New Finds in an Old Feature

Our 18th Century feature, shortly after discovering an extension to the left.

Our 18th Century feature, shortly after discovering an extension to the left.

Last month Katie and I began work on a feature that appeared to be an 18th Century cellar.  It was characterized by dark gray soil and extended through four 5×5 foot units.  We removed two quarters of it and discovered that it was fairly shallow, sloped in at the bottom, and had two layers – one dark gray with a high concentration of charcoal, and one reddish brown with a lot of plaster at the base.  The more we worked on it, the less it made sense, so after excavating the second quarter we decided to close it up and move on for a while until we had a chance to think about what we were excavating.  The week before last we finally decided to return to the feature to excavate a third quarter, but when I uncovered the units surrounding it, I was met with a surprise.

The day before I uncovered the feature the interns did a fresh scrape of the entire site, allowing us to see everything in the soil far more clearly than we could before.  This scrape included the area west of our feature, which was excavated in 2008.  We had not scraped this area before, as none of the notes from previous excavations ever mentioned anything significant there.  However, the moment I looked at our feature I could see what we all had missed.  There was clearly an extension of the feature into the two units to the west, characterized by the same dark soil and charcoal inclusions.  This changed our plans entirely.

Tin-glazed (left) and prehistoric (right) pottery.

Tin-glazed (left) and prehistoric (right) pottery.

We now had to re-map the feature, finish excavating the southwest quarter, and then proceed to excavate the southern part of the corner we discovered in the new units.  Katie began this process while I caught up on my TA duties, checking on the field school students and helping them with anything they needed.  I found it a bit challenging to split my focus between working with Katie on one end of the site and working with the students on the other, but after a while I managed to find a good balance!  In the process of completing the first part of our southwest quarter we found a fairly large piece of tin-glazed ceramic, a piece of prehistoric pottery, and our first straight pin in this feature!

My feature on a hot, but lovely day at Ferry Farm!

My feature on a hot, but lovely day at Ferry Farm!

Last Monday I returned to the feature without Katie, as she was on vacation.  It was the start of our hottest and most humid week of excavation so far – with temperatures ranging from the mid 90’s to low 100’s – and my feature was in a section of the site that was surrounded by black tarp in the center of two completely excavated areas, making it seem even hotter where I was!  I started excavating the last corner of our southwest quarter right away and immediately started noticing some differences between this small section and the rest of the feature.

Artifacts from the corner I excavated, including ceramics (center), glass (bottom left), straight pins (top left), burnt polished bone (top right), and nails (bottom right).

Artifacts from the corner I excavated, including ceramics (center), glass (bottom left), straight pins (top left), burnt polished bone (top right), and nails (bottom right).

The first major difference was that the soil did not change in color or consistency from the top of the feature to the bottom, whereas the rest of the feature had two distinct layers.  The second difference was the artifact inclusions.  I water screened all of the soil – as we do for all features – and found a few different types of ceramics, two straight pins, several nails, and a fair amount of bone.  This was very unusual for this feature, as the rest of it yielded only three pieces of tin-glazed ceramic, one straight pin, and a handful of bone total!  I enjoyed finding so many different artifacts, and was pleased that they all seemed to fit into the 18th Century time-frame that we had originally given the feature, but I was also confused by the extreme differences between this corner and everything else.  When I finally finished removing all of the dark soil from the corner I was left with a sloped edge that seemed to match those on the other sides – with the exception of an STP that was dug directly in the middle, which we excavated before re-opening the feature!

The last step was to draw the profile, which I finished on Thursday, after a delightful trip to Washington DC to visit the Smithsonian and hear City Archaeologist Dr. Ruth Trocolli talk about GIS and DC archaeology with the field school students on Wednesday.  After completing my work on the feature, we decided to close it up and save the rest for next year.  I am still not sure what to make of it all, which is a somewhat frustrating feeling, but I suppose this is a valuable lesson that archaeology doesn’t always come with clear answers.  I spent the rest of the week working with the students, who are now entering their last week of field school!  It seems to have flown by, but I have thoroughly enjoyed working with them and am extremely impressed by their skills and positive attitudes!  I look forward to working with them for this last week, which I suspect will be a great one – and much cooler too!

The southwest quarter of our feature, completely excavated!

The southwest quarter of our feature, completely excavated!

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