The Day of Archaeology

Yesterday was the Day of Archaeology, and I chose to spend it at Ferry Farm!  It was my first day on the site since field school ended, so I was really eager to get back to digging.  Three of my classmates- Victoria Garcia, Allison Curran, and Ian Salata- also volunteered, so we were split into teams of two and assigned new units.  Victoria and I were placed at the corner of a fascinating section of the site where there have been some odd soil changes, which suggest a feature exists there.  A strange compilation of artifacts have been unearthed in this area as well, such as plastic toys, Civil War bullets, and various historic ceramics, including most of a porcelain teacup!  I have been really interested in this area for the past couple of weeks, so it was quite exciting to be able to dig there!

A very intriguing group of units! Ours is the square at the bottom left corner.

We began by cutting up the topsoil with our shovels and scraping it off it in square chunks, which is a process I have not had to do since my first unit.  It was a lot easier than I remember, and we actually managed to clear it rather quickly.  As we were digging we came across a small metal pipe that is sticking directly out of the ground.  No one was quite sure what it is, but I am eager to find out as we excavate further!  After removing the top layer, we proceeded to screen the matted down chunks of grass and dirt for artifacts.  We found a large piece of a terracotta pot and a couple of ceramics, but nothing more than that in this layer.

As soon as we finished screening, it was time for lunch.  The temperature by then was over a hundred degrees and extremely humid, so instead of returning to the field after the break we all headed inside for a presentation about wig curlers by Laura Galke.  Because we have been finding so many of them, she wanted to help us understand them better by explaining who used them and why.  I learned that the curlers we have been finding at Ferry Farm come in seven sizes and were most likely used in men’s wigs.  I also learned that wig curlers were typically only used at wig maintenance shops, which is why it is so unusual that we have found so many at the Washington’s home.

After the presentation, Allison, Ian, Victoria and I all went down to the lab to join Dr. Means, who was scanning some Ferry Farm artifacts and wanted to familiarize us with the scanner.  The first item he scanned was a pewter spoon that has the initials “BW” on the end, which belonged to George Washington’s sister, Betty Washington.  It took all morning to get a good copy of it, but eventually it worked!  After that he scanned a lead alloy cloth seal, a small metal hatchet toy that a tourist probably dropped, and finally, a Civil War Minie ball bullet that Ian found during field school.  Each scan went smoothly and, as usual, I was very impressed with the results!

A Civil War bullet being scanned.

The scan as it appears on the monitor.

It was a great day in the field and in the lab, and I’m glad that I got to spend my Day of Archaeology at Ferry Farm!  Dr. Means and I both posted a blog on the official Day of Archaeology website, and I’ve really enjoyed reading what other archaeologists from around the world are writing too.  You can read our posts and many more at http://www.dayofarchaeology.com!

A Sunny Day in Williamsburg

I spent the day in Williamsburg today with Dr. Means and fellow VCU students Courtney Bowles and Alan Huber.  They were there to give a demonstration of the 3D scanning equipment to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and were kind enough to let me tag along as I will be joining them as an intern this fall!  The Virtual Curation Unit, part of the Department of Defense’s Legacy Program, is a project at VCU that is lead by Dr. Means.  The goal of the project is to use a 3D scanner and software to create 3-dimensional digital copies of artifacts from various archaeological sites and test the equipment’s capabilities and limitations.  These copies can be used to study, analyze, and conserve artifacts without having to handle them too much.  Having them also creates the opportunity to share these artifacts with the public through digital means.  We also have a 3D printer, which generates plastic replicas of artifacts based on the scans.  This was my first time being involved in the project or handling the equipment so I was a bit nervous, but excited!

We arrived early, so instead of getting straight to work we dropped off the equipment and took a walk around Colonial Williamsburg.  On our way we stopped at two archaeological sites, the blacksmith shop and armory and a field school site on the College of William and Mary’s campus.  When we arrived at the William and Mary site we were warmly greeted by field director Mark Kostro, who explained the project to us.  The site was once the location of the Bray School, a religious school for free and enslaved African-Americans during the 18th Century.  It was supposedly held in a cottage that once stood where the Brown Hall dormitory now stands.  The excavation site is located directly beside the dorms, which would have been the Bray School’s yard, and they are hoping to find material evidence that confirms that the school did, in fact, exist here.

They began excavation of this site with geosurvey and then dug some shovel test pits to establish where to dig their units.  There were some anomalies in the results, so they based the location of their units on them.  They already had a few very large areas opened up when we arrived, and I was impressed by their depth and the clear stratigraphy displayed in each profile, as it was much more defined than anything I’ve seen at Ferry Farm!  It was really interesting for me to see another site and to learn about the methods used there, especially since they are so drastically different than the ones I have been using!

After our adventure in town we returned to the Archaeology Lab to get ready for the demonstration.  Courtney showed me how to set up the scanner while Allen set out all of the plastic artifact replicas and information.  Emily Williams, Conservator of Archaeological Materials at The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, was very warm and welcoming and brought us some samples to scan.  One item was a pair of small 19th Century leather shoes, which everyone was very eager to try!  Dr. Means quickly taught me how the software works and how to start a scan, and before I knew it we were creating a 3D image of a shoe!  It worked a lot more quickly than I thought it would, and by the time it was done there was a room full of people who had gathered to see how the machine works.  They seemed to be very impressed and had plenty of questions about the project.  As Dr. Means explained the purpose of the project and mechanics of the scanner, others began bringing in artifacts to test.

The next one was a Chinese export porcelain bowl that dates to the 18th century.  The team was worried that it wouldn’t work because of the shiny glaze, but after the first few rotations we could see that it was not only gathering the shape of the bowl, but the bright colors and beautiful design as well.  By the time it was done, we had a great image that was so clear the brush strokes in the paint could be seen on the sides!  We tried a couple of metal objects after that, but the surfaces were too reflective for the scanner to record.  Dr. Means said that if they were coated in powder they might work, and that he would be happy to try it next time he comes down!  After all of the questions were answered and the scans complete, we packed up and headed out.

It was so exciting to be a part of the demonstration, and I am very happy that I got to go and learn more about the project and the equipment!  I will be getting some more in-depth training on Friday, when I join Dr. Means for some scanning at Ferry Farm!  I will also be blogging from the field that day, as Friday is the Day of Archaeology, when archaeologists around the world will be sharing what they do to raise awareness about this amazing field!

You can read more about the Day of Archaeology on their website (http://www.dayofarchaeology.com/), and be sure to tune in on Friday to see what everyone is up to!!!

Also, please check out the Virtual Curation Unit blog (http://vcuarchaeology3d.wordpress.com/) to see some 3D scans, learn more about the project, and read all about the team’s adventures!

The Last Day

Ferry Farm field school officially ended on Friday, and it was a bittersweet farewell.  The day began with a final test on ceramics, which I passed with flying colors!  After that we were all given the option to stay and work in the field if we wanted to.  I chose to stay, along with many of the other VCU students and my old digging partner, Jason.  Before we could start working, however, every student and intern was invited down to the river to engage in the old Ferry Farm tradition of throwing rocks across the Rappahannock River.

This tradition derives from an old story in which George Washington, as a young boy on Ferry Farm, threw a rock all the way across the Rappahannock to the other side.  People have been trying to recreate this feat ever since, and to the best of my knowledge the only record of someone actually making it was a Union Soldier during the Civil War.  Nearly everyone tried their hand and failed, but we had great fun doing it!  Then, one of the VCU students, Ian, began throwing them and landed the first few rocks just a couple of feet from the opposite shore.  We all cheered as he tried again and again, always barely missing it, until one last time when he got a particularly strong running start and then hurled it as far as he possibly could.  We waited anxiously as it flew, hoping that this one would just make it at least as far as the last, until it finally smacked into the ground on the other side!  We couldn’t believe it, and just as the excitement was dying down and we all started walking away, he did it again!  It was quite the spectacle!

We all returned to our units shortly after that and continued digging.  The mood remained light and fun as Jason and I got through the rest of our plowzone, which yielded some very nice pieces of ceramic and other historic artifacts.  Just as we were leveling it off, however, there was a loud crack of thunder and we were forced to pack up for the day.  Before we left, our assistant field supervisor, James, thanked us all for our hard work and dedication during the past five weeks, which meant a lot to all of us.  On my way out I turned in my volunteer forms and said goodbye to everyone.  It was hard to leave, but it helped to know that I’ll be returning soon.

I spent the evening with my friends at a restaurant in Fredericksburg, where we celebrated our completion of field school and our last night in town together.  On Saturday morning I packed up my belongings and drove home.  I can’t believe how quickly this all went by, and how much I have gained from it along the way!

This field school has been such an incredible experience for me.  I have learned so much, met so many wonderful people, and been to some really spectacular places that I never would have traveled to on my own.  I have also gained a lot of confidence in myself and in my potential, which I never would have discovered if I had not come here.

I want to thank everyone who has shared this experience with me, and assure you that this is not the end!  I am going to continue writing about my experiences in the field over the summer, and about all of the adventures that lie ahead of me in the future.  I am so grateful that I was able to come to Ferry Farm, as it has opened up a world of opportunities to me.  This is just the beginning of a wonderful journey, so stay tuned!

(My last two finds as a field school student at Ferry Farm.)

Fooling Around and Winding Down

Today was our last full day in the field, and I couldn’t think of a better day to wrap up my experience here!  Our group was much smaller than usual because the students from USF were all on a field trip, leaving only the VCU students, the interns, and our supervisors on the field.  We were all prepared for an incredibly long and hot day, as it was almost as hot at 8 o’clock this morning as it was yesterday afternoon.  With that in mind, I returned to my unit with my friend Wells, who was my digging partner for the day since Jason was with the USF group.  The two of us started off by leveling out the 20th century disturbance layer, which yielded a surprising number of artifacts, including the bottom of what was most likely a medicine bottle, some ceramics, and even some pipe stems.  Once we finished that we were ready to start in on our plowzone, which is always the best part!  We stopped quite a few times for water breaks, and about an hour before lunch Dr. Means came to the site and surprised us all with some amazing sherbet popsicles!

During lunch we all gathered under the shade of a tree and ate together, which was very nice and relaxing.  A cool breeze swept in as we all got back to work, making the brutal heat a little less harsh.  Wells and I started digging into the plowzone right away and immediately started recovering artifacts.  We found quite a few large pieces of ceramic, nails, some pipe stems, and a lot of glass.  We also had a few special finds, such as a piece of Washington-era cauliflower ware ceramic, two copper-alloy buttons, and an exhausted English gun flint.

Dave Muraca, the director of archaeology at Ferry Farm, came out to the field and helped us screen our soil in the afternoon, then told us a bit about what was happening with the site and what we have been finding.  He explained that the southern part of the excavation area has been yielding a lot of artifacts that suggest it was an activity area, the center part is showing indications of a feature that may be surfacing, and the far northern portion does not appear to hold much at all.  He hopes that as the excavation continues this summer we will find better signs of the buildings we are looking for, but our progress is good so far.  It was great to receive an official update about the data we have been gathering over the course of the past five weeks, and I was proud to know that I was a part of that data gathering process.

By the end of the day we managed to get through most of the plowzone, but not all of it.  Tomorrow I have a test on ceramics in the morning, and will be digging for the rest of the day.  Hopefully I will be able to get through the plowzone, and maybe even the sub-plowzone in that time, as it is my last day as a field student!  I will be returning as a volunteer for the rest of the summer though, so I am looking forward to that.  Today was a very light and fun day, and I really enjoyed it a lot.  It was the perfect way to bring my last week here to a close!

(A sample of our finds from the plowzone today-  On the left are some ceramics, including the cauliflower ware at the bottom.  On the top right there are two buttons, and on the bottom right is an English gun flint.)

The Hottest of Days

We took down the rest of our baulk this morning and finally got our third unit!  The new one shared a corner with our last one, and is the only one still standing in the southern half of the excavation region.  The topsoil layer had been removed yesterday by another team, so when Jason and I got to it this morning all we had to do was wrap up the paperwork for that context and then start on the 20th century disturbance layer.  We managed to make it all the way down to the plowzone today, and found quite a few artifacts along the way!  There were a surprising number of pipe stems, nails and ceramics, including three pieces of porcelain!  I was impressed with how much we got done in the morning, but as the day progressed we slowed down quite a bit.

Today was intensely hot and humid, and a lot of people were struggling with their work.  Our supervisors made sure that we drank plenty of water and took frequent breaks in the shade, but over the course of the day I could feel my muscles getting more and more tired.  This was my first time working in heat like this, so it was difficult to adjust, but I think I’ll be more prepared from now on because I now know what to expect on days like this.

Tomorrow is our last full day of field school, which is very sad!  We will be working half of Friday, and then it is over for the season.  I can’t believe how fast it has gone by, and how much I have come to love it in this short time!  I’m going to make the best of these last two days, and also turn in an application to come back as a volunteer!  I am hoping I will be able to finish my third unit in these last days as well, which is an ambitious, but not impossible goal!  Hopefully the weather is less harsh tomorrow, but I’ll be bringing plenty of water and sunscreen just in case!

(Our third unit, and the last one of this field school!)

Mount Vernon

We spent today at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home near Alexandria,Virginia.  George inherited the estate after the death of his older half-brother, Lawrence, in 1752 and lived there until his death in 1799.  I had never been to Mount Vernon before, so I was very excited to see it and to learn more about George’s adult life, especially since I have been digging at the place where he spent his childhood for a month now.

Our tour began at the archaeology lab, where we discussed the excavations that have taken place there over the years and got to see where the artifacts they have recovered are cleaned, repaired, photographed, and stored.  The excavation I was most interested in was of a large trash pile, or “midden” that they uncovered on the South Lawn in 1990.  Over 75,000 artifacts were recovered from this site, and many were in fairly good and even repairable condition.  We got to see some of these artifacts, such as repaired bottles, jugs, ceramics, and even a wine bottle seal that had on it the name of its owner, John Posey, who was George’s friend and neighbor.  I loved being able to see the artifacts clean and reassembled, and it was a thrill to see that many of them were the same types of ceramics that we have been finding at Ferry Farm.

After our tour of the lab we were taken to the excavation site that they are currently working on, which is located across from the coach house.  It is a very small site, with only two units in progress at the moment.  They are searching for a fence line that would have existed during George’s time, which they hope to recreate after establishing its location.  I learned that much of Mount Vernon was restored in this manner, using the archaeological record as a guideline to ensure accuracy, which fascinated me because it is similar to the process that is currently taking place at Ferry Farm.  Once we saw the dig site and spoke to the archaeologists there, we all got to walk the grounds for while and see some of the outbuildings before going on our scheduled tour of the house.  The buildings were all impressively restored and held a great deal of information that helped visitors truly understand and appreciate the history of the place.  We also got to see the garden, which was much larger than the one we have at Ferry Farm, but featured many of the same plants.

Our tour of the house began at noon, and was much different than any tour I had been on before.  Instead of being lead around by a single guide, we were sent through in groups and met a new guide in each room that told us a bit about the specific area in which we were standing.  We started in the formal dining room, which was very large and featured some elaborate decoration that was meant to emulate the personality and interests of George Washington.  The lovely green walls were offset by beautiful white plaster molding around the windows and doors, which was done by the same man who was responsible for the plaster work at Kenmore.  On each corner of the ceiling there were also plaster moldings of farm tools and crops, which represented George’s love of farming.  Pictures that were hung around the room and a stunning scene carved into the marble around the fireplace helped to emphasize this point as well.  Next, we went out the back door and then reentered through the central hall, where we were able to see into the parlors, a guest bedroom, and the family dining room.  We were also able to see the key to the Bastille, which George proudly displayed on the wall in this hallway.  We then made our way up the stairs and through the hallway, where we could see the upstairs bedrooms and the master bedroom that George and Martha shared.  There was also a third floor, but it is closed to the public during peak tourist season.  On our way out we saw the study, and then stepped outside to see the beautiful view over the Potomac River.

After the house tour we all ate lunch and then checked out the education center, which was my favorite part of the whole trip.  It featured artifacts, interactive history exhibits, forensic reconstructions of George Washington at various ages, and even a set of his dentures!  There was also a hands-on exhibit, which was only for children ages 3-8.  When I first read that I was disappointed because I love being able to touch things in museums, but then it occurred to me that I touch the Washington’s belongings nearly every day at Ferry Farm.  That made me feel very good about myself and even more proud of what I do.

We passed through the museum and then stopped at George and Martha’s tombs before heading out and concluding our day at Mount Vernon.  I really enjoyed the trip and I feel like I learned a lot about George and his family.  I also learned a lot about archaeology and reconstruction on historical sites, and it made me very excited to see what Ferry Farm will look like in the future!  I think that it is important when working on an historical site to know about the people who lived there, as it is their stories you are trying to tell.  I feel privileged to be able to contribute to the story of such a significant figure!

(The Washington’s House at Mount Vernon)

A Short and Rainy Day

This morning when I woke up the sky was dark and dreary, and the forecast did not look promising.  We all made our way to the field anyway, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst, and sure enough as soon as we arrived it began to rain.  Our field director, Laura, made the call to send the field students home for the morning just in case it got worse.  I was disappointed, especially since we only have a few days left to dig and Jason and I are so close to finishing our unit.  Some of the other students felt the same way, so we all asked if we could stay despite the weather, and Laura was kind enough to let us!

We all got to work as quickly as possible and Jason and I immediately started taking down our baulk.  We first had to gather the context sheets from the previously excavated layers so that if we found any artifacts in the soil as we scraped it down they could be placed in bags with the context number that corresponds to that layer.  Next, we had to look at the wall of the baulk and determine where each layer was so that we knew how far to go down before bagging the artifacts and officially closing the context.  We had three layers in this unit- 20th century disturbance, plowzone, and sub-plowzone- so those were the layers that we needed to identify in the profile.  Once we did, it was time to start taking it down.  We got through the first layer and screened it without finding any artifacts, but before we could continue to the next, the weather got much worse and we had to close everything up and get the equipment put away.  We were sent home for the rest of the day, as the rain did not let up until late in the afternoon.

I was sad that I did not get to spend the day digging, and that we did not get to close our unit!  But we will certainly wrap it up on Wednesday and either start a new unit or help with someone else’s.  Tomorrow we will be spending the day at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home near Alexandria, Virginia.  I have never been there before, so I am very excited to see it!  I think it will be amazing to see where Washington spent his adult life, especially since we have been working on the site where he spent his childhood.  I think it will be a great experience, and I’ll be sure to write about it as soon as I return tomorrow evening!