, and some distributional patterns are beginning to form. In the east corner of our first trench, and the new trench we've opened alongside it, we're finding lots of pottery, as well as some fairly significant pieces of broken quartz tools. On the other end, we've found a lot more quartz. Hopefully this trend will continue; if so, it may suggest a fairly organized use of the "between" space we're interested in. Spatial organization in turn suggests complicated methods of interaction, and has, in other situations, reflected increased social complexity (the perennial focus of this project). Oddly enough, the location of finds is often more important to us than the finds themselves: where people leave their things and how they interact with their space can tell us an awful lot.

Over at the mysterious feature we have found still more interesting things to consider. On top of the hairy vetch and the iron slag, some early test pits (small, quick, unsifted pits we use to either quickly examine a location for what we might find there or to get a good look at some stratigraphy) done around the feature have revealed some strange soil patterns. While the relative lack of natural disturbance in Finland has left most of the soil in our area in distinct, uniform layers (organic, leached, enriched, and coarse sand, which marks the point at which the Kierikki region was underwater), the stratigraphy of our feature is highly mixed and muddled. This could mean that the elevated plateau upon which we have found the slag and vetch is not natural; and if it isn't natural, it likely required a significant amount of labour to dig up the soil and create the plateau. Of course, even more questions flow from this inference. If it was man-made, when was it made? Why? During the Neolithic, the period we originally assumed we were excavating (the slag has forced us to reconsider), the area would have been right on the water, but by the Iron Age the environment was much, much different. Creating the plateau would not have been a easy task: it is large and relatively flat, and it must have been important enough for the people who made it that they spent time putting it together. One possibility is that it was made, for one reason or another, by Stone Age inhabitants, and then re-occupied by Iron Age peoples thousands of years later, who transformed the plateau into an iron smelting site. This, of course, is all conjecture, as it all hinges on the assumption that the soil was not mixed up naturally. However, the disturbed stratigraphy at the "Thing" provides us yet another unexpected piece of information to decode: like everything else we find, it forces us to reevaluate what we we're supposed to be looking for, and what we thought we were looking at.

That's all for now,
The Field School

maanantai 14. toukokuuta 2007

Day 6: Slag, Vetch, etc.

Today was press day, which, as is expected with a small-scale, long-term archaeological dig, brought out the paparazzi in droves. If one were to look tomorrow in Kaleva, the local Finnish newspaper, there's a small chance they might see us. Oh yes, we have finally made it to the big leagues.

The actual news of the day comes from our as-of-yet-unidentified mysterious feature. First, the seeds that we found there may be a species of plant, similar to peas, known as "Hairy Vetch". Hairy vetch, while not a plant that suggests domestication, is often found in areas that were recently cleared and deforested by humans - this gives us some interesting clues about what was going on at the site. As well, some of the seeds have tiny holes in them, which the paleoecologist we contacted theorized may be weevil holes. Some weevils, usually associated with stored grain (an exciting possibility for us), lay their larva in seeds (or vetch); over time, the weevil larva feed on the inside of the seed and grow, and burst out of the hole provided once fully mature. If they are larva holes, and if it is hairy vetch, then we can assume that some fairly complex activities were going on in the area. The question, of course, is when. What we might be excavating is a palimpsest, or a site with multiple occupations at different time periods that are not clearly separated.

Above: The possible Hairy Vetch. Asides from having one of the more melodious names in prehistoric botany, the presence of these seeds points to complex social activities like food storage and land clearance. Note the holes; prehistoric weevil larva may once have lived inside.

The second big find to come from our mystery feature is a big chunk of iron slag. Slag is the leftover junk that is removed from iron ore when it is being smelted, or purified into a usable form. We're still in the process of examining the slag we found to see if we can figure out what process was used to make it, but this is definitely a very exciting find. The iron age is very sparsely documented in Northern Finland, and this slag piece may extend the range of time in which we are examining social change in the region. This reinforces the idea that this area was reoccupied, possibly multiple times, and if we can figure out what specific process was used, we can figure out where it came from originally, and what trade networks brought it there.

Above: A microscopic close-up of the iron slag. Andre says it looks like it's "from Mordor", but we hope to find a more reasonable point of origin. It's still early but once we know more about the slag, more pictures will follow.

Anyways, things are moving quickly here, and we have a lot of information to process and theories to test before we can sleep.

That's all for now,
The Field School

sunnuntai 13. toukokuuta 2007

Pictures, Week 1

So, finally, we're able to post some pictures from the first week of digging.

Trench, Day 1: At this point, the moss layer had been removed, but we still had to clear off the rest of the organic layer.

Trench, Day 2: Under the Organic Layer is the Leached Layer, in which most materials don't survive. The brownish spots are the enriched layer, where we tend to find pottery and charcoal.

Trench, Day 3: By Wednesday we had dealt with most of the leached layer, and were finding lots of pottery at the ends of the L. Note the big patch of grey in the top corner: leached sand goes much deeper there than anywhere else.

Trench, Day 4: On Thursday we decided to open up a new section, in the top left corner. We left a strip of soil between the new trench and the old one so we could get a good stratigraphic profile. As well, an old test pit (again in the top left corner) collapsed, and so the extension visible at the top is actually just an emptied pit.

The New Trench: So far, this trench has contained lots of decayed pottery and some charcoal. Large charcoal segments that are not yet excavated are under the buckets, to protect them from rain.

Trench, Day 5: A week's worth of digging. Not seen here is the second new trench we started, located to the right of the L.

The Even Newer Trench Extension: The original trench is visible in the top left. This trench has given us some substantial pieces of bone, quartz, and pottery. The pale white region in the middle of the photograph is of interest to us: it may point to a fire-pit.

Ceramics: The darker chunks in this picture are the decayed remains of some pottery. It takes some time to get your eyes used to spotting them while digging, and most of them have crumbled into tiny pieces.

This is a 5 mm long piece of charcoal embedded in fired clay: it suggests that we might, if lucky, dig up the remains of a kiln.

All of us digging away.

Total Station: Our mapping machine. It fires a laser at a reflective prism, and measures the distance in three dimensions from a fixed point of origin. Clever, but a very irritating machine.

A lecture on stratigraphy: We uncovered a nice stratigraphic profile not too far from our site, and here we're trying to figure out what it means.

The profile itself. Things to note include the transition from leached to enriched layers and the doubled layer of organic material near the top, which may suggest human disturbance.

Sifting: Once you've dug out enough soil to fill your bucket, you go and sift it to make sure you haven't missed anything. Unfortunately, anything you sift out can't be used for examining spatial distributions.

Setting up the tarp. Finnish weather is very fickle, and it generally rains on and off all day, making a good tarp a necessity.

At the Lordi Rock-taurant in Rovaniemi. Lordi, a Finnish metal sensation, has used their success in last year's Eurovision song contest to launch a number of different Lordi-related products and services, like Lordi Kola and their restaurant. The decor is warm and inviting: you eat out of skulls and the walls are covered in corpses, gargoyles, and dismembered body parts.

Andre Costopoulos, our fearless leader, enjoying a moment of sinister contemplation in his new favourite restaurant.

perjantai 11. toukokuuta 2007

Week 1 in Review

So our first week of excavation is complete, and now its time to go over what we've found. Early on, we were already uncovering lots of pottery fragments and quartz debris, suggesting the "between" spaces we're exploring may have been sites of tool production or storage. While it's too early to make any conclusive hypotheses about what we're finding, the spatial distribution of the material remains provide us some interesting clues; the two wings of L-shaped trench we started with are dense with decayed pottery, bits of charcoal (particularly valuable to us for dating the site), quartz flakes, and some very small segments of bone, while the middle of the L is virtually empty. Intriguingly, one section of the trench has a very deep leached layer (Finnish soil is highly acidic, and underneath the organic surface is a layer of grey-white sand that has been entirely stripped of nutrients) compared to the area around it. While this probably doesn't raise any eyebrows outside of the archaeological community, it may point to human interference. If the soil had been disturbed and was originally more even, that area could have been used for any number of activities, and excavating it fully will become a top priority in the next few weeks.

As the week progressed, we began to extend our original trench in the areas where we were getting the most artifacts. The new extensions, which add 5 1X1X1 m squares onto our L (itself composed of 7 1X1X1 squares), look very promising: we've uncovered large quartz fragments, which were likely portions of larger tools, some more substantial bone samples, and lots and lots of ceramics. On top of our main excavation site, we're looking into a large, mysterious feature nearby. It's still too early to say what exactly it is, but we opened a trench along a small pit inside the "Thing" (as we have quite specifically named it) and found some charcoal, some fire-cracked rocks, and most intriguingly, a handful of charred seeds. Once again, a find like this is far more exciting for an archaeologist or paleoecologist than a normal, sane person. That said, charred seeds are a definite jackpot in an environment that leaves very little organic materials for us to examine. Like all important discoveries in archaeology, they give us a handful of answers and a handful of questions. Until we know what they are and when they were burned, however, we'll have to keep our wild theories about them to ourselves.

Pictures are coming in the near future, once we get some time to sit down in the lab and process all the data we've collected. However, tomorrow we head off to Rovaniemi to the Arctic Prehistory Museum, and then Sunday we may all need some time to relax a little. We'll make a concerted effort to get some cool pictures online (maybe even the seeds) some time over the weekend.

That's all for now,
The Field School

torstai 10. toukokuuta 2007

Update, Day #4

The NOCUSO Archaeological Field School, 2007

This year's field school has set a high bar for itself. We have a number of interesting things to explore, some theories to consider, and even though we are only four days in, some unexpected finds to examine.

As usual, the field school's overarching goal is to reconstruct the development of social complexity along the Iijoki river. The Kierikki area offers us unique geographical circumstances that complement our focus well: as we excavate further west along the river, we move steadily forward in time. This is the product of a number of geological processes, beginning with the glacial melts of the early Holocene. Finland, once trapped under kilometres of solid ice, started to rise above and out of the ocean - much like a tightly packed spring, the entire region steadily surfaced. Flora and fauna were quick to exploit the new land, and humans followed. As the ocean receded, communities that relied on marine life for survival attempted to remain close to the coast, and so the further towards the gulf of Bothnia we explore, the more recent the materials are. This provides us a valuable insight into how group dynamics, reflected in the settlement patterns and artifacts left behind, changed over the Neolithic era.

Our strategy this year is to inspect the spaces between dwellings dated to about 5,800 BP. While previous sessions have worked to paint as accurate a picture as possible of what went on inside the dwellings, we have yet to consider the kinds of activities that may have occurred outside. Buildings during this time period along the Iijoki river are smaller and more clustered than the long row-houses that appear later in the archaeological record, and an important step in understanding why these row-houses were adopted may lie in the kinds of behavioral patterns we can infer from what we find between the various dwellings. This area was likely communal, and we speculate that the activities that occurred in this "between" space offer us clues about the ways that these early communities shared, resolved conflicts, interacted, and survived.

Updates on our finds and the status of the dig are forthcoming; we intend to post pictures (some of which are hopefully of interest) and keep a running log of the field school, even though we, apologetically, are considerably behind already. Any questions, comments, complaints, concerns, etc. can be sent to

That's all for now,
The Field School