A New Chapter

The southwest quarter of our feature, partially excavated!

The southwest quarter of our feature, partially excavated!

Katie and I completed the second quarter of our unit last week, and were left with just about as many questions as we began with.  We started by scraping the unit and outlining the feature, which was significantly darker than the soil that surrounded it.  As we began excavating, however, we quickly noticed the darker soil start to disappear along the bottom edge of the feature.  This was frustrating at first, as it left us with a shape that was completely different than the one we found in the first quadrant, and was not consistent with the feature being culturally formed.

Artifacts recovered from our feature last week

Artifacts recovered from our feature last week.

As we continued excavating, we began finding some interesting artifacts along the top portion of the unit, where the feature dipped down much lower than the rest.  Among our discoveries were the base of a wine bottle, a pipe stem, a wrought nail, and two pieces of tin-glazed ceramics which appeared to be from the same vessel as the two we found in the first quarter.  All of the artifacts we found dated to the 18th Century or earlier, so despite its many mysteries, we know for certain that this feature dates to the 1700’s.

Once the quarter was completely excavated, it was time for Katie and I to come up with some possible interpretations for it.  This quarter was partially excavated in 2008, so the top layer of it was missing, which may explain why the shape was not exactly the same as the first quarter, which was fully intact.  This quarter dipped in at the center in the same way that the first quarter did though, so we were able to confirm that it was, in fact, culturally formed.  Other than that, we were not able to come to a solid conclusion about this perplexing feature.

Our feature after excavating two quarters!

Our feature after excavating two quarters!

After a great deal of discussion and thought, our field directors decided that it would be best to close the feature for now and hold off further excavation until we have a firmer grasp on what it may be.  We agreed with this decision, and on Friday we wrapped up our paperwork and very carefully covered up the remaining quarters of our feature.  We spent the rest of the day helping our fellow interns work on a series of units in the middle section of our excavation area that needed to be taken down to subsoil from the colonial layer.  It was a nice, relaxing day, and an excellent way to end the first chapter of my summer at Ferry Farm…

The next chapter began today, as I took on the responsibilities of the Teaching Assistant for VCU’s field school, which runs from now until the end of July.  I am very excited about this new task, and I hope I can pass on to the students all of the knowledge that I have gained, as well as a bit of my love and enthusiasm for the field!  It’s the beginning of a new and exciting adventure at Ferry Farm, and I look forward to sharing it with this year’s field school students!

The 2013 VCU field school crew!

The 2013 VCU field school crew!

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The First Quarter

Our new feature!

Our new feature!

Katie and I excavated the first quarter of our new feature last week!  We began by giving a fresh scrape to all four of the units that contained the feature so that we could better define its boundaries.  The two units to the east were a level higher than those to the west, as the western half was excavated during the FF-14 excavation season (we are FF-20), and they did not spot the feature until the top layer was already gone.  It was a bit difficult to spot the boundaries on the higher half, but after studying it very carefully and bringing out a ladder to get a better view from above, we were able to draw a clear line around the darkened soil.  We began the excavation process by photographing and mapping the entire feature, then getting the paperwork ready to begin excavating the first quarter.

We will be excavating three quarters of this feature, beginning with the northeast unit.  This is the most disturbed, with a 20th Century utility trench running through one side and an antebellum trench running through the other, as well as an old shovel test pit that was dug by an archaeologist in the 1990’s between them.  Removing this quadrant first will eliminate some distractions and allow us to study the feature as a whole more clearly.

A small glass bead found in our unit last week.

A small glass bead found in our unit last week.

We finally began digging on Monday of last week, after all of the paperwork and preparations were done.  Katie and I were extremely excited to get to work, and very quickly started making discoveries.  We found an abundance of burned bone in the first layer, including three pieces that were completely black and appeared to be polished.  We also discovered some wrought nails, a small animal skull fragment, and a melted piece of window glass, which was very cool!  The next day we found a tiny blue and green glass bead and one thick piece of tin-glazed ceramic, which both seem to suggest that the feature dates to the 18th Century!  We did not find much else in the following layer, and in the days that followed we had to pause our excavation twice to take out the rest of the 20th Century utility trench and the shovel test pit, as there was some soil remaining in each of them that did not relate to our feature and would have interfered with our data if we did not excavate them separately.

On Thursday we reached a new level that consisted mostly of mortar made with bits of oyster shell, which also date to the 18th Century.  This was the last layer of our feature, which we discovered as we removed it on Friday and found a very heavy concentration of rocks and subsoil underneath.  Today we finished cleaning up the unit, mapped it, drew a profile of the south wall, and wrapped up the paperwork for this quarter.

The northeast quarter of our feature, completely excavated!

The northeast quarter of our feature, completely excavated!

Overall our excavation of this portion of the feature was not what we expected.  We had very few artifacts and found almost nothing that indicated what the feature was or when it was filled.  Our interpretation thus far is that – based on the size, shape, and slope of the soil – it may be a cellar that was filled in sometime in the 1700’s.  There have been no structures found around it, however, and there was not as much building material as there typically would be in a feature like that.  Tomorrow we will begin excavating the quarter to the southwest of this one, which will enable us to see the profile of the north and east walls.  That unit is on the FF-14 side, so the top layer has already been removed.  There are also no utility trenches or other disturbances passing through this part of the feature, so excavation of this quarter should go rather quickly.  I’m looking forward to digging into another section of this mysterious feature, and hopefully by the end of this week we will have more answers!

In other news, I would like to encourage everyone to read the May 2013 issue of the SAA Archaeological Record, which features a wonderful series of articles titled “I love archaeology because…” written by archaeologists from around the country – including me! This is my first publication and I am so very grateful to have had the opportunity to write it, and to be in such good company on these pages! You can read the entire issue online here!

Our Next Assignment

Piecing together one of the ceramics we found yesterday

Piecing together one of the ceramics we found yesterday

Yesterday we began taking down the unit adjacent to the one we completed last week with high hopes that there would be a feature in it.  The excavation started off well, immediately yielding a few pieces of ceramic that we were able to put together to make two parts of the same dish.  We also found some large chunks of brick, more ceramics, and even a tiny straight pin that I was very lucky to spot as we were digging!  As we got closer to our intended level, however, our hope of finding the rest of the feature that we saw in the last unit started to fade.  No major soil stains existed, with the exception of a line that ran across the bottom that was likely caused by a root.  The day was almost over by the time we were finished, so we decided to come back to it in the morning to see if we could spot any differences with fresh eyes and a fresh scrape.

A small straight pin found in our unit below my trowel on the right!

A small straight pin found in our unit below my trowel on the right!

This morning Katie and I returned to the unit and unfortunately did not see any changes.  It was disappointing to learn that our feature was apparently not a feature after all, but we quickly moved on and finished excavating the unit.  After we wrapped up all of the paperwork, we eagerly reported to Laura to get our next assignment, which turned out to be very cool!  Beginning tomorrow we will be excavating a feature in the southern half of the site that was originally uncovered during the 2008 excavation.  The remaining half of it was found and documented by two interns last summer.  We spent the rest of the day reading their field notes and looking at maps of the four units it intersects, and tomorrow we will be uncovering it and starting the excavation.  I am very excited about this assignment, and I can’t wait to see what we will find!

One Month Down

Katie DeCecco working on our first unit last week!

Katie DeCecco working on our first unit last week!

Katie and I kept busy last week as we wrapped up our first month of excavation at Ferry Farm!  On Tuesday we finally finished up the unit that we started on the previous Saturday, which took a little longer than expected as we had to stop mid-way through to map a trail of shells that passed along the southern half of the unit.  There was no soil change associated with these shells so we did not feel it was necessary to excavate them separately.  However, we did take especially thorough notes, photograph it, and sketch the unit and the one directly west of it to make sure we did not lose any information as we proceeded.  After we finished excavating that unit, we moved on to take down a few more.  Our excavation is a bit scattered at this point, as we are working around features that have been uncovered in a few different locations on the site.  To better explain what we have been up to recently, I want to first take a moment to discuss our excavation this season.

Our current excavation area at the end of last year

Our current excavation area at the end of last year

We are currently working in the same excavation area that we were last season.  Last summer we opened up this area one unit at a time, starting with the topsoil and working all the way down to subsoil.  At the end of the season the southern half had been completely excavated, but the northern half was left only partially excavated, with several potential features exposed at the top of the Colonial layer (Ferry Farm has three main layers of soil – 20th Century, antebellum, and colonial).  This year we began by removing the exposed features and planned on taking the remaining units down to subsoil after they were gone.  However, as we began to take the units down, more features started appearing about halfway through the Colonial layer.  Each time this occurred, we had to stop digging and start excavating the units surrounding it to see how large the feature was and look for any other features that may relate to it.  As a result, our entire excavation area has been taken down to two different levels within the same layer of soil.  Once all of them are at relatively the same place, we will proceed to excavate the feature and then wrap up the units.  Meanwhile, fellow interns Courtney and Cate have also just begun excavating a quarter of a Smokehouse cellar that was discovered a few seasons ago, which is very exciting and should result in many interesting finds!

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Some interesting artifacts from our excavation last week

Katie and I worked on a few different units last week, taking each down to the level that the nearest feature was at and checking for any additional features, then stopping excavation and moving on to the next unit.  Some of these units held quite a few treasures, including several large pieces of pipe stem, some lovely tin-glazed, porcelain, redware, and whiteware ceramics, glass, nails, and some pieces of an animal’s jawbone with the teeth still inside!  The last unit we worked on was the one that formerly held the shell feature and supposed post mold (now properly identified as an old STP) that Allen and I excavated.  As we got down to our stopping point in this layer, we noticed a change in the texture and color of the soil in the eastern half of the unit, as well as a significant cluster of charcoal in the center of it.  We designated this a feature and will excavate the unit next to it this week to see if it extends further to the east.  I am excited to see what we might find, and I am hoping it turns out to be something great!

Our last unit of the week with an interesting feature on the right side

Our last unit of the week with an interesting feature on the right side