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.
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.
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!