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!


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