Last week was my first week as the 2013 VCU field school teaching assistant, and what a week it was! On Monday I met the new students at Ferry Farm and gave them a tour of the site, discussing the history of the land and the archaeology that has been done there. After that, we all headed out to the field and met Laura, Eric, and fellow intern and VCU student Allen Huber. Allen and I will be working together with the students as Crew Chiefs, teaching them the basics of excavation, answering their questions, and supervising their work for the next month.
We got them started by having them split into four groups and gather all of the equipment they needed to open a new unit. Allen and I walked them through each step – from starting their paperwork to shoveling up topsoil. Each group managed to remove the majority of their topsoil layer before the day was over, and I was very impressed by how well everyone worked together to get it done!
On Tuesday two of the groups completely excavated the 20th Century layer of their units, while another group – Lauren and Mariana – spotted a circular feature in the southeast corner of their unit. The feature was characterized by bright orange soil and a high concentration of rocks. Having come across several similar features in the past, Allen and I immediately checked a map we have that shows the location of the shovel test pits that were dug in the 1990’s. Shovel test pits – or STPs – are small, round holes that are dug at a set distance from one another across a landscape to determine what the ground may hold before fully excavating it. Sure enough, this circular feature appeared on the map, and we had them stop excavating the unit at that point so that they could remove the soil within the STP separately.
The next day began like any other. The students continued excavating, and half of them reached the top of the antebellum layer. Allen and I decided to open our own unit in the same area as the students, which was very exciting as neither one of us has worked on a full unit from top to bottom so far this season! We started by setting up string around our unit, taking elevations, and getting the paperwork ready. We then cut the topsoil into squares using our shovels and scooped them up into the wheelbarrow. We managed to get to the base of the topsoil layer a few hours before closing time, but as everyone was screening and I was helping one of the students with their unit, a dark cloud started to make its way over the trees toward us. Before we even had a chance to react, the winds picked up and dirt and debris began flying across the site. We rushed to put away the equipment and pull the tarps over the open excavation area, but the wind got stronger and stronger, and thunder and lightning quickly followed. The tarps began flying into the air before we could weigh them down, so a few of us threw ourselves across them just to keep them in place long enough for the others to grab the cinder blocks. The wind became so loud that we had to yell over it just to hear each other, but within minutes we had everything safely stored, the site covered, and were able to get safely indoors just before the rain started to pour. It was an incredibly chaotic, intense, and somewhat thrilling end to a fairly average day, and I was very impressed with how well everyone – especially the new students – reacted to the situation and worked together to make sure we all made it through safely!
On Thursday we had a field trip to the George Washington Birthplace National Monument, where museum curator Amy Muraca very graciously took us on a tour of the site and the lab. It was a lot of fun, and I learned quite a bit about the Washington family and their lives before they made their way to Ferry Farm. We were also able to surprise her with some plastic replicas of artifacts that we scanned there last August (see the blog here), which was very fun! Friday went smoothly, as each of the students worked through their units and Allen and I made it about halfway through the 20th Century layer of ours. All in all, it was a very eventful and exciting first week for the field school students, and I can’t wait to get back in the field for week two!
You can read more about their experiences at Ferry Farm on the official field school blog, vcu2013ferryfarm.wordpress.com!