The Bolen Surface

A story of Opal and precious stones


The 1995 Excavations of earliest Archaic levels at the Page/ Ladson Site were an unqualified success. The target was to complete final field excavations for my doctoral dissertation featuring the Bolen Culture as represented by an occupation level on a 10,000 year old paleosol. We survived a hurricane and still accomplished 175% of the season's objectives.

In the research plan for October I indicated that we would excavate a 2 by 2 meter square in the allotted three week period. Because the field crew was well prepared and the equipment performed perfectly, the net result was a full seven square meters. This three-week blitz included the initial exercise of removing loose leaves and intact overburden to get down to the critical levels, and the final steps of detailed mapping and careful recovery of flint, bone, stone and wood artifacts as well as other samples.

As with any successful excavation, much planning and paperwork were done before the season began. Joe Latvis had nailed down commitments from volunteers as early as May for our October-November season, and Jack Simpson had worked out the logistics for feeding and supplying our small army. Knowing that personnel and logistics were covered, I was able to develop a research design in late August, and provide it to Joe and to Mike Faught for further planning and coordinating. Mike's plan for the deeper excavations in the second half of the season depended to a great extent on what I planned for the first half. In mid September I trucked much of the Museum gear up to the Aucilla River. A final trip on September 30th coincided with the arrival of most of the crew at the river cabin for a pre-season greeting and briefing. Joe reviewed the stringent safety procedures; I reviewed the scientific objectives; and we all retired for the evening so we would be fresh for the weeks ahead.

On October 1 we transported and assembled all the equipment at the site. Joe and I made the first dive to determine how much leaf-litter had accumulated since our last work eight months earlier. The river had looked favorably upon us, and the six-inch dredge worked well, for we were able to remove most of the grunge on that first day The next day we began to remove many meters of overburden sediments above the target area of four square meters. This was a new area south of our old Test C pit. We cut the south bank almost vertically, a decision that turned out to be important later. Then came The Storm.

Hurricane Opal swept up the Gulf and pushed inland at Panama City. In view of its dire threat, we had evacuated most of our equipment from the site two miles back down the Jeep trail to the Ladson's boat shed. Only two inches of rain fell directly on the Aucilla River, but we waited two and a half precious days, first for the storm to pass and then for the tidal surge that had swamped the road to the site.

Once we re-established our position at the site, we removed the gray clays downward until we were 20 to 40 cm above the Bolen level. Then we more carefully excavated sediments in 10 cm levels within one by one meter units. At that point we laid out a grid two meters wide by three meters long marked by orange survey stakes. The research plan called for controlled exposure of the uppermost layer of the dark paleosol that we call "the Bolen surface". Almost immediately we exposed three Bolen points from the gray clay immediately above the paleosol. Two are black, covered with iron-oxide stain (Figure 1), and the other was light gray, the original hue of the translucent local chert (Figure 2). These early discoveries gave a tremendous lift to everyone's spirits and made Opal seem like a distant memory. We continued to excavate the levels above the paleosol. We noted repeatedly that as we worked downward closer to the paleosol the clay became progressively shellier and was interspersed with fractured dolomite and rounded limestone cobbles. Next we began to expose the paleosol itself, again working within one by one meter units. The surface itself yielded an exciting array of new material. There were numerous tools, worked wood, and, of special interest, two bola stone preforms (Figure 3). In addition to these obvious artifacts, we mapped a wide scattering of fractured gray dolomite, rounded gray dolomite, round lime stone cobbles and accumulations of charcoal. We numbered key items and mapped all items. We set two concrete datums on the surface to control precise contours of this rich Bolen surface. We used both a line level and a bubble tube to develop conours. Joe took a video record of each square, using Ed Green's specially designed frame. Then the artifacts were removed. After completing the six units, we also opened another to the west of Test C, bringing the total coverage for this season to seven meters.

One of the most interesting features appeared in Unit P (the north central unit of the six). A circular depression about 40 cm in diameter and about 10 cm deep had a large, flat carbonized piece of wood in the center. Numerous fractured gray rocks surrounded the depression. The whole setting strongly suggests that this feature is a hearth.

We completed a detailed vertical profile map of the strata from the 10,000 year-old paleosol upward. Our earlier work cutting a vertical profile rendered this task much easier than if we had sloped it. Two gray clay layers lie above the paleosol. Above the clays occurs a peat layer containing Deptford pottery. Several peat and sand couplets stand above the Deptford-age peat, and finally the stratigraphic column gives way to loose twigs, leaves and sand. We video-recorded this entire profile as part of the permanent record of this excavation. And finally we took diverse samples for soil analyses of the Bolen paleosol, including northwest and southwest corners of Test C and the corners of each newly excavated unit. Sylvia Scudder will research these samples for chemical signatures that may reveal much about the environment and human impacts on the bank of the Aucilla 10,000 years ago.

When this half of the season was done, we had logged 240 key specimens and samples. The specimens, the data and further processing have now moved back to the Florida Museum of Natural History. We have already washed and dried all zone-collected materials and are analyzing the maps and video inputs. ARPP is fortunate to have the help of Marnie Ward to identify and catalog the bone. Tanya Peres, a grad student at Florida State University will analyze faunal remains from the upper strata for her Master's thesis. Mark Muniz is analyzing the rocks from the Bolen surface and comparing their characteristics with rocks from older strata. When all the work is done from this and previous seasons it will lead to several papers, a thesis and my dissertation.