Getting Numbers Back, At Last

Happy Fall, everyone!  Guess what?  For once, I have nothing but good news!  Since my last update, I have run about 80 samples and collected clay and I think I’ll be done with data collection by the end of the semester.

I’ve been to Richard Bland twice since my trial expedition, and things have gone really well.  When I get there, I cut up my first batch of samples with the diamond saw.  (The one the geology department has is a bit too large for the 1 x 1 cm sherd fragments I need.)  Then I rinse them in deionized water, dry them off in an oven, and pop them into the XRF machine.  While they’re running, I get started on the second batch of samples, and I generally have just enough time to get those into the machine before I leave for the end of the day.  I get my results back the next day.  (The computer the spectrometer is hooked up to is so old that the only way to save data is on a floppy disc, so the lab director has to email me the results from his home, where he has a floppy reader.  I find the whole process incredibly amusing.)  The system is working smoothly so far, and I’m hoping I’ll need only about two more visits in order to finish testing all my sherds.

I couldn’t get to Richard Bland this past week because the lab director is on vacation, but that turned out to be just fine, because I used the time for clay collection instead.  Scheduling finally worked out, and the drill rig is up and running after a bit of a break-down, so last Tuesday I headed out with Rick Berquist (the geologist helping me out with my project) to drill some holes into the ground by the colonial parkway.  We chose a spot right across the creek from the site my sherds come from, and prepared ourselves to dig a whole lot of holes before we hit clay.  The drill rig is this huge machine bolted to the back of a pickup truck, and basically it pushes a giant corkscrew into the ground and pulls up a spiral of earth that shows the stratigraphy of the ground.  We had to wear hardhats while working with it.  (Exciting.)  And then, what do you know?  We pulled up clay on our very first try!  It turned up about 6 ½ feet down, and it’s a really pretty blue-gray color.  We took some notes and photographs, and then we headed over to a different site, where a short cliff exposes some layers of clay that may have been available to Native Americans during the time period I’m interested in.  All in all, a very successful trip!  I haven’t tested the clays yet, but I’m excited to see what their elemental signatures look like, and if they are at all similar to my ceramics.

At any rate, things are rolling.  I’m a little nervous about cramming all of my analysis and writing-up into the beginning of next semester, but I know I can do it if I just keep plugging.  Happy Thanksgiving!