Adventures in Kampsville – Marisa Reeves

September 19, 2017

With the huge support from the Penn Museum Student Field Fund and the Women in Archeology scholarship through the Center for American Archeology, I went on what I can only characterize as my first adventure. Never have I ventured this far away from home, alone. I went on my first solo flight and arrived, a little clueless, in St. Louis airport. After retrieving my luggage, I put my faith in the two women who held a small orange sign that read “Kampsville” with the Center for American Archeology (from here on out, CAA) logo on it.

The two women, interns Erin Donovan and Elizabeth Straub, drove myself and another field school attendee, Jennifer Kluever, to a small little town in rural Illinois with no cell service. Once there, we waited for everyone else to arrive. Then introductions were made between Erin, Elizabeth, the two remaining interns (Laila Blumenthal-Rothchild and Kenzie May) and the field students. Little did I know what I was getting myself into.My two weeks had begun. Monday came and went; too quickly in my opinion. Once on site, Dr. Jason King, the director of the field school, introduced himself and gave us an introduction of the site. He also explained why we weren’t at Golden Eagle: there was a misunderstanding with the owner of the site and the CAA, so a new site had to be quickly chosen for the last week of the High School Field School. The new site was Mound House, land owned by the CAA, so there wasn’t any conflicts. When we arrived, most of the units were started but hadn’t gone very far due to the last minute switch. After the brief intro, we got right to digging. It was hot and humid and it took me a few days to acclimate, but the humidity ended up not bothering me at all. I got down and dirty every day we were out in the field.

In my unit, SQ-627, my week 1 partner Berkeley and I had to go 20 cm from the starting measurements that the high school students had taken, which was about 6-10 cm from where the high school students left off the week before. This unit had to go to 50 cm. By the end of my two weeks, I did get a handle on my digging skills but that was not the case for day 3 of week 1. Berkeley and I were about to be level on day 3 when I accidentally over-dug and we had to go to 52 cm. Fortunately, we were still in the plow zone and it wasn’t too drastic that I dug a little too deep. The plow zone, which varies at each site, is the section of earth that has been tilled and plowed by farmers for any number of years. The artifacts that are in this zone are no longer in situ, or located where they were placed when last used. Since the artifacts are not in their original context, they cannot shed as much light on what was going on as those artifacts beneath the plow zone.

We (the field school students) took a break on Thursday of week 1, and tagged along with the Arizona State University bioarcheology lab students to their field trip to Dickson Mounds. We returned to the site on Friday and continued digging. Berkeley and I continued to “shave” off the last couple of centimeters that I accidentally added on.

In addition to digging, the interns held lab from 7-9 pm. We either had a lecture or worked with the artifacts from Mound House or Golden Eagle in some way. Some nights, we sorted and tagged artifacts. I learned a lot about local rocks and that it was just mostly chert. Other nights we washed artifacts (which I am an expert at).

The weekend was eventful. It was Archeology Day in Kampsville and a few hundred people came through to visit the various stations around the small town. My morning station was archery and it was fun. My afternoon station was arts and crafts at the dorms.

I worked at the ceramics table and made a handheld coil pot (which I ended up destroying in the bonfire the night before I left–oops). That afternoon, Ashley C, Hunter V (the two 4-week students) and I ran some errands that couldn’t be done during the week.

Week 2 started off with a trip with Ashley and Hunter to Cahokia Mounds. After visiting some of the most famous mounds in the Americas, we grabbed lunch in St. Louis and visited a few state parks on the way back to Kampsville. The last state park we visited, we “explored” and didn’t get back to the dorms until 10:30 pm. The interns were concerned and attempted to call but two of the three phones we had were drained of battery.

Monday rolled around and I began the day with little sleep due to the adventure the night before. My new partner, Dominic, and I took three days to level off the unit. I wanted it to be the best that it could be and I didn’t want to over dig like I did the week before.

On Thursday the 20th, we did a final scrape, which is when one makes sure the level is as neat as possible. The bottom of level 00 is now the ceiling of level 01. We finished up the unit on Thursday and started the next level on Friday (both of our last days).

Finishing off the level (00) took longer than I was hoping because the soil is rock hard and we have to be careful to not over dig. My unit was on the edge of a potential habitation zone, so it wasn’t as fruitful as some of the other units. It was a lot of dirt, bugs, and corn and I loved it all the same.

The sign by the ferry we took every day to the site.
My unit/square [the one closest the toolbox] on day 1 of the Adult Field School.
Me washing artifacts on the porch outside of the dorms. Photo: Laila Blumenthal-Rothchild.
The sign by the dorms where the interns and field students stayed.
Dominic and I cleaning up the walls shortly before we final scraped on Thursday. Photo: Erin Donovan.
Working on the last day, trying to get as far as I could in the remaining hours. Photo: Kenzie May.
Leaving the site for the last time.