Muddy Monday, Montpelier, and More Features

Screening mud on Monday!

Screening mud on Monday!

Monday began with a rainstorm, as many of our days have begun over the past week or so.  We suspected that a storm may be rolling sometime in the morning, but we wanted to excavate as much as we could before it hit, so we rushed out to the field and started digging as quickly as possible!  About 30 minutes later, we were rushing to close up.  The rain poured and poured, but was fortunately not paired with thunder or lightning.  Within minutes I was completely soaked, but we successfully covered the site and put away the equipment before it got too bad.  Unfortunately, our mad dash to excavate meant that many of us had produced quite a bit of dirt in that first half hour, and as the rain became stronger, our wheelbarrows began filling with more and more water!  We all pitched in to help each other screen, but the soil was so muddy that we could not see anything we picked up.  It was an amusing challenge though, and despite being soaked and covered in slimy mud, I think that was probably the most fun I have has so far this summer!

After we finally got everything screened, the students returned home and the interns went inside to help out with some paperwork.  We stayed indoors until shortly after lunch, when the rain stopped and we were able to return to the field.  Allen and I worked on our unit and successfully brought it down to the antebellum layer, which should be full of exciting 19th Century artifacts!

Yesterday I accompanied the field school students on a trip to James Madison’s Montpelier, where we toured the house, the grounds, and the archaeology lab.  Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and friendly, and I learned a great deal about James and Dolly Madison that I never knew before!  I really enjoyed the lab as well, which is built to allow the public to walk through and see the many exciting artifacts they have in their collections.  I had a great time on this field trip and I can’t wait to visit again!

Artifacts found in our unit today!

Artifacts found in our unit today!

Today was a very productive day, and the first day this week that it did not start raining while we were outside!  Allen and I got about halfway through the antebellum layer, but just before we reached the colonial layer we noticed a thick line of bright orange soil and pebbles running through the middle of our unit.  After a lot of thought and confusion, we finally realized that this is part of a utility trench that runs through the whole northern half of our excavation area.  We will have to excavate the trench separately before we proceed with the rest of the unit, which I hope we can complete before the end of the week!  We did find some neat artifacts in our antebellum layer though, including a butchered bone (complete with cut marks!), Westerwald stoneware, some other lovely ceramics, nails, brick, and window glass.  Meanwhile, our students are making great progress, and I have enjoyed seeing the many things they have discovered as they work their way through their own units!

It’s been a wonderful week so far, and I am excited for the rest of it.  Tomorrow we are having a big 4th of July event, complete with activities, vendors, re-enactors, and archaeology, so if you happen to be in the Fredericksburg area, I encourage you to stop by and see us!  More information is provided on the website: http://kenmore.org/events.html.  Have a safe and fun holiday!

Advertisements

Week One is Done

Giving a tour to the new students at Ferry Farm!

Giving a tour to the new students at Ferry Farm!

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!

Mariana Zechini (left) and Lauren Volkers (right) skillfully excavate an STP in their unit.

Mariana Zechini (left) and Lauren Volkers (right) skillfully excavate an STP in their unit.

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.

Allen and I work on our new unit!

Allen and I work on our new unit!

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!

The George Washington Birthplace National Monument

The George Washington Birthplace National Monument

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!

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!

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!

SONY DSC

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

Memorial Day at Ferry Farm

SONY DSC

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)!

SONY DSC

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