A Rather Uneventful Day

We took down the remaining bit of our corners today and almost completely leveled the unit!  Unfortunately, there was not much to be found in the soil we dug up.  There were one or two nails, one nice piece of ceramic, and quite a few prehistoric flakes, but nothing too exciting.  Flakes are bits of rock that were chipped off of a stone when someone was shaping it into a tool.  The increasing quantity of them makes me think that we are getting close to the subsoil, especially since we found almost no historic artifacts today.  We did reach some fairly large pebbles grouped together in an interesting pattern on our way down though.  I’m not sure if it means anything, but we’ll find out for sure when we finish digging.

On Monday we will be removing the tarp, leveling the ground, and wrapping up the last bit of paperwork for this unit.  After that we’ll be starting a brand new one, which I have been assured will be more normal and less complicated than this one was!  I am amazed at how quickly all of this got done, and how much I’ve learned in the process.

We had a ceramics class after lunch today, which was really good.  It was a lot of information, but I’m going to study it over the weekend so that I am able to more efficiently spot and identify the ceramics we find in our next unit!

We won’t be digging tomorrow, which is why we are not finishing our unit this week.  Instead we are taking a tour of Kenmore, Betty Washington’s home.  I’ll post some more about that tomorrow, along with some more pictures!

(Our only ceramic from today! It has a lovely leaf pattern in the corner.)


Wig Curlers and Wine Glasses

We found our first wig curler!  In fact, it was the first artifact we found this morning.  It was in the top level of our remaining corner, and I was so excited when we found it!  The curlers come in varying sizes and most have a crown symbol and the initials “W.B.” engraved on the top.  No one seems to know what the initials or the crown mean, but there are plenty of theories floating around!  The curlers were used to keep curls tight and lively on wigs during Washington’s time.  Ours was fairly small (about the size of my thumb) and broken in half.  It was a great find, and I’m glad we could finally contribute to the wig curler collection!

The rest of today’s excavation turned up many more interesting artifacts.  We found a few very old wine bottle fragments, including a bottle neck and a piece that may have had a seal on it at one time.  We also found two more pipe stems, a bunch of nails, the rim of a drinking glass, and some really stunning ceramics.  I even found a large plate piece, which I had to very carefully dig around in order to get it out of the ground without breaking it.

I took a lot of pictures today, but unfortunately my camera malfunctioned and I lost them all.  I will try to take some tomorrow and hopefully have better luck, but for now I included some examples of wig curlers below.  We have almost completely finished our first unit, so we’ll definitely be starting a new one within the next few days!

(Wig curlers of varying sizes. Photo retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/07/photogalleries/georgewashington-photos/photo3.html)

 (Top of wig curlers. Photo retrieved from http://fredericksburg.com/News/FLS/2008/072008/07042008/392591/index_html/slide_show2?qstart=2)

A New Week

Week two has just begun, and we’ve made great progress already!  We finally swept up all of the sand and finished with the trench, which is an amazing feat!  All we have to do now is take down the remaining corners and then dig until we reach subsoil.  I’m really excited to do some non-trench digging, as everything we find now will be undisturbed and in its proper place.  We took down one level already and found a lot of iron objects, such as nails and building materials.  We also found a few bones, some glass, and some large pieces of ceramic.

A few features (building foundations) were found in some other units today, which is very exciting!  I took some pictures of them and I’ll be posting them on here soon!  I can’t wait to find out what they are.  It was a really hot day (90 degrees hot!), and I got pretty sunburned, but it was a great day regardless!

(Nails found during the excavation of our corner.)

A Fine Five Days

My first week of field school is officially over, and we had a pretty productive last day before the weekend!  We finally reached the bottom of the trench, and now all we have to do is clear the remaining layer of dirt off of the sand.

When an archaeologist finishes an excavation, they will often lay a tarp down and leave a thin layer of bright sand to let future archaeologists know where they stopped, which is exactly what Shuster did.  This means that once we clean up the unit and do the pictures and paperwork we can finally take out the sand and tarp and be done with the Shuster Trench!  We will have to take down the corners that were left up (we did not dig through the parts that were unaffected by the trench), but after that we will start working down to the subsoil (the layer that has remained undisturbed by human activity) and hopefully find some neat stuff on the way!  A lot of people have been finding wig curlers and projectile points on their way down, so I’m really anxious to see what lies below the trench!

Today we screened a lot more than we dug, as most of this layer was pebbles.  I really detest screening now, but I suppose it will be better when we get down to actual soil.  We found quite a bit of building material, along with more bones and teeth.  I am starting to wonder if all of this bone might indicate that the smokehouse was set up somewhere nearby, as that is one of the outbuildings we are hoping to locate.  We also found some great ceramic fragments, including one beautifully decorated piece that is definitely from the Washington era.  It even matches other pieces that have been found both here and at Mount Vernon.

Today we had quite a bit of tourists come through as well.  It is our job, as archaeologists at an archaeology park, to help them enjoy their experience and get excited about our work.  I got to talk to a lot of them and show them some of our finds, and I realized just how much I have learned in only a week of working here.   I’m so glad that I came, and even though I am exhausted and more than ready for the weekend, I am also eager to get back to work on Tuesday morning, which is something a lot of people never get to say.

I’m home for memorial day weekend, so this will be my last post for a few days.  However, I finally posted some pictures of our excavation this week, which can be found under the “Photos” link at the top of the page.  I hope you enjoy them, and have a great weekend!  See you on Tuesday!

(A beautiful piece of Washington-era ceramic)

Digging Up Bones

Today was an amazing day in the field!  We started clearing out the trench as soon as we arrived, and in the first round of screening I found a piece of a pipe stem!  I was so thrilled that I danced over to my supervisors to show them.  After taking a few pictures we stuck it in the artifact bag and started sifting again, and within a few minutes we found a bone fragment!  Being that my main interest is biological anthropology, this excited me even more than the pipe stem.  As we moved through the layer we found about 8 more bone fragments and a human tooth!  We’re not sure what this means, but it’s very interesting!  We also found some nails, ceramics, and bottle glass.  We worked down through the trench as far as we could, and started on our third context.  One of the other students also found a rare wig curler, which puts the site at over 111 of them!  In all, this was the best day yet.  It was extremely productive and we turned up a lot of interesting finds!  Tomorrow is the last day of our first week, and I’m so glad that I came here.  This is already the best experience of my life.  I can’t wait for the next 4 weeks!

(Pipe stem fragment)


The Next Level

We finished the first layer this morning!  Once we evened it out we photographed it, then I drew a sketch and wrapped up the paperwork for that context.  It took a few hours to get everything done though, as the trench feature made it difficult to level the ground.

The trench (called the “Shuster Trench”) is the result of a previous excavation at the site in the 1990’s.  The man who did the work dug a trench down the middle of the region we are currently working on in an attempt to find the foundation of the Washington house.  He was unsuccessful, however, because he was digging in the wrong place and he also did not dig all the way down.  Once he finished looking, he laid down a tarp and then filled the trench with unscreened soil, rocks, and sand.  The result is a massive pit of rocks, bricks, plaster (a lot of plaster), and tiny bits of artifacts here and there covering over half of our 5×5 foot unit.  There is also a piece of the tarp sticking up from the ground after just a few inches were removed, which is strange as it is over a foot below the surface in the preceding units.  This was not a huge problem in the first layer, but the further we get the more difficult it becomes to excavate!

I have learned to dislike the screening process, as we spend most of our time there trying to separate tiny artifacts from rocks of varying sizes and chunks of plaster.  This layer did have some interesting artifacts though.  I found a rare piece of ceramic that dates back to the 1600’s, and we discovered some Washington-era ceramics as well.  We also found some iron pieces, including a nail and a clothespin spring.  There was a bone fragment of some kind as well, which was very cool.

The rest of the units on the site yielded some pretty exciting artifacts today, including our first wig curlers of the excavation!  Ferry Farm is big on wig curlers at the moment, as over a hundred of them have been found in the area where we are currently digging.  This is quite strange, but it may suggest that there was some kind of wig maintenance building somewhere nearby.  I suffered from severe artifact envy every time one of them was found today, but I remain optimistic that once we get past the trench we will find some curlers or a pipe fragment in our unit too!

Once again the rain cut our day about an hour short, but tomorrow we will finish the second layer and hopefully get through a good portion of the trench.  I will also be posting some pictures of the site and our excavation soon, so stay tuned!

Plaster and Pearlware and Pig’s Teeth, Oh my!

Day two is complete, and the weather was much kinder today!  We got there bright and early and immediately picked up where we left off.  My group was a bit behind, so we were working pretty hard to catch up and get the topsoil cleared.  However, we quickly hit a problem when we happened upon a whole lot of rocks, a tarp, and a soil change after just a couple of inches.  When our field supervisors came over to check it out they informed us that our unit was directly intersected by a trench called the “Shuster Trench”, which was left by an archaeologist in the 1990’s.  They said that we would have to excavate it as a feature, which I was very excited about!  After clearing the topsoil and throwing it all into a wheelbarrow, we carted it over to the screening area and began searching for artifacts.  I was amazed by how quickly we were finding things, and the enormous amount of artifacts we had when we were done!  It was a lot of long and tedious work though, and it took well over 3 hours to complete in the morning and another couple in the afternoon.  It got pretty hot today, but we were all more than happy to get back to the pit and dig a little before screening again.  We were supposed to start scraping the dirt off to get down to the next layer and to level it out, but the large amount of rocks in the feature made it quite complicated.  We did the best we could and by the time 4:30 rolled around we were finally done with the top layer.  We finished our screening for the day and by the time we were finished we must have had at least a hundred artifacts.

Because of the trench we found A LOT of plaster from old buildings, which was discarded during the previous investigation.  We also found some brick, lots of shells (including two nearly whole oysters), a nail, three pig’s teeth, a strange cylindrical item that no one was able to identify, and some very neat ceramic pieces.  One such piece (shown below) was a beautiful painted fragment which our supervisor identified as a possible Washington artifact!  Another group found fragments of a tobacco pipe, which I must admit, I was rather jealous of, but perhaps as we get deeper into our unit we’ll find one too!

It was really exciting to get my hands dirty (really, really dirty) and actually start finding things today!  I honestly loved the work, too.  It was hot and tiring, but the atmosphere was wonderful and the people are so nice.  Tomorrow we get to photograph and draw our unit, and then start in on the next layer, so hopefully we’ll happen upon even more great finds!