Page/Ladson site Bolen level hearth

By Mark Muniz

They had arrived in the early evening after a long day's walk. There had been no luck hunting, the big creatures no longer lived here and the smaller antlered ones had not been seen all day. No matter, tomorrow was another day and they would try again, but for now, their thoughts turned to warmth as the cool night began its descent. A number of rocks were gathered into a circle and a fire was lit within. Over the next few days or weeks many a story would be told around this fire, meals cooked in it, bodies warmed by it, until the group picked up and moved on to its next destination. In their trail they left behind only a few tools, scraps from meals, and a ring of simple rocks. Perhaps next year they would use the same camp again.

As the millennia passed, water levels rose, and sediment covered the camp, burying the activity surface, sealing a hearth and the associated rocks and tools left there with it. Eventually archaeologists arrived and uncovered the surface relatively intact, probing its mysteries in the attempt to reconstruct the lifeways of a people 10,000 years behind us. However, there is much more to reconstructing the scene than may first appear. As humans are a part of nature, there are natural forces influencing the archaeological record as well. In the case of the Bolen surface at the Page/Ladson site, 8Je591, nature has added both alluvial disturbance as well as erosional factors to be considered when interpreting the 10,000 year old occupation. To the archaeologist, these natural site formation processes can be considered equivalent to the background static provided by cosmic radiation that astronomers must sort through. Just as the background static can tell astronomers something about the formation of the universe, it can also mask unique signatures given off by the stars and galaxies the astronomers wish to study. The archaeologist also must be able to distinguish between the true cultural signature left by humans and the natural "static" provided by geologic events. This natural static, however, provides a great deal of information about the environment of the archaeological culture being studied. In the scenario provided above, dealing with a feature (the hearth) comprised of a relatively unaltered natural material (simple rocks) and exposed to 10,000 years of hydrologic and geologic processes, one can understand how the interpretation of the human activity that was associated with the hearth can become difficult. But do not be discouraged, for there are ways to decipher this ancient puzzle.

A total of 207 rocks were collected from units 0, P, Q, T, U, and V. Together these units added an additional six square meters to the overall exposure of the Bolen surface (see fig. 1). While the hearth itself was quite evident (its irregular shape was approximately 28cm x 41cm and 10cm deep with charred wood embedded in its center), the particular stones that were originally associated with it were not as clear. While it was certain that there were some, fire cracked rocks among the 207 collected, a thorough analysis was begun to quantify characteristics that would distinguish the fire cracked rocks from those rocks that arrived on the site due to natural processes of erosion or fluvial transport. Unfortunately, there have not been very many analyses done similar to this one so that some base of comparison could be derived. Too often an archaeologist will consider a scatter of rocks to be a natural occurrence, dismissing attempts to quantify characteristics present in the assemblage as pointless. With limited time and resources, one can understand how more attention is placed on artifact analysis. If a paleoenvironmental reconstruction is attempted, however, analyzing something as simple as a rock can lead to other useful information as well. The archaeologist may also discover patterns of human behavior in a resource not previously considered.

Using a definition for fire-cracked rock provided by Steven K. Lovick in Fire-Cracked Rock as Tools: Wear-Pattern Analysis (1983) characteristics for each specimen were determined as follows: rock type (i.e. parent material); color; angularity; spericity; presence of use-wear; presence of thermal alteration (evidence of fire cracking, blackening); weight; and length of longest axis. Twenty five of the 207 rocks surrounding the hearth were determined to be fire cracked, and another 18 were considered to be possibly fire cracked but equivocally so. Of the 25 fire-cracked rocks (FCR): 80% are dolomite, with the remainder limestone; 24 of 25 are gray in color (occasionally with darker and lighter bands and mottles) with one being mottled light tan-tan-dark tan; 100% exhibit angularity and low sphericity; 3 of the 25 may show signs of use wear (although this is difficult at best to determine on such an unmodified, informal artifact); all, of course, showed signs of thermal alteration; weights ranged from 12.9g. to 560g. with an average of 158.8g.; and lengths ranged from 5.lcm. to 17.4cm. with an average of 10.lcm.

As this issue of the Aucilla River Times goes to press, analysis is still in progress. A graph contrasting fire-cracked rock weight and distance from the center of the hearth is being compared with a graph of non-fire-cracked rock weight and distance from the center of the hearth, in an attempt to discover if there is a significant difference in the two assemblages. The results from this study will also help us understand how alluvial influences affected the site formation process at Page/Ladson, and thus may be of use in the future interpretation of site assemblages in other parts of the Aucilla River. We have also planned to examine both FCR and non-FCR using X-Ray diffraction in order to assess mineralogical change that may be present in the FCR due to exposure to high temperatures while still a part of the fire ring. We have also planned to treat the surfaces of the FCR and non-FCR with hydrochloric acid to release charred carbon residue that may also be present from exposure to fire. These final measures are being employed to better quantify fire-cracked rock on the Bolen surface in an effort to reconstruct the occupation there as accurately as possible. Stay tuned as we will hopefully have this picture completed before we return to the field in May, until then ...