One component of our field school is an introduction to reading landforms. This is an art as much as it is a skill and takes considerably more time in the field than a mere 10-week field school can provide. In a nutshell, reading the landscape involves envisioning what an area looked like prior to whatever modern conditions last shaped it. You have to strip away invasive species, secondary growth, and put soils back on ridgetops and water coursing through seasonal drainages. Our survey area is proving to be a great laboratory for not only trying to imagine what once was, but for testing to see if we're right!
The current conditions of the eastern end of our survey area resemble Mars more than anything else. The powerline corridor has been very heavily eroded, with some terraforming to direct run-off into what is now a 10-ft deep erosion gully dissecting the hill face. Thompson's Creek, which once ran north and then east towards Thompson's Bayou, is now so silted in that run-off from the surface streets and surrounding ridges now just pools up where it can, flowing both north and south and east and west towards low-spots in the choked channels. However, "once upon a time" it formed two sides of a small ridge. From this higher ground, prehistoric peoples had access to freshwater and likely aquatic resources like turtles, possibly some clam beds, and small fish. Mammals commonly used as food would also have been attracted to this location.
At some point in the recent past this ridge was capped with fill materials and then a layer of clay. The edges of the landform were covered in sheets of garbage, including landscaping wastes, tires of all kinds, concrete and brick rubble, among other items. In spite of this, we found a single Tallahatta sandstone flake and three sand-tempered plain sherds on the western and northern ends of the landform, precisely where artifacts should be if our reading of this once pleasant part of Escambia County is accurate (which evidently it is!).