Memorial Day at Ferry Farm


Our scanner in the Small Finds Lab at Ferry Farm

We observed Memorial Day a little early at Ferry Farm with a World War II themed event on Saturday, May 25th.  I started the day off by saying hello to Dr. Means, who had the scanner set up in our Small Finds Laboratory.  He was scanning artifacts from Ferry Farm’s collections that included projectile points and a plastic WWII toy soldier that were recovered from the site (see his blog post here).  He also took the time to scan a very familiar skull – it was the groundhog that my team found during field school last June (see an unexpected burial)!


Allen Huber works with some WWII reenactors

After having a brief discussion in the lab, we all headed out to the field.  On our way out we were met with several reenactors dressed in World War II uniforms with jeeps, tents, a motorcycle, and a bike that all dated to that era.  As we began digging, some of the reenactors came over to talk to us about what we were doing.  It was a very different environment than we are all used to, but I loved every minute of it!

Post holes and post molds at the site

Post holes and post molds at the site

I was teamed up with Katie again and we began the day working on a new unit.  This one was adjacent to the one that she and Courtney worked on last week, which did not hold any features and was completed on Friday.  Everyone is being especially sensitive to features right now due to how many have turned up in our excavation thus far.  We are looking for post holes and molds in particular, as the one that Allen and I excavated last week appears to be about 10 feet away from a few more that match it.  The unit we took down on Saturday did not have any features in it, but it did yield some very neat artifacts!  These included ceramics, nails, glass, brick, shell, and several teeth.  We did not quite finish taking the unit down to the level that we were supposed to, as we had to put the excavation on hold several times to talk with the public, but we will finish up on Tuesday morning!

Artifacts from our unit on Saturday

Artifacts from our unit on Saturday


Features, Features, Features…

Leg of a cast iron pot found in our shell feature

Leg of a cast iron pot found in our shell feature

We returned to the field after a long weekend on Tuesday and immediately got to work excavating the shell feature that we started working on last week.  We started by removing the top layer of shell on the southern half of the feature, then started a second context for the rest of it.  Our expectations were not high for this mysterious pit, as the northern half did not have much in the way of artifacts, but this half very quickly proved us wrong as we began screening the soil.  In the first load of dirt I found a small piece of ceramic that is most likely prehistoric, and if that is the case it would be my first piece of prehistoric pottery!  Upon removing the top layer we made another discovery – a very large piece of metal sticking out of the ground.  We were very excited about this object and made several guesses as to what it might be, but due to its size we had to excavate nearly half of the feature before it finally came out!  When it did, we quickly brought it to our Site Director, Laura, who identified it as one leg of a very large cast-iron pot.  We also found some small pieces of bone, charcoal, flakes from stone tool making, a straight pin, a pipe stem, and the heel of a pipe bowl with the letters “T” and “D” on either side!

SONY DSCOn Wednesday we continued to work on the feature, taking it all the way down to the bottom where the soil was significantly different and no more artifacts could be found.  We were about halfway there when we closed up the previous day, so it did not take long to get through the rest in the morning.  In this half we found a large tooth with a clear cavity in it, a very neat black button most likely made of jet, and the tip of a skillfully crafted stone tool – another exciting first for me!  We officially wrapped up the feature shortly after lunch, and upon looking at the odd, uneven shape we came to the conclusion that the hole was likely caused by a plant, which was removed from the ground and filled in by someone a very long time ago.  Based on the artifacts we found, it is plausible to say that the hole was filled sometime in the 18th Century, as all of the artifacts we recovered from it date to that period or earlier!

SONY DSCYesterday we excavated a much smaller feature that was situated right next to our last one.  This feature was a clearly visible dark circle that was about a foot in diameter.  We began by excavating the southern half, drawing a profile view, and then excavating the northern half.  It did not take long, and when we finished the hole was a perfect circle with a flat bottom, indicating that it was likely a post mold.  A post mold is created when a post of some kind is removed from the ground and the hole is filled with soil.  Most of the artifacts that we found were small pieces of brick, charcoal and bone, as well as a couple tiny bits of ceramic.  We closed this feature fairly quickly, and I spent the rest of the day helping fellow interns Katie and Courtney clean up their unit.  I’m not sure what my next assignment will be, but I am excited to get to work on some new units as the week winds down!

So Many Shells, So Little Time

SONY DSCLast Wednesday Allen and I began the process of excavating the shell feature that we were assigned to earlier in the week.  We started by creating a detailed map that included the boundaries of the feature, each shell within it, and all significant objects in the two units around it.  I set up rulers on each side and along the center and then measured the objects that we needed to map, giving Allen their exact location so that he could draw them to scale on a grid.  This was a fairly straightforward, but extremely time-consuming task that took the majority of the day to complete.  By the time we were finished, the day was nearly over!  We did not have time to begin working on the feature, so instead Eric asked us to finish excavating a utility trench in another unit.  We managed to finish digging through it by the end of the day, and only had the paperwork to complete the following morning!

SONY DSCWe wrapped up the utility trench early Thursday morning and returned to the shell feature immediately after that.  Because the paperwork and map had already been completed for that context, we were able to get straight to work!  We started by excavating only the north half of the feature so that we would be able to see the profile of it once everything was done.  Shortly after we began digging, however, we had to stop to get a quick lesson in water screening.  Water screening is often used when excavating features, as it allows the excavator to find tiny artifacts like bone fragments, bits of ceramic and pins that would fall through a standard ¼ inch mesh screen.  This was my first time using that method, so I was very excited to try it!  We poured the dirt that we had excavated from our buckets onto the screens, which have a much smaller mesh on them that does not allow small things to fall through.  We then took hoses and gently sprayed the dirt until all that was left on the screen was shell, rocks and artifacts.  Our first load did not yield very much, so we returned to the feature to continue digging.

SONY DSCAllen started by gently working around the large oyster shells on the main part of the feature, collecting them as they began to pop up.  Meanwhile, I began by removing the northernmost tip of the feature, which was on the other side of the utility trench.  In that section I uncovered a few shells and a very nice piece of tin-glazed ceramic with a hand-painted design on it.  After completing that part, I joined Allen in excavating the rest.  It was very difficult to work around all of the shell, but after a few hours we had finally removed the top layer.  Beneath that layer was a continuation of the dark soil that surrounded the shell, but there were only a few scattered shells underneath.  Due to the dramatic change we had to assign a new context to the rest of the feature, so we cleaned up the unit, screened the soil, and completed the paperwork just as the work day came to an end.

SONY DSCWe picked up where we left off on Friday, starting the paperwork for our new layer and getting the water screen ready for use.  We immediately began digging once everything was ready, following the dark, loose soil as we worked.  In this layer we found a fairly large piece of a long bone, more shell, and some small bits of brick, charcoal, and ceramic.  In what seemed like no time at all, we reached the bottom.  The feature ended up being bowl-shaped with an irregular floor, which seems to indicate that it was not intentionally created by a person.  The amount of artifacts recovered from this half of the feature was surprisingly small, though we did make one exciting discovery as we used the water screen to sort through our last bucket of dirt – a straight pin!  Straight pins were used to hold women’s clothes together in the 18th Century, and frequently appear on archaeological sites dating to that time period.  This one was the most common type found at Ferry Farm.

All in all, the excavation of the north half of our shell feature did not provide us with as many answers or artifacts as we had hoped.  Our interpretation of this pit thus far is that it was a naturally formed hole that someone simply filled and – for whatever reason – covered with oyster shells.  We are hoping to gain some more insight when we excavate the other half of the feature, which will most likely be done this week!


Focusing on Features

SONY DSCToday we continued working on the unit that we started yesterday, which ended up holding quite a few surprises.  As we used our trowels to clean up the loose soil, Allen discovered an especially significant artifact in the same area that we were finding the shells yesterday – a wig curler!  Wig curlers were used in the 18th Century to maintain men’s wigs, which George Washington’s brothers were known to wear.  They are made of ball clay and vary in size, and those recovered from Ferry Farm all have a variation of the same “WB” maker’s mark on each end.  These unique artifacts are especially significant at Ferry Farm in part because there have been over 150 found at the site – most of which were discovered during last year’s excavation!  This was our second wig curler of the season, so we were all very excited about it.

SONY DSCOnce we had the unit completely cleaned up, I noticed a strange concentration of artifacts within a circle of darker soil in the southern half of our unit.  We stopped and asked our Site Directors Laura and Eric for a second opinion, and they agreed that it appeared to be a feature of some kind.  The term “feature” in archaeology refers to archaeological remains that cannot be moved, such as buildings, trenches, post holes, or middens.  We were instructed to bring the rest of the unit down to the same level as the feature so that we could see if it expanded or if there were any more.  As we carefully scraped off a bit more of the soil, we noticed a second circular feature just above the first.  Before long, we had the unit completely level and wrapped up the paperwork for the context.  Eric assigned the two features numbers, but we will have to wait to excavate them until later, as we need to bring the surrounding units down to the same layer to see if there are any other features that may be related.

SONY DSCAt this point, the other two groups had each been assigned a different feature to work on that was uncovered during last year’s excavation.  We are currently shifting our focus toward excavating these features so that we may gain a better understanding of the site and what we are working with.  Once Allen and I had completed our unit, Laura assigned us to work on a large pile of shells in the unit directly north of ours.  We had to begin by giving the unit a fresh scrape so that we could better define the boundaries of the feature.  It took a little time, especially because it extends into a second unit to the north, and by the time we were done, it was time to go home!  Tomorrow we will continue to work on the shell midden feature by mapping and excavating it!

A collection of artifacts recovered from our first unit today

A collection of artifacts recovered from our first unit today

A Chilly Monday


Burned seen from our first unit

Today was a great day in the field!  We were joined by two new interns – Courtney and Courtney, one of whom is also a VCL team member and a recent VCU graduate (congratulations, Courtney!).  Dr. Means arrived with some doughnuts and coffee early in the morning as a surprise for her, which was quite warmly welcomed by everyone in the field, as today was rather chilly!  Allen and I continued to work on the same unit from Friday, using our shovels and trowels to take it all the way down to the subsoil on both sides of the trench.  We did not find much on the southwestern side, but the northeast corner yielded some neat artifacts, including some 19th Century ceramics, pipe stems, nails, shell, and brick.  The most exciting and unique find, however, was a small burned seed that Allen found while we were screening!

Allen taking elevation from our second unit

Allen taking elevations from our second unit

After we finished digging and wrapped up the paperwork for the first unit, we quickly moved on to our second one.  This unit is directly next to the first one and has no obvious disturbances running through it, which is a welcomed change!  There is also a pipe and some kind of associated feature just above the northwest corner.  My friend Victoria and I initially opened up the unit with the pipe in it last summer, which you can read about here!  We started digging with our shovels, but as we scraped up the soil we noticed a large concentration of shell coming up in the middle of the unit.  We decided to stop and use our trowels so that we would not miss anything as we carefully worked around it.  The time came to pack up before we got very far along, but we will be back to continue working tomorrow morning!


Day One … Year Two

Last May I posted on this blog for the third time after my first day as a field school student at Ferry Farm (see Day One).  It was the first time I had ever been to an archaeological site, let alone dug at one.  I wrote about arriving at the site and learning of its history, and I described my first time in the field.  I remember how overwhelming it all was, and though I did my best to remain cool and confident throughout the day, I was a nervous wreck on the inside.  I had no idea what to expect from the experience, and I was terrified that I would be terrible, or that I would mess something up.  As the weeks went by, however, I started to become more and more comfortable in the field, and found myself falling ever more in love with archaeology.  Everything was new and exciting, and each day felt like an adventure.  I truly feel that I found myself at Ferry Farm, and though I did not know where I would be or what I would be writing about a year from then, I knew that all would be well as long as I was doing archaeology.

Little did I know, less than a year from my first day at Ferry Farm, I would be returning to the site for yet another first day – this time as an intern.  This marks my first post in a brand new set of adventures at George Washington’s Boyhood Home.


This has been an incredibly eventful year for me.  In the fall I joined the Virtual Curation Laboratory (VCL) at VCU and traveled to numerous sites around Virginia and Pennsylvania, scanning artifacts from a myriad of collections and creating 3D digital models of them.  In March, I attended my first conference and presented a paper that won the undergraduate student paper contest, and I volunteered at my second excavation in Gloucester, VA.  Around February of this year, I applied for a job at Ferry Farm as an excavation intern for the 2013 field season.  Shortly thereafter, I was offered the position, and have been eagerly waiting for the start of the season ever since!  Earlier this week I officially completed my junior year at VCU and took a short trip to the Virginia Museum of Natural History with the VCL.  Then, on Friday, I finally began my first day as an intern at Ferry Farm!

I arrived promptly at 8:30 AM and made my way to our morning meeting space, where I met the other four interns who have reported for duty – Ryan, Cate, Katie, and fellow VCU student and VCL team member Allen Huber.  After a brief discussion I was given a tour of the building by our Site Director Laura Galke, and then sat down to complete my employment paperwork.  Once that was done, I headed out to the field to join the other interns at work!

As I approached the dig site, which is in the same area that we dug last year, I couldn’t help but feel like I was coming home.  We are starting the season by taking down the remaining portion of the northern half of last year’s excavation area.  I was initially paired up with Cate and Ryan, who were working on taking their unit down to the next level.  While we were digging, we were visited by a group of preschool students, who needed one of us to talk to them about what we were doing.  I volunteered and met the students under the tree next to the dig site.  I told them about our excavation and showed them plastic replicas of artifacts (printed by the VCL) that have been recovered from the site.  The kids loved the replicas, and seemed to enjoy my brief talk before they ran to the screening area to get their hands dirty!  I enjoyed talking to them, and I really liked being able to use our replicas in the field!

Me (left) and Allen (right) take elevations as our Site Director, Laura (center) takes photos

Me (left) and Allen (right) take elevations as our Site Director, Laura (center) takes photos

Shortly after that, Katie had to leave to train for her position as our designated public archaeology person, so I took her place as Allen’s digging partner for the day.  Their unit was between contexts when I arrived, meaning that paperwork had to be done before we could move on to the next layer.  The unit had a utility trench running through it, and a large shovel test pit in one corner.  Allen and I took the elevations, mapped the unit, and recorded the color and texture of the soil.  While he was wrapping up the paperwork, I started giving the unit a fresh scrape with my trowel before we took a photo and moved on to the next context.  Katie rejoined us shortly after we started digging, and when we screened the soil from that context we made quite a few interesting finds.  There were a surprising amount of prehistoric stone flakes in this layer, as well as some nails, shell and ceramics.  We continued working on our unit until the end of the day, and before I knew it, it was time to pack up and go home.

Overall, my first day as an intern at Ferry Farm was wonderful, and I am so excited to spend the rest of the summer at the site!  I feel extremely fortunate to have this opportunity, and I can’t wait to see what this field season has in store…

Prehistoric flakes found at Ferry Farm

Stone flakes found at Ferry Farm