During January and February of 2008, we returned to San Estevan for another six weeks of excavation. This time, we excavated at ten mounds around the site's center targeting Middle and Late Formative midden deposits (Rosenswig 2008b). In 2005, all excavations were concentrated in what was the site core where we documented Middle Formative domestic deposits and Late Formative architecture.
In 2008, we tested a number of surrounding mound groups in an attempt to recover Late Formative domestic materials with which to document economic changes (or lack thereof) from the preceding Middle Formative periods. For example, Suboperation 12 was excavated 350m east of Mound XV. We excavated units off the east side of this 3m high mound and documented Late Formative levels below a mound that consisted mostly of Classic-period fill.
Two other mounds (Suboperation 9 and 10) were tested 400m northwest of Mound XV that encountered significant intact Middle Formative deposits. Excavations at Suboperation 9 documented Middle Formative midden below Classic period construction fill (that raised the mound to its current height) capped by Classic period midden. This mound was thus occupied during the Middle Formative periods, abandoned for the centuries of the Late Formative and then reoccupied during the Classic period.
During the 2008 season, we expended considerable effort in documenting a mound that the sugarcane access road had cut in half (Suboperation 13) that was built on a gentle rise in the landscape. Such settlement location is typical of the dispersed occupation of the 6 or 7 sq km that make up the San Estevan site.
Mounds were located on virtually all high ground and the Suboperation 13 mound was no exception. In the east side of the mound, we encountered solid bedrock within 10cm of the current ground surface. However, cultural deposits on the west side of the mound were considerably deeper.
Once the south wall of the road cut was cleaned, were able to document a series of floors and occupation zones. We documented a feature sealed between the two lowest plaster floors with Chicanel vessels that thus dated to the overlying floor to the Late Formative period.
Furthermore, within the fill of the lowest plaster floor we recovered mostly Middle Formative sherds and 10-15 cm of Middle Formative midden below this. At Suboperation 13, we thus encountered the Middle to Late Formative transition we were seeking.
To reach the Formative deposits at Suboperation 13, we excavated numerous Classic-period occupation levels, and noted many more that had long been scrapped away by ploughing of the fields. We documented six Late Classic burials dug down from an occupation level that no longer existed. All interments were of single adult individuals. Their heads were all oriented north, which is also the direction towards Mound XV. The burials were in reasonably good states of preservation and two contained Classic period vessels covering their faces.
Below the Classic period levels at Suboperation 13, we documented a Late Formative period structure and associated refuse. While we were not able to establish its full dimensions, we documented 6m east-west and 3m north-south of a rectangular building – the remainder of which remains buried in the mound (Figure 16).
The Late Formative rectangular structure at San Estevan Suboperation 13 was built on top of a dark brown stratum that contains late Middle Formative Mamom ceramics. As at the site center, Suboperation 13 also documents that it was during the Late Formative that plaster was first widely used in architectural construction projects (Rosenswig 2008a). At the Suboperation 13 mound, in 1.7m of vertical excavation, we have documented 1500 years of occupation beginning during the second part of the Middle Formative and extending through to the Late Classic period.
At the other mounds documented in 2008, Classic-period deposits were the most extensive with Late Formative remains below. This was the case at Suboperation 12 (mentioned above) as well as at the mounds documented as Suboperations 10, 14, 15, 16, 19, 20.
To date, outside of the site core, Middle to Late Formative occupational continuity has only been recovered from Suboperation 13.
At Suboperation 9, we documented Middle Formative but no Late Formative occupation and at Suboperation 11 no Formative occupation at all. No Middle Formative occupation was documented at any of the other six mounds documented outside of the site core (Suboperations 10, 14, 15, 16 19, 20) but all had Late Formative deposits.
All ten mounds tested in 2008 were occupied during the Classic period.
Principal Investigator: Dr. Robert Rosenswig, UAlbany
Project Co-Director: Dr. Douglas Kennett, University of Oregon
Field Director: Daniel Seinfeld, Florida State University
Laboratory Director: Elizabeth France, UAlbany
Jason Paling, UAlbany
Jared Latimer, UAlbany
Justin Lowry, UAlbany
Sean Higgins, UAlbany
Project Lithicist & Faunal Analyst: Dr. Marilyn Masson, UAlbany
Project Osteologist: Dr. Sharon DeWitte, UAlbany
Camp Manager: Josalyn Ferguson, UAlbany