Peeling off the Layers at Deer Food Plot: Excavation and Analysis
De Soto National Forest, Mississippi, 2003-2004
by Robert Reams, FS Archaeologist
The Deer Food Plot site (22PE668) got its name because it was discovered during a routine survey of a food plot for, you guessed it, deer. Prehistoric artifacts were scattered throughout the entire food plot, and during the summer of 1998, test excavations revealed materials dating between the Early Archaic and the Late Woodland periods (6500 B.C.–A.D. 900). We found 101 pottery sherds, 59 stone tools and cores, 14 points, and 3,466 flakes. It was decided to excavate more units because of the apparently undisturbed stratigraphy at the site.
Throughout the three weeks of the fall 2003 PIT project, we excavated 47 1-m2 units, concentrating on three sections of the ridge, and filled up 560 bags of artifacts. Based on preliminary analyses of 82 percent of the bags, the volunteers found 86 points, 228 stone tools and cores, 411 pieces of pottery, and more than 23,600 flakes. In addition, we collected numerous soil samples and charcoal clusters for radiocarbon dates.
Most of the artifacts have been washed, weighed, and sorted by Clara Howard, Joy Miller, Caroline Sittler, Ruthanne Brockway, Mary Anthony, and Loretta Blessing. The volunteers did a great job preparing so many artifacts for more-thorough analysis during the spring 2004 PIT lab project.
When most people think of lab work, their eyes glaze over and their shoulders slump. At the beginning of the lab portion of the project in 2004, I started off with a joke to loosen up the group, which provided the tone for the days to follow. This is serious, but not too much.
First things first. What is lithic debitage? Why is it important? How do the nine characteristics of a flake lead to understanding at what stage it was removed? What are the nine characteristics of a flake and how can something so small have so many characteristics? After learning how to identify the different parts of a flake, everyone got lots of practice, because there were more than 23,000 flakes to examine from the excavations last fall. A flintknapping demonstration helped volunteers visualize how a flake becomes a flake in the first place. We discussed pottery, cores, unifaces, flake tools, bifaces, and hafted bifaces. Examples of different types of artifacts either helped or confused the volunteers. After we completed the initial sorting and analysis, we compared the data to the results of the first excavation to see if our theories about the site were still valid, given the additional information. This exercise also helped the volunteers understand the meaning of all those little numbers they wrote down.
Many volunteers stayed for more than one week, and they helped confuse the new volunteers better than I ever could. Overall, 31 volunteers participated in the archaeological lab for Deer Food Plot site, and we are much closer to a completed analysis of the site than we would have been without their help.