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Ames Plantation Historical Society's "against the odds" discovery

Ames Manor House, Grand Junction, Tenn.

Jamie Evans sends out a Quarterly Newsletter from the Ames Plantation Historical Society. In his latest issue, December 2021, Jamie recounted an exciting – and accidental – discovery he made while working his regular routine at Ames.

“I was pulling soil samples for next year’s crop fertilization. In doing so, you cruise around a given field on an ATV with a one-inch soil probe and take samples along the way. I randomly sampled about 20 square inches per field, depending on field size.

“Can you imagine my surprise when I noticed in one of my soil samples a layer of charcoal, which was very similar to what we have been finding in association with prehistoric houses in nearby fields? My immediate question was whether the charcoal could possibly be from a prehistoric house. My next thought was, if it is actually associated with a house, what are the odds that I lucked upon it with my soil probe? In previously excavated prehistoric houses, charcoal was always present, but only in very small concentrations. The odds of hitting any specific object were astronomically low, but there was charcoal in my probe! Had I defied the odds and found the needle in the haystack by hitting the precise spot where a Native American prepared a meal over a fire hundreds of years ago? I had to know!”

Jamie contacted Dr. Andrew Mickelson, the University of Memphis archaeologist who studies Native American settlements on the Ames property.

“Dr. Mickelson and graduate student Katie Proctor arrived at Ames with their remote sensing equipment, the same tools used to find numerous other prehistoric houses at Ames. They tested the area around my charcoal find. Analysis of the data indicated areas that could possibly be house wall trenches, hearths, or pit features.

“But the only way to tell for sure if my charcoal had its origins in the fire of a Native American house was to do some shovel testing. So Dr. Mickelson and I excavated one of the suspected areas, and our efforts uncovered a prehistoric feature. We did not excavate an area large enough to determine whether our find was a hearth, storage pit, or house wall trench. But the discovery of a broken potsherd, additional charcoal, and bits of burned, earth fired clay was enough to confirm that additional investigation is warranted. The site will be added to the list for additional testing.”

To say the least, Jamie was quite excited about his “against the odds” discovery of a small piece of charcoal that led to the confirmation of yet another prehistoric site at Ames. He reported, “The total number of known sites of this nature is approaching 40 and, undoubtedly, more will be discovered as research continues. However, it is extremely unlikely that I will ever find another in the same way.”


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