Day 19: Murphy’s Law (with everything not related to archaeology)


Today ay marked our last official day of excavation at Woodrow Ruin for 2012. Today’s post, and the next few, will be short, because time is limited, and really, who wants to read about backfilling all day. While we had a great day finishing up the dig, just about everything else that could go wrong did today. The very first thing I do every morning is open my cell phone to turn off my alarm. Today, my 5 year old flip phone decided it had enough, and fell apart in my hands. However, this was an excuse to enter the 21st century, and I am now the owner of an iphone. I did have to wait in the Silver City Verizon store for about an hour this afternoon though. My sun glasses also broke when we were at the site today. And our Suburban hasn’t even been looked at, let alone fixed. Of course, all of these happen during the busies time of the project. No catastrophes though, and everything should be fine by the time we leave on June 29th.

Unit 5. Today, we learned that even though we have excavated close to 1.5 meters in Unit 5, we are really only scratching the surface. Nick and Erina found definite rooffall today, burned beams, and more wall plaster. Thus, we are undoubtedly in a pithouse. Although we will have to wait until next year to further explore this structure, we have already learned much about the site from it. I do feel bad for the crew who will have to remove 1.5 meters of fill next year before actual excavations begin.

Projectile Point from Unit 5

Beam and Plaster Bottom of Unit 5

Unit 7. Unit 7 continued to excavate until lunch time today. They found very nice plaster still on the cobble wall. After lunch, they put in a test window along the North profile. This test window told us one thing; the fill in this room continues down for at least another 40-50 centimeters. At this point it is unclear whether the fill is all from the same occupation or different occupations. Once again, we will have to wait until next year to sort this all out.

Unit 7 at End of Day

Unit 8. As with Units 5 and 7, we are only scratching the surface in Unit 8. Although we did not hit architecture, the unit undoubtedly is in pithouse fill.

Tomorrow we backfill, and hopefully get good samples from the Transitional hearth in Unit 6 and the burned plaster in Unit 5. We will all also get great workouts from all the backfilling we will do.



Day 18: Our Time is Running Out (*Update)!


As expected, today followed the universal law of archaeology mentioned yesterday. However, today was one of the coolest days we’ve had at the site thanks to cloud cover, which made working under pressure much more bearable. We were also visited by Linda Cordell and her friend Laura (whose last name escapes me—sorry Laura, I’m terrible with names!). As always, a visit from an expert archaeologist provided excellent insight into what we’ve discovered at Woodrow!

Unit 5. Unit 5 continued to produce multiple surprises and very interesting artifacts today. I also think we are closer to understanding the occupational history and architecture in the unit. While further investigating the pit feature mentioned yesterday Nick found more bear bone. Once the excavations in the pit were complete the crew worked on the rest of the unit. By the end of the day they had uncovered the nicest wall plaster we have seen at the site yet (of course, this happened after Linda and Laura left). What is most interesting is that we can see that the plaster was dug into, in order to construct the adobe lined pit full of bear bones. This was a very exciting discovery, because earlier in the day Linda told us about ritual animal deposits at other sites. At these sites, people would dig into previously occupied structures and deposit parts and pieces of select animals. What is more interesting is that this was done at different times, and in different levels of the empty structures. This would explain why we have found bear bone not only in the pit, but throughout the unit for the past 40-50 centimeters. The plaster also indicates to me that we are inside of a pithouse, and are just catching the face of one wall. Once we found the plaster we decided to remove the stones in the center of the unit that seemed to form a wall (which would have been constructed after the pithouse was abandoned). While removing it Nick found part of a mandible. At first we thought it was an herbivore because we only had the back three molars, and no canines. However, we did some online research when we got home (what did archaeologists do before Google image searches?), and to our untrained eyes it seems that we have a bear mandible. Although we are missing the front part, the molars look like what we should expect for a bear (Update* After looking more closely at the mandible, and at images for deer mandibles on Google earth, the mandible almost certainly is deer. Its amazing the difference taking a shower can make in perception after a hot day in the field. Still, a very cool deposit!) And what is really neat is that we found three large sherds associated with this mandible, each sherd of a different type (San Francisco Red, 3 Circle Red-on-white, and a strange sherd that looks like it might be a misfired Mogollon Red-on-brown).

Plaster in Unit 5. Forms a U shape, runs along back of photo.

Unit 5 Before Center Wall Was Removed

Deer Mandible w/ Sherds and Chipped Stone


Thus, it now seems to us that Unit 5 contains ritual deposits in a pithouse. It also appears that the pithouse was abandoned, filled with trash, and then had ritual deposits placed in it at later times. We still have not reached a definitive stratigraphic change, although it looks like we may be coming down on some roof fall. Tomorrow is the last day we have left to figure it out (during this field season, at least)!

Unit 7. Unit 7 also made significant progress today. Esteban and Jane were able to further define the north wall of the room, and found some excellent plaster still in place. The room is looking much nicer now that much of the wall fall has been removed. Unfortunately it looks like we will not be able to reach the floor in the unit this year. However, the work Jane and Esteban have done will go a long way for helping us understand the construction of the room, and will prepare us nicely for future excavations at the site.

Unit 7 at End of Day. Plaster under first course of rocks on right side.

Unit 8. Although Sean and Erin did not find the coolest stuff today (save for a very nice, small obsidian point. What can I say, projectile points still hold a special place in my heart), they probably worked the hardest at sweat the most. Sean and Erin are working in Unit 8, which we attached to Unit 3. This was done to further trace the pithouse edge we found in Unit 3. Because we know what the stratigraphy is, they worked on simply removing the 30-40 centimeter level of overburden above cultural fill. It would be great to further trace the edge of the pithouse; however we are running short on time. Most importantly, like Esteban and Jane, Erin and Sean are removing much fill and preparing Unit 8 for more extensive excavations in the future.

Unit 8. Unit 8 Runs Vertical, Unit 3 Horizontal.

Erin and Sean at Work

Tomorrow is our last day of excavation at Woodrow. By the afternoon the crew will need to start wrapping things up and profiling/mapping their units. I simply cannot believe how fast and how well this project has gone (save for the few minor road bumps such as our Suburban breaking down). As always, I wish we had one or two more days to explore the cool stuff we have been finding recently. But I guess we can view the ending of this season as a cliffhanger finale to a TV show; we’ll just have to wait until next season!


Day 17: Save the Best for Last (of course).


Even without posting a countdown of the days we have left at Woodrow it is obvious to me that our time here is at an end. Every archaeologist has experienced the phenomenon of finding the coolest, most important stuff right at the end of the project. The Woodrow Ruin 2012 project is no exception to this rule. Today, while putting in what was supposed to be a simple exploratory window in Unit 6, we found an excellent hearth. In Unit 5, we have come across what appears to be a bear burial. 3 days left!

Unit 5. Today Erina and Nick continued to work on excavating the trash packed fill in Unit 5. We decided to remove some architectural features we had been leaving in place, mostly large adobe blobs in the NW corner, and the bin previously mentioned. Working around these features had become much too difficult. Once they were removed, the crew continued to excavate in 10 cm levels. Right at the end of the day, we came across several large long bones in a pit in the SW corner of the Unit. Yesterday we though this adobe lined pit may be the edge to a new pithouse. Now, it looks like it is a different feature. Although the long bones are badly decomposing, it was clearly evident to us that they were from a large mammal. Additionally, we found more bear paw bones in context with long bones. We found a bear knee, tibia, and fibula in the unit. We are not finished excavating this feature, and I am excited to find out what else is in this pit.

Unit 5, Prior to Cleaning. Note the pit in the bottom left corner.

Pieces of a bear knee and leg

More Bear Paw Bones

On a side note, there must be some weird voodoo between myself and Baxter when it comes to finding bears in archaeological contexts. While excavating at Chimney Rock in 2009, our unit in Room 5 was largely devoid of artifacts, save for a black bear jaw.

Unit 6. Today was supposed to be a fairly straightforward day for Sean and Erin: expose the small patch of floor between the architectural walls, profile the unit, and then close it. However, we decided to remove the south half of the Classic period cobble wall to better define the occupation history of Units 4 and 6. Both units had two surfaces: the more recent, Classic surface was much poorer, and associated with the cobble wall in the west side of Unit 6, and the earlier, nicer, Transitional surface associated with the adobe wall first identified in Unit 4. This, on its own, is very valuable information to us. However, as we removed a section of the Classic period wall to see what was underneath, we began to notice much ash on the Transitional period floor. Eventually, we were able to define an edge to the ash. We also noticed that the ashy area was lined with several stones. Thus, we found a hearth associated with the Transitional occupation in the units. This is very exciting, as we hope to get an archaeomagnetic date from it. Unfortunately, half of the hearth is to the south outside of Unit 6, and the archaeomag technician visited the site yesterday (once again demonstrating the universal law of archaeology). It is crucial that we get a date from this hearth, thus I am putting out a call to all archaeomagnetic technicians in southwest New Mexico who may be able to help us get a sample!

Hearth in Unit 6

Unit 7. The crew of Unit 7 continued to make good progress today. For all non-archaeologists reading this blog, digging through a jumbled mess of collapsed architecture is no easy task. Still, Esteban and Jane were able to further define the architecture in their unit. They have also recovered numerous artifacts. For me, after spending the day looking at Pithouse period ceramics, it was nice to see some Classic, Style III designs. The crew will continue their work excavating and defining the architecture tomorrow.

Unit 7 at Start of Day

Unit 7 at End of Day

It is hard to believe that we only have three days left! We must finish (or at least get as close as we can) the units, draw profiles, and backfill by June 29th. I’m beginning to feel overwhelmed, but I know everything will be fine. I also am certain we will find the most interesting and cool stuff at the site in the next three days!


Day 16: Woodrow Ruin Archaeological Project 2012, or, How I learned To Put Holes In The Ground and Find Complex, Multicomponent Architecture Every Time.


Today was a very busy, but also very good day at Woodrow Ruin. We were visited by Julia and Kate from the New Mexico Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (which owns Woodrow Ruin), Barb Murphy (who collected archaeomagnetic samples), and Bob and Matt from the Forest Service. Sean Dolan also joined our crew today. While I was giving site tours, the crews made some excellent progress in their units!

Unit 5/5A. Unit 5 continued to perplex, but also remained very exciting today. The crew began by removing more fill from Unit 5A. By the end of the day Unit 5A was level with Unit 5, thus we are now able to combine both and excavate them as one 2 x 2 meter unit. The fill, like the last few days, continues to be full trash, much more so than any of the other units we have excavated. We have found broken bones from many large mammals. Several of these bones appear to be from a bear. I have previously mentioned the bear bones found in Unit 5A. We continued to find more of these, and not just the distal end of the paw. We now have found several flanges, and likely the proximal long bones associated with the paw. And I now think we have the bones from two paws, not just one. The crew also continued to find very large sherds (not really sherds, but large sections of pots and jars) all clustered in the same area. We found half or more of at least two pots today. Once again, while finding all of these artifacts is great, I really am interested in the architecture in the unit. The architecture still remains confusing, mostly because we may have found the edge of another pithouse today. This is located in the southwest corner of the unit. Right now, it looks like a thin adobe lining, similar to the edge found in Unit 5, which caused us to expand into Unit 5A. The fill within this pit is different (in texture and color) than the fill outside of it. We need to trace this out further, but it seems possible that we have late Classic architecture stacked on top of early Classic architecture, stacked on top of two different pithouses, all within one 2 x 2 meter unit! We still have not hit anything that looks like floor, even though the crew is approaching 1.5 meters below datum. Although it is still unclear what exactly the prehistoric occupation history of Unit 5 was, I have greatly enjoyed seeing the progression of this unit. Figuring out what happened is like having all the pieces to the puzzle, except no picture is painted on the puzzle. We now only have 4 days left to solve the puzzle!

Unit 5 at End of Day. The New Pit is in the Top Right of the Picture. Hard to See Now, but It Will Be Further Exposed Tomorrow

Unit 6. Erin is no longer working by herself in Unit 5 as Sean Dolan joined her today. The two continued to define architecture in Unit 6. We now have further defined the adobe wall first noticed in Unit 4; it runs all the across Unit 6 also! What is more exciting is that we found another adobe wall that meets the original wall, forming a corner. Unfortunately, this corner is the corner of our excavation unit, and we are unable to trace it further. Yet it is now almost conclusive that we have transitional period architecture (apx 900-1000 AD) in both units, forming the corner of what most likely is a roomblock. Like Unit 5, however, Unit 6 is rapidly running out of space to excavate in. Between the transitional adobe architecture and the Classic period cobble wall in the western half of the unit, there is little space left. Tomorrow the crew will expose what they can of the floor, and continue to further clean and define the architecture in the room.

Unit 4 and Unit 6 at End of Day

Close Up of Adobe Wall Continuation, and Corner (in corner of unit)

Unit 7. Today Esteban and Jane (formerly of Unit 2), opened Unit 7 in the south end of the site. Digging in this unit was difficult, as it was full of wall fall/river cobbles from the roomblock it is in. The crew was able to excavate 2 levels today. By the end of tomorrow some of this wall fall will be removed, the actual wall defined, and more fill removed.

Unit 7 at End of Day, Facing West

Thanks again to everyone who visited! Thanks to Julia and Kate for not only visiting, but helping to excavate and screen for a bit too! And thanks to Barb Murphy, who took archaeomagnetic dates from the Classic surface in Unit 2. Hopefully we will be able to get some good data from those samples!

Kate and Sean Excavating

Julia Sceening Dirt from Unit 7

Barb Murphy Taking Archaemag Samples


Day 15: Cool Stuff!


We made up for the past two seemingly slow days with a flourish of cool discoveries today. We also visited the Mule Creek field school, which was a pleasure. Its always fun to see what has been found at other nearby sites! It is also the start of our last weekend. I can’t believe how fast this project was flown by!

Unit 2. The crew of Unit 2 finished profiling the unit today. The unit is now complete, although we will try to get an archaeomagnetic sample from it on Thursday. The crew in Unit 2 just established a new unit, Unit 7, at the end of the day today. It is located on the southern end of the site, where there is much Classic period architecture. The unit appears to be in a cobblestone room. However, this side of the site has been greatly disturbed by looting. Hopefully the crew will help define the extent of disturbance in the room.

Unit 5A. It is still somewhat unclear as to what is going on in Unit 5/5A. But we did find some very cool artifacts in the unit today, and I think I am beginning to understand the architecture of the unit. The fill in 5A is much softer than the fill in Unit 5. As mentioned yesterday, it is absolutely loaded with artifacts, and seems to be trash fill. The fill in Unit 5, while also packed with artifacts, had more adobe, cobbles, and other architectural remains. I now think that Units 5 and 5A are located in a pithouse, but towards the center, and thus away from any definable architecture. I think we just clipped a wall in the north and east side of Unit 5, but really are only seeing wall fall and architectural collapse. Hopefully we will be able to define a floor at the bottom of Units 5 and 5A, which will help us to better understand the architecture in the unit.

Unit 5A at End of Day

-What I described above is important to understanding the history and occupation of the site– information that is more critical than individual artifacts. However, we did find some pretty neat artifacts in the trash fill of the unit today. We recovered what seem to be the claw bones of a large mammal, most likely a bear (Erina did a search online, and they do seem to be bear claws). We also found several large pieces of a corrugated pot, all in the same area. Most likely, the pot was broken, and then deposited with the trash. We will definitely be able to reconstruct this corrugated jar!

Bear Claws from Unit 5A

In Situ Corrugated pot in 5A

Corrugated pieces from 5A

Rim Pieces from Corrugated Jar in Unit 5A

Unit 6. Erin spent most of the day clearing the overburden in Unit 6. We made several interesting finds while doing this. The first was several large river cobbles along the western profile of the unit. These undoubtedly form the wall of Classic period architecture. Once again, it seems like we have architecture from different time periods built right on top of (and next to) earlier architecture. We also were able to define more of the adobe wall first identified in Unit 4 today. Finally, we came down on the first surface identified in Unit 4 (first identified by Dr. Peeples exactly a week ago). Remember, there should be another, better surface below this one. We only have 5 days left, but I expect this unit to provide us with much information about the architecture at Woodrow Ruin.

Unit 6 at End of Day (Adobe to the left, cobbles to the right)

Day 14: Fun in the Sun


Today was a very busy day at the site. The crew in Unit 2 finished cleaning the unit, and began drawing profiles of the walls. The crews in Units 5A and 6 worked hard in 100 degree weather to remove overburden. In the afternoon we had two groups of people visit the site. A group with Roger Anyon and Darrell Creel came in first two see what we’ve been up to; these Mimbres experts provided some very valuable insight! The second group was led by Alan Dart of Old Pueblo Archaeology.  I always enjoy showing the site to new people, and had a great time talking to the Old Pueblo group! By the time the tours were over, it was the end of the day.

Unit 2. Not much to report from Unit 2 today. The crew began profiling the walls of the unit. These profiles will provide valuable information about the stratigraphy and history of occupation in the roomblock. Most importantly, the profiles demonstrate that the room was relatively unlooted (save for the NE corner), that the floor was extremely burned (which hopefully we can get a date from), and that the Classic period roomblock was built on top of an earlier Late Pithouse occupation.

Unit 2 Final Photo, Facing North

Jane and Esteban Profiling

Unit 5A. Although no very exciting discoveries were made in Unit 5 today, the crew did make significant progress on removing overburden. Remember, the crew has to excavate down approximately 1.3 meters before the reach the current level of unit 5. The crew excavated about 50 cm of fill today. Units 5 and 5A seem to have the most trash fill of any units at the site. The progress the crew has made with only two people is impressive! Erina and Nick did find some more worked sherds today, along with a needle. They are just about to reach the top of the adobe alignment first noticed in Unit 5, and will hopefully be able to define this architecture further. Unit 5 will be difficult to decipher; there is architecture stacked on top of architecture. However, the wealth of artifacts recovered from this unit will provide invaluable data.

Erina Excavating

Unit 6. Like Unit 5A, overburden was removed from Unit 6 today. Unlike Unit 5A, only 1 person (the infamous Erin Baxter) is working in Unit 5A. In the morning I was able to help Erin remove overburden. However, in the afternoon I was giving tours, and she was on her own. But Erin did an excellent job (of course!). We have not encountered any new architecture, feature, or stratigraphic breaks in the unit, but by the end of tomorrow should be very close to the strat changes noticed in Unit 4.

Another hot day at Woodrow Ruin! Tomorrow we will be visiting the University of Arizona/Archaeology Southwest field school at Mule Creek, and then on to the Arizona State University field school during our final weekend here! Thanks again to everyone who visited today!


Day 13: Under the Hot Gila Sun


Today was another productive day at Woodrow, although it was productive in a different way than yesterday. Whereas yesterday we made many exciting discoveries, today was a day of mapping, documentation, and setting up new units. All of these are critical to the success of an archaeological project, but not very exciting to blog about. Thus, today’s entry will be much more bland (and therefore shorter, to spare you all the boring details), than yesterday’s.

Unit 2. The crew of Unit 2 spent today finishing the removal of the baulk in the western part of the unit. The stratigraphy was what we expected it to be, for the most part. Immediately below the burned Classic period surface we encountered a soft fill, loaded with stones and Late Pithouse period ceramics (this is the capping layer laid prior to the construction of the Classic period floor in order to even the floor out). Under the capping layer is sterile soil. Like yesterday, we encountered an ambiguous pit feature carved into the sterile soil. Unlike yesterday, I do not think this pit was a post hole. I think it most likely was some sort of storage pit used during the Late Pithouse period. There is no evidence that the Classic period floor was cut into in the construction of this pit, so it must have been used during the Late Pithouse period. Like the pit we found yesterday, there was not ash, charcoal, or anything else in it that would help us identify its function. However, it is larger than the pit we found yesterday, and we did find a small obsidian projectile point in the fill from the pit.

Unit 2 with Part of Baulk Removed

Tomorrow, the crew will finish cleaning, documenting, profiling, mapping, and photographing the unit (this should take all day, if not part of two days), and then move to a new unit in the northern area of the site.

Unit 4. Today the crew of Unit 4 (which has currently dwindled to just Erin) spent the morning mapping and profiling the completed excavations. Once this was done, we established a new unit (Unit 6) immediately north and one meter west of Unit 4. This was done to hopefully identify more of the adobe architecture and floor we encountered in Unit 4. Once the unit was put into place, we started removing the overburden in it. Because we know what stratigraphic layers to expect (from Unit 4), we will excavate Unit 6 following natural/cultural breaks (for non-archaeologists, this makes excavating much easier).

Unit 6

Unit 5. Unit 5 was also expanded today. The crew began the morning by excavating further down. The unit is now over 1.2 meters deep, and still full of cultural fill. However, it is only a 1 x 2 meter unit, so moving around became very difficult, especially with adobe architecture in the way. Thus, we decided to add another unit directly south of Unit 5 (we will call this Unit 5A). When finished, this will make Unit 5 2 x 2 meters in dimension, and will provide us the needed space to work in. We will also hopefully identify more architecture in the unit. However, the crew has much digging to do and fill to remove in order to reach the current level of Unit 5. One final note: we did find several more worked sherds in the unit today before excavation became too difficult. There definitely is something going on with the high number of worked sherds recovered from this unit.

Unit 5, Over 1.2 Meters Deep!

Unit 5A, Attached to South Profile of Unit 5

Today was perhaps the hottest day at the site. If we didn’t break 100 degrees, we came very close to it. Although the Monsoon season brings much needed rains, it also brings humidity. In the desert, even the slightest increase in humidity is noticeable, and it was definitely humid today. 100 degrees with no humidity is bearable (at least for some of us). 100 degrees with humidity is not very fun.

It’s almost scary how fast this project has moved. We now only have 7 days of excavation left!