Katie and I excavated the first quarter of our new feature last week! We began by giving a fresh scrape to all four of the units that contained the feature so that we could better define its boundaries. The two units to the east were a level higher than those to the west, as the western half was excavated during the FF-14 excavation season (we are FF-20), and they did not spot the feature until the top layer was already gone. It was a bit difficult to spot the boundaries on the higher half, but after studying it very carefully and bringing out a ladder to get a better view from above, we were able to draw a clear line around the darkened soil. We began the excavation process by photographing and mapping the entire feature, then getting the paperwork ready to begin excavating the first quarter.
We will be excavating three quarters of this feature, beginning with the northeast unit. This is the most disturbed, with a 20th Century utility trench running through one side and an antebellum trench running through the other, as well as an old shovel test pit that was dug by an archaeologist in the 1990’s between them. Removing this quadrant first will eliminate some distractions and allow us to study the feature as a whole more clearly.
We finally began digging on Monday of last week, after all of the paperwork and preparations were done. Katie and I were extremely excited to get to work, and very quickly started making discoveries. We found an abundance of burned bone in the first layer, including three pieces that were completely black and appeared to be polished. We also discovered some wrought nails, a small animal skull fragment, and a melted piece of window glass, which was very cool! The next day we found a tiny blue and green glass bead and one thick piece of tin-glazed ceramic, which both seem to suggest that the feature dates to the 18th Century! We did not find much else in the following layer, and in the days that followed we had to pause our excavation twice to take out the rest of the 20th Century utility trench and the shovel test pit, as there was some soil remaining in each of them that did not relate to our feature and would have interfered with our data if we did not excavate them separately.
On Thursday we reached a new level that consisted mostly of mortar made with bits of oyster shell, which also date to the 18th Century. This was the last layer of our feature, which we discovered as we removed it on Friday and found a very heavy concentration of rocks and subsoil underneath. Today we finished cleaning up the unit, mapped it, drew a profile of the south wall, and wrapped up the paperwork for this quarter.
Overall our excavation of this portion of the feature was not what we expected. We had very few artifacts and found almost nothing that indicated what the feature was or when it was filled. Our interpretation thus far is that – based on the size, shape, and slope of the soil – it may be a cellar that was filled in sometime in the 1700’s. There have been no structures found around it, however, and there was not as much building material as there typically would be in a feature like that. Tomorrow we will begin excavating the quarter to the southwest of this one, which will enable us to see the profile of the north and east walls. That unit is on the FF-14 side, so the top layer has already been removed. There are also no utility trenches or other disturbances passing through this part of the feature, so excavation of this quarter should go rather quickly. I’m looking forward to digging into another section of this mysterious feature, and hopefully by the end of this week we will have more answers!
In other news, I would like to encourage everyone to read the May 2013 issue of the SAA Archaeological Record, which features a wonderful series of articles titled “I love archaeology because…” written by archaeologists from around the country – including me! This is my first publication and I am so very grateful to have had the opportunity to write it, and to be in such good company on these pages! You can read the entire issue online here!
Yesterday we began taking down the unit adjacent to the one we completed last week with high hopes that there would be a feature in it. The excavation started off well, immediately yielding a few pieces of ceramic that we were able to put together to make two parts of the same dish. We also found some large chunks of brick, more ceramics, and even a tiny straight pin that I was very lucky to spot as we were digging! As we got closer to our intended level, however, our hope of finding the rest of the feature that we saw in the last unit started to fade. No major soil stains existed, with the exception of a line that ran across the bottom that was likely caused by a root. The day was almost over by the time we were finished, so we decided to come back to it in the morning to see if we could spot any differences with fresh eyes and a fresh scrape.
This morning Katie and I returned to the unit and unfortunately did not see any changes. It was disappointing to learn that our feature was apparently not a feature after all, but we quickly moved on and finished excavating the unit. After we wrapped up all of the paperwork, we eagerly reported to Laura to get our next assignment, which turned out to be very cool! Beginning tomorrow we will be excavating a feature in the southern half of the site that was originally uncovered during the 2008 excavation. The remaining half of it was found and documented by two interns last summer. We spent the rest of the day reading their field notes and looking at maps of the four units it intersects, and tomorrow we will be uncovering it and starting the excavation. I am very excited about this assignment, and I can’t wait to see what we will find!
Katie and I kept busy last week as we wrapped up our first month of excavation at Ferry Farm! On Tuesday we finally finished up the unit that we started on the previous Saturday, which took a little longer than expected as we had to stop mid-way through to map a trail of shells that passed along the southern half of the unit. There was no soil change associated with these shells so we did not feel it was necessary to excavate them separately. However, we did take especially thorough notes, photograph it, and sketch the unit and the one directly west of it to make sure we did not lose any information as we proceeded. After we finished excavating that unit, we moved on to take down a few more. Our excavation is a bit scattered at this point, as we are working around features that have been uncovered in a few different locations on the site. To better explain what we have been up to recently, I want to first take a moment to discuss our excavation this season.
We are currently working in the same excavation area that we were last season. Last summer we opened up this area one unit at a time, starting with the topsoil and working all the way down to subsoil. At the end of the season the southern half had been completely excavated, but the northern half was left only partially excavated, with several potential features exposed at the top of the Colonial layer (Ferry Farm has three main layers of soil – 20th Century, antebellum, and colonial). This year we began by removing the exposed features and planned on taking the remaining units down to subsoil after they were gone. However, as we began to take the units down, more features started appearing about halfway through the Colonial layer. Each time this occurred, we had to stop digging and start excavating the units surrounding it to see how large the feature was and look for any other features that may relate to it. As a result, our entire excavation area has been taken down to two different levels within the same layer of soil. Once all of them are at relatively the same place, we will proceed to excavate the feature and then wrap up the units. Meanwhile, fellow interns Courtney and Cate have also just begun excavating a quarter of a Smokehouse cellar that was discovered a few seasons ago, which is very exciting and should result in many interesting finds!
Katie and I worked on a few different units last week, taking each down to the level that the nearest feature was at and checking for any additional features, then stopping excavation and moving on to the next unit. Some of these units held quite a few treasures, including several large pieces of pipe stem, some lovely tin-glazed, porcelain, redware, and whiteware ceramics, glass, nails, and some pieces of an animal’s jawbone with the teeth still inside! The last unit we worked on was the one that formerly held the shell feature and supposed post mold (now properly identified as an old STP) that Allen and I excavated. As we got down to our stopping point in this layer, we noticed a change in the texture and color of the soil in the eastern half of the unit, as well as a significant cluster of charcoal in the center of it. We designated this a feature and will excavate the unit next to it this week to see if it extends further to the east. I am excited to see what we might find, and I am hoping it turns out to be something great!
We observed Memorial Day a little early at Ferry Farm with a World War II themed event on Saturday, May 25th. I started the day off by saying hello to Dr. Means, who had the scanner set up in our Small Finds Laboratory. He was scanning artifacts from Ferry Farm’s collections that included projectile points and a plastic WWII toy soldier that were recovered from the site (see his blog post here). He also took the time to scan a very familiar skull – it was the groundhog that my team found during field school last June (see an unexpected burial)!
After having a brief discussion in the lab, we all headed out to the field. On our way out we were met with several reenactors dressed in World War II uniforms with jeeps, tents, a motorcycle, and a bike that all dated to that era. As we began digging, some of the reenactors came over to talk to us about what we were doing. It was a very different environment than we are all used to, but I loved every minute of it!
I was teamed up with Katie again and we began the day working on a new unit. This one was adjacent to the one that she and Courtney worked on last week, which did not hold any features and was completed on Friday. Everyone is being especially sensitive to features right now due to how many have turned up in our excavation thus far. We are looking for post holes and molds in particular, as the one that Allen and I excavated last week appears to be about 10 feet away from a few more that match it. The unit we took down on Saturday did not have any features in it, but it did yield some very neat artifacts! These included ceramics, nails, glass, brick, shell, and several teeth. We did not quite finish taking the unit down to the level that we were supposed to, as we had to put the excavation on hold several times to talk with the public, but we will finish up on Tuesday morning!
We returned to the field after a long weekend on Tuesday and immediately got to work excavating the shell feature that we started working on last week. We started by removing the top layer of shell on the southern half of the feature, then started a second context for the rest of it. Our expectations were not high for this mysterious pit, as the northern half did not have much in the way of artifacts, but this half very quickly proved us wrong as we began screening the soil. In the first load of dirt I found a small piece of ceramic that is most likely prehistoric, and if that is the case it would be my first piece of prehistoric pottery! Upon removing the top layer we made another discovery – a very large piece of metal sticking out of the ground. We were very excited about this object and made several guesses as to what it might be, but due to its size we had to excavate nearly half of the feature before it finally came out! When it did, we quickly brought it to our Site Director, Laura, who identified it as one leg of a very large cast-iron pot. We also found some small pieces of bone, charcoal, flakes from stone tool making, a straight pin, a pipe stem, and the heel of a pipe bowl with the letters “T” and “D” on either side!
On Wednesday we continued to work on the feature, taking it all the way down to the bottom where the soil was significantly different and no more artifacts could be found. We were about halfway there when we closed up the previous day, so it did not take long to get through the rest in the morning. In this half we found a large tooth with a clear cavity in it, a very neat black button most likely made of jet, and the tip of a skillfully crafted stone tool – another exciting first for me! We officially wrapped up the feature shortly after lunch, and upon looking at the odd, uneven shape we came to the conclusion that the hole was likely caused by a plant, which was removed from the ground and filled in by someone a very long time ago. Based on the artifacts we found, it is plausible to say that the hole was filled sometime in the 18th Century, as all of the artifacts we recovered from it date to that period or earlier!
Yesterday we excavated a much smaller feature that was situated right next to our last one. This feature was a clearly visible dark circle that was about a foot in diameter. We began by excavating the southern half, drawing a profile view, and then excavating the northern half. It did not take long, and when we finished the hole was a perfect circle with a flat bottom, indicating that it was likely a post mold. A post mold is created when a post of some kind is removed from the ground and the hole is filled with soil. Most of the artifacts that we found were small pieces of brick, charcoal and bone, as well as a couple tiny bits of ceramic. We closed this feature fairly quickly, and I spent the rest of the day helping fellow interns Katie and Courtney clean up their unit. I’m not sure what my next assignment will be, but I am excited to get to work on some new units as the week winds down!
Last Wednesday Allen and I began the process of excavating the shell feature that we were assigned to earlier in the week. We started by creating a detailed map that included the boundaries of the feature, each shell within it, and all significant objects in the two units around it. I set up rulers on each side and along the center and then measured the objects that we needed to map, giving Allen their exact location so that he could draw them to scale on a grid. This was a fairly straightforward, but extremely time-consuming task that took the majority of the day to complete. By the time we were finished, the day was nearly over! We did not have time to begin working on the feature, so instead Eric asked us to finish excavating a utility trench in another unit. We managed to finish digging through it by the end of the day, and only had the paperwork to complete the following morning!
We wrapped up the utility trench early Thursday morning and returned to the shell feature immediately after that. Because the paperwork and map had already been completed for that context, we were able to get straight to work! We started by excavating only the north half of the feature so that we would be able to see the profile of it once everything was done. Shortly after we began digging, however, we had to stop to get a quick lesson in water screening. Water screening is often used when excavating features, as it allows the excavator to find tiny artifacts like bone fragments, bits of ceramic and pins that would fall through a standard ¼ inch mesh screen. This was my first time using that method, so I was very excited to try it! We poured the dirt that we had excavated from our buckets onto the screens, which have a much smaller mesh on them that does not allow small things to fall through. We then took hoses and gently sprayed the dirt until all that was left on the screen was shell, rocks and artifacts. Our first load did not yield very much, so we returned to the feature to continue digging.
Allen started by gently working around the large oyster shells on the main part of the feature, collecting them as they began to pop up. Meanwhile, I began by removing the northernmost tip of the feature, which was on the other side of the utility trench. In that section I uncovered a few shells and a very nice piece of tin-glazed ceramic with a hand-painted design on it. After completing that part, I joined Allen in excavating the rest. It was very difficult to work around all of the shell, but after a few hours we had finally removed the top layer. Beneath that layer was a continuation of the dark soil that surrounded the shell, but there were only a few scattered shells underneath. Due to the dramatic change we had to assign a new context to the rest of the feature, so we cleaned up the unit, screened the soil, and completed the paperwork just as the work day came to an end.
We picked up where we left off on Friday, starting the paperwork for our new layer and getting the water screen ready for use. We immediately began digging once everything was ready, following the dark, loose soil as we worked. In this layer we found a fairly large piece of a long bone, more shell, and some small bits of brick, charcoal, and ceramic. In what seemed like no time at all, we reached the bottom. The feature ended up being bowl-shaped with an irregular floor, which seems to indicate that it was not intentionally created by a person. The amount of artifacts recovered from this half of the feature was surprisingly small, though we did make one exciting discovery as we used the water screen to sort through our last bucket of dirt – a straight pin! Straight pins were used to hold women’s clothes together in the 18th Century, and frequently appear on archaeological sites dating to that time period. This one was the most common type found at Ferry Farm.
All in all, the excavation of the north half of our shell feature did not provide us with as many answers or artifacts as we had hoped. Our interpretation of this pit thus far is that it was a naturally formed hole that someone simply filled and – for whatever reason – covered with oyster shells. We are hoping to gain some more insight when we excavate the other half of the feature, which will most likely be done this week!
Today we continued working on the unit that we started yesterday, which ended up holding quite a few surprises. As we used our trowels to clean up the loose soil, Allen discovered an especially significant artifact in the same area that we were finding the shells yesterday – a wig curler! Wig curlers were used in the 18th Century to maintain men’s wigs, which George Washington’s brothers were known to wear. They are made of ball clay and vary in size, and those recovered from Ferry Farm all have a variation of the same “WB” maker’s mark on each end. These unique artifacts are especially significant at Ferry Farm in part because there have been over 150 found at the site – most of which were discovered during last year’s excavation! This was our second wig curler of the season, so we were all very excited about it.
Once we had the unit completely cleaned up, I noticed a strange concentration of artifacts within a circle of darker soil in the southern half of our unit. We stopped and asked our Site Directors Laura and Eric for a second opinion, and they agreed that it appeared to be a feature of some kind. The term “feature” in archaeology refers to archaeological remains that cannot be moved, such as buildings, trenches, post holes, or middens. We were instructed to bring the rest of the unit down to the same level as the feature so that we could see if it expanded or if there were any more. As we carefully scraped off a bit more of the soil, we noticed a second circular feature just above the first. Before long, we had the unit completely level and wrapped up the paperwork for the context. Eric assigned the two features numbers, but we will have to wait to excavate them until later, as we need to bring the surrounding units down to the same layer to see if there are any other features that may be related.
At this point, the other two groups had each been assigned a different feature to work on that was uncovered during last year’s excavation. We are currently shifting our focus toward excavating these features so that we may gain a better understanding of the site and what we are working with. Once Allen and I had completed our unit, Laura assigned us to work on a large pile of shells in the unit directly north of ours. We had to begin by giving the unit a fresh scrape so that we could better define the boundaries of the feature. It took a little time, especially because it extends into a second unit to the north, and by the time we were done, it was time to go home! Tomorrow we will continue to work on the shell midden feature by mapping and excavating it!