Thursday, July 23, 2015

Cave Site and Limekiln Site Summaries

Cave Site

Discovered in 2010 and 2013, Cave Site is completely undocumented in the historic record. It is located approximately a tenth of a mile south of the 1872 stone farmer’s cottage ruin at the center of Amenity Park but does not seem to be associated with it. Excavations commenced during the 2014 season with a three-meter-long exploratory trench bisecting the southernmost of the cave’s two openings to determine the depth of stratigraphic deposits within the cave. This work revealed a posthole situated midway across the front of the southern opening as well as a 30 cm step down to a flattened floor just within the cave’s interior. Few subsurface artifacts were recovered, but two sherds of Astburyware suggested occupation in mid-18th-century. We also observed that the cave roof had been laboriously smoothed as an improvement and exhibited numerous tool marks.

This season’s investigations focused on completing the exploratory trench through the back wall of the cave in order to assess the extent of usable space and discern additional cultural modification. Numerous metal detector hits along the back edge of the cave suggested that deposits naturally sloped down to the rear area and concentrated there, so this strategy promised to reveal additional information about the site’s occupants and their activities. Historical evidence and cave sites found on Barbados and other British islands suggest a connection between caves and enslaved Africans; this year’s excavations particularly sought evidence of this and of the sorts of activities that occurred in this obscure, hidden location. Finally, we sought to assess whether Cave Site is an isolated example or whether there are additional rock outcrops and occupied cave sites nearby in this area of Smiths Island, including a promising but nearly completely buried location approximately eight feet from Cave Site’s northern opening.

Two units were excavated sequentially within the cave (N5 E2-3), completing a lateral east-west profile of the cave interior’s extent. The stratigraphic sequence followed that of N5 E4 excavated in 2014 but the units were far richer in artifacts, particularly large mammal and fish bones. Evidence of rodent burrowing and the mixing of 18th and 19th-century artifacts within the cave deposits reveal disturbances mitigating against a temporally fine-tuned reconstruction of occupation activities. Datable artifacts ranged from additional examples of Astburyware and plain white saltglazed stoneware to Creamware annularware, suggesting intermittent occupation spanning circa 1725 to circa 1825. Charcoal, a bone-handled knife, peach and other pits, and large quantities of both cracked and sawn mammal bone reveal that occupants regularly consumed food here - perhaps even feasted - and that the site served as a socializing/gathering  place. That said, the near complete absence of hand-blown glass bottle fragments and tobacco pipes suggests that this socializing did not apparently extend to drinking and smoking.

This season's excavations revealed that both the cave floor and ceiling had been deliberately smoothed by humans. Both follow natural limestone bedrock cleavage but exhibit numerous tool marks. The floor has been flattened but has a slight step up in unit N5 E4. The rubble layer lying atop the flattened floor seems to relate to the modification of the roof after the floor had been altered, suggesting that these events did not occur simultaneously. Unfortunately, no material was recovered atop the flat floor sealed by the stone detritus - artifacts that would help us date the earliest usage and first modification of Cave Site; perhaps the first occupants kept this floor clean and deposited rubbish outside the cave, in which case it may be possible to recover this through future excavations.
Cave Site, western end of interior trench (N5 E2), facing west. Note the deliberately
smoothed floor with tool marks and the south profile stratigraphic sequence,
showing a stone rubble layer as the bottom-most deposit.
Southern profile of Cave Site interior trench.

This season's work inside the cave has revealed a considerable usable space made through human improvement, with about four to five feet of head clearance when the floor was first  levelled. It also provided specific evidence of socializing and significant food consumption using a few strikingly high quality items (like a bone-handled knife and an Astburyware vessel) but not smoking or drinking. A few small rounded non-Bermudian stone pebbles and flint stone flake recovered seem culturally significant, since they were deliberately brought into the cave, but otherwise we recovered no culturally/ethnically diagnostic artifacts to associate the site with African or African-Bermudian usage.  Future archaeological investigation will target the area to the south of the interior cave trench and the open area in front of (to the east of) the cave's southern opening to both determine if the 2014 posthole relates to a structure of some sort and to gather more evidence of the cave's occupants and their activities. 

Testing near Cave Site included a pedestrian survey to the south and excavating a meter-square unit (N10 E5) near another rock outcropping. The survey found a significant, high exposed rock ridge approximately 120 to 150 feet south of Cave Site, with several partly filled deep declivities and 19th-century surface finds - an area that warrants further investigation in future seasons. The N10 E5 unit yielded charcoal, bone, and 20th-century artifacts but hit natural bedrock after 30cm and did not reveal the nearby rock cavity to be large or deep enough to constitute a new cave entrance.

Limekiln Site

After the 2014 excavation at Cottonhole Bight failed to find evidence linking that site to the "Three Sailors" 1610 homestead of Christopher Carter, Edward Chard, and Edward Waters, we shifted our focus to investigating other potential sites in the Cottonhole Bight valley. A rigourous Phase I test pit survey of the area was planned, but time constraints led us to focus instead on an ambiguous feature first identified in 2010 located just north of the main road. A circular feature approximately seven feet in diameter and six feet deep, the targeted site closely resembles abandoned limekilns that the Principal Investigator excavated in Hog Bay Park, Sandys, in 1993 as part of another Bermuda Government Parks archaeological survey.[1] Numerous lateral notches in the feature’s walls and a large oven-like alcove suggested possible reuse by later Smiths Islanders. Alternatively, the shape and depth of the feature also resemble that of a filled in well. Excavation was warranted to clarify and date the site.

After establishing a datum point and local grid system, Site Supervisor James Rankine mapped the Limekiln and initiated a strategy to excavate the feature in quadrants determined by its emic dimensions. To shed light on the alcove feature in the kiln’s eastern wall, he sequentially excavated the northeast and southeast quarters of the kiln floor. Expecting the abandoned limekiln to have become a rubbish dump, we anticipated several feet of artifact-rich fill, but instead found only 30 cm of strata and mainly large animal bones in situ. The lack of heat-altered stone at the bottom and sides and dearth of artifacts point to an interpretation that the feature was excavated as a kiln but never actually fired, or that despite its resemblance, it had some unknown function. Rankine found no evidence of a structure built above the feature cut, leaving us puzzled as to the nature of this site. The sole non-faunal artifact recovered was a copper alloy buckle (perhaps from a bridle) that appears to date to the 19th century.

Limekiln Site at the end of excavation, showing natural bedrock floor

Although this particular site was disappointing, the Cottonhole Bight valley appears to have numerous other potential sites based on rock outcroppings and flat or surface-depressed areas. Future investigations should include a systematic Phase I testing program.

[1] Michael Jarvis and Neil Kennedy, "An Archaeological Assessment of Hog Bay Park, Sandys, Bermuda," unpublished report prepared for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fish, and Parks, Bermuda Government, July 1993.

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