My Final Day at Ferry Farm

I started my week with a little digging at Ferry Farm on Monday, which turned out to be my last day in the field!  The interns have been working hard over the past couple of weeks, and had nearly every unit completed in this season’s excavation area when I arrived on Monday morning.  I was teamed up with Mallory, an excellent archaeologist and one of the interns at the site, who was working on the plowzone of a very interesting unit.  This unit shared its south wall with one that had been excavated last week and had yielded a circular pile of shells just below the plowzone.  The shell midden extended into our unit, so our task for the day was to take it down to the sub-plowzone level and uncover the rest of the feature.  This midden is just one of a few exciting features that have been uncovered at Ferry Farm recently.  Others include a posthole and other evidence of a building feature on the site, but the meaning of these finds won’t be fully understood until the site is finished and evaluated.

We began shoveling up the dirt in thin layers, which was more challenging than usual as there were deep utility trenches running through the units surrounding ours, so I struggled to find a safe place to stand as I worked.  One of these trenches ran directly through the center of our unit, so we also had to be careful not to knock too much dirt from our plowzone down into it.

As we were working, our field director, Laura Galke, asked Mallory and I if we could stop for a moment and help her and James take some measurements from the 2008 excavation region, which is the large area directly adjacent to our current excavation on the west side.  No map was ever drawn of the units and their features from that field season, so this year Laura has to map it so that their findings from that year can be interpreted and connected to our findings from this year.  To start this process, she needed exact measurements from specific points in the area taken with a theodolite, which is what she needed our help with.  My job was to hold the measuring tape directly over the starting point while Mallory and James pulled it to the points in the field and Laura collected the information.  It didn’t take long, but it was an interesting process to witness and I’m glad I was able to help out!

After the measurements were taken, Mallory and I returned to our unit and kept working.  We stopped to screen when we were about halfway through the plowzone, and discovered some very interesting artifacts when we did!  There were quite a few ceramics, including a piece of a rhenish chamber pot, some nails, a latch hook, a pipe stem with three incised lines going across the top, some pipe bowl fragments, a few prehistoric flakes, and one mysterious tooth that was roughly two inches long and badly discolored.  Our faunal expert, Katie, was even baffled by it, but she was able to confirm that it belonged to a large animal that fell somewhere between the size of a dog and a bear, and that it was very, very old.

We had lunch after screening and then returned to the unit to continue digging.  At this point, the shell midden was becoming increasingly clear on the south end of the unit, so Mallory began carefully clearing the dirt around the shells with her trowel to define the boundaries of the feature.  Meanwhile, I worked on the other side of the unit, taking it all the way down to the sub-plowzone.  As I was working, I noticed a large bone fragment in one of the corners, so I carefully excavated around it with my trowel until I was able to remove it from the ground.  I took it to Katie, who told me it was most likely part of a pig femur, and pointed out that there were tiny tooth marks on one of the sides, which came from another small creature who had been nibbling on it.

Before long, Mallory and I had completely taken down the plowzone and uncovered the rest of the shell midden, which extended almost halfway into our unit.  We took our elevations, soil colors, measurements, and photograph and I began mapping the unit while Mallory screened the rest of the soil.  Dr. Means made a brief visit while I was working on the paperwork and said hello to everyone, and shortly after he left I finished my map and we officially closed the unit.  After that I helped James map his unit, and by the time we were finished it was time to close up.

I planned to return to the field on Thursday to help them close up the remaining units, but I found out on Wednesday evening that they had officially finished digging for the season and will be spending their final week working on mapping the 2008 region.  I was sad to learn that I won’t be returning to dig at Ferry Farm for the rest of the year, but I am so happy that I got to work there as much as I did this summer!  My experience at Ferry Farm has been incredible, and I want to thank everyone there, especially Dave Muraca, Laura Galke, James Nyman, and all of the interns for welcoming me and my fellow students, and for patiently guiding us through field school and allowing us to return when it was over!  I’m so glad that I came to Ferry Farm, and I hope that I can return again for the next field season!

The shell midden that Mallory and I excavated on my last day at Ferry Farm!


Though my fieldwork at Ferry Farm is over, I am still keeping busy as an intern for the Virtual Curation Unit!  I spent Tuesday with Dr. Means and Mariana Zechini at the Fairfax County archaeology lab, which you can read about at!


Scanning at Mount Vernon

I spent the day on Tuesday at Mount Vernon with Dr. Means, Courtney Bowles, and Mariana Zechini.  We were there to scan a few artifacts from the Mount Vernon collection, including two figurines, a colonoware bowl, and a very special trunk plate.  We were warmly welcomed by everyone there, and archaeologist Esther White very kindly helped us to get set up in the lab.

The headless man (left) and woman (right) figurines standing on top of our scanner.

Our first artifact of the day was a small clay figurine of a woman who was missing her head.  She took about a half an hour to complete, so during that time we photographed the artifacts that were next in line and Mariana and I learned how to complete the paperwork for each scan.  After she was done, we quickly moved on to the next object, which was a small clay man who was also headless.  Once we started his scan, we decided to use our spare time to walk the grounds and visit the archaeological dig site.

Luke explains the site to Mariana (left), Courtney (center), and I (right).

We made our way up the hill toward the house, took some pictures, and then moved on to the site.  They are currently excavating in the laundry yard across from the coach house, with the goal of recreating a fence that stood there during Washington’s time.   It is a small site with some very complicated units, which the archaeologists there were diligently working on when we arrived.  One of the archaeologists, Luke, greeted us and explained all of the work they have been doing there and why.  I really enjoyed seeing the site and learning about its history, and I appreciated how friendly and welcoming everyone was.

After our journey to the field, we returned to the lab to check on the man figurine.  He scanned quite nicely and we were then able to move on to the copper alloy trunk plate.  This plate is a very special artifact at Mount Vernon, as it is engraved with the name “Gen. Washington”.  We were all very excited to be able to work with such a significant artifact, and the people from Mount Vernon were excited to see how the scan would turn out.

The copper trunk plate engraved with “Gen. Washington” (top), and one scan of the artifact with a data hole on the right side (bottom).

Our ultimate goal for this object was to successfully record the writing, which turned out to be somewhat challenging.  We first did a panel scan, which means that the lasers run across the front of the item but the platform does not rotate, so the entire object is not recorded.  The scan worked with the exception of one large data hole (a blank spot) on the right side.  Courtney used some powder to lightly coat the area and we tried once again.  It worked a little better the second time, but it was still not as clear as it needed to be.  After changing its position and rotating it several times, Dr. Means discovered that the angle of the plate in relation to the scanner was what determined where the data hole would appear.  Once we got the angle right, the trunk plate finally scanned successfully and the writing was recorded in perfect detail!

Colonoware bowl with a round hole on the side.


Our last item of the day was a colonoware bowl that has been partially reconstructed and has a small round hole on the side.   The Mount Vernon Ladies Association would like to gain a better understanding of this piece, as colonoware is a type of ceramic that has been the topic of much debate and controversy in the archaeological world.  They would also like to learn what the function of the hole might have been, so we are hoping that creating a 3D digital model of it will allow everyone to study it in further detail and perhaps answer some of their questions.  We did two scans of the bowl and ended up with a fantastic copy, which made everyone very happy!

It was a wonderful day, and I’m so grateful that I have been able to get involved with the scanning project and go on these trips with Dr. Means and my fellow students.  We had a great time at Mount Vernon and got a lot done in the process!  I can’t wait for our next adventure!

Mariana, Me, Courtney, and Dr. Means in front of George Washington’s tomb at Mount Vernon.

Exciting Finds at Ferry Farm

Thursday was a great, but extremely hot day at Ferry Farm!  I began by helping Karen finish the sub-plowzone layer of her unit, which ended up revealing some interesting stains in the soil.  These stains, or dark spots, usually mean that something existed there that disturbed the normal soil composition.  Archaeologists at Ferry Farm have to be keenly aware of these changes because they could be evidence of a feature, which is exactly what we are looking for at this site.  Karen outlined the stains by scoring the dirt with her trowel and then photographed the unit.  We then proceeded to excavate the most distinct spot, which had been seen earlier and excavated separately as a shovel test pit (STP) that was dug during a prior excavation and then filled in.  It reappeared at the sub-plowzone layer, but this time it was unclear whether it was an STP or a posthole from a structure that may have stood there.  We began carefully digging through the soil and very quickly found a piece of plastic, which confirmed that it was an STP, as opposed to anything historical.

After lunch, Karen returned to the unit to continue working on the STP, but I was assigned to another unit with a volunteer named Tabitha.  Our new unit had already been excavated down to the 20th Century disturbance layer and had a very deep STP in the southeast corner.  We worked our way down to the base of the 20th Century layer, and found quite a few pieces of ceramic, a pipe stem and piece of a pipe bowl, some nails, and some glass.  Tabitha had to leave a little early, so one of the interns, Andrew, came to help me level out the layer and screen the rest of our soil before the day was over.  During our last round of screening, Andrew found a lead seal, which was very exciting!  We were unable to see any sort of writing on it in the field, but some may appear when it is cleaned in the lab!

We closed up around four o’clock and headed home to some much needed air-conditioning.  I won’t be back in the field for a week or so, but I did hear some very interesting news about the excavation yesterday.  Apparently an 18th Century structure has been found on our site!  It is located around the corner of units that Victoria and I were working on last Friday.  I will post more about this exciting find as I learn more about it, and I will be returning to Ferry Farm as soon as possible to see for myself!

Plowzone, Projectile Points, and Public Archaeology

This morning I woke up bright and early and made the long journey up to Ferry Farm, which is always a trip I am happy to make!  I arrived in the field at the usual time and was teamed up with Karen, a great archaeologist who is one of the interns and was my TA during field school.  She has been working on a unit in the northern part of the site and had just come to the base of the plowzone, which she asked me to help her level out.

Karen (left) and I (right) leveling out the plowzone layer of her unit.

We had to take down the corners of the unit quite a bit, but before long the ground was beautifully even and we were able to take a picture and wrap up the context.  There were surprisingly few ceramics in the bottom of this layer, but a large amount of charcoal and quite a few prehistoric flakes.  We also found a large piece of the base of a bottle, which I thought was very neat.  As we were working, Dr. Means came out from the lab and asked me if I’d like to do some scanning in the afternoon.  He was working with projectile points that have been found at Ferry Farm, which is something that I am very interested in, so I decided to join him after lunch!

Karen and I finished screening our soil just before the break, and after eating I said farewell to everyone and headed inside for the remainder of the day.  When I got to the lab, Dr. Means had the scanner set up and running and an area prepared for picture-taking and data-recording.  He taught me how to enter artifacts into the record book, photograph them, and complete the necessary paperwork before scanning them.  I also got to start a few scans myself, which was very exciting!

A projectile point that I photographed in the lab.

All of the artifacts that we worked with today were prehistoric, and most were projectile points made by people who either occupied this region or passed through it at one time.  This is particularly significant to me because I may be doing a research project on these artifacts as part of my internship this fall, so I am really glad that I was able to come to the lab today!  It was amazing to be able to see and hold these items, which were created by the hands of someone who held them thousands of years before me.

Visitors can watch as artifacts are washed, labeled, mended, and- on some days- scanned through the windows in this hallway.

As we were working, a few people appeared at the window to watch the scanner run.  We went out to greet them and tell them about our project, and even brought them a plastic wig curler that was printed using the 3D scanner to hold.  They absolutely loved it, and I really enjoyed being able to talk to them about the project and about Ferry Farm.  Getting the public involved is a huge part of Ferry Farm archaeology, so I’m always happy to contribute when I can!

Once the day was over and the scanning was finished, I packed up and drove back home.  Today was a wonderful day, and I hope to come back again on Thursday to do some more fieldwork!

Tomorrow will be a particularly exciting day at Ferry Farm, as there will be a huge 4th of July celebration!  Admission is only $1, and there will be plenty of games, food, history, entertainment and other activities for the whole family to enjoy.  There will also be archaeology and 3D scanning taking place all day, so if you are in the neighborhood you should certainly stop by!  You can find out more about this event on their website:

Have a happy and safe holiday!