Week One: Out with a Bang (or, at Least, a Rumble)

by Bernard K. Means VCU/Virtual Curation Laboratory

Cannons boom during the December 2012 reenactment of the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Cannons boom and soldiers line up to cross the Rappahannock River during the December 2012 reenactment of the Battle of Fredericksburg.

The field week ended a little early on Friday, to the booming sound of thunder and dark, ominous clouds on the horizon–reminiscent not only of this past Wednesday, and the mad scramble to cover the site as strong winds blew and heavy rain fell, but, also, of when this site was contested land during the Battle of Fredericksburg, fought a little over 150 years ago today. The storm ended up skirting to the north of Fredericksburg on June 28, 2013, but, as the site was already covered, the field school students were sent home to reflect on their first week–and write short missives that will grace this blog site early next week.

Olivia with her ceramic find.

Olivia with her ceramic find.

When I arrived on site, I was greeted by Olivia McCarty, who had uncovered a fragment of a dipped ware vessel, also called by some annular ware. As noted on the Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland web site, these ceramics can date from the late 18th through the 19th centuries.

Excavating at Ferry Farm.

Excavating at Ferry Farm.

The students were all busy at work across the site, and all seemed to be weathering the hot and slightly humid temperatures well.

Bridget and Aaron with their wig hair curler fragment.

Bridget and Aaron with their wig hair curler fragment.

I next went over to the screening area, and helped Bridget Polk and Aaron Ellrich work through their excavated soil.  While I was there, they recovered a wig hair curler, the first found in 2013 by VCU field school students. I continued screening while they broke for lunch and found a fragment of an American Indian vessel. I showed this vessel fragments to all the students when they returned from lunch, as the brown coloring can make it difficult to see these ceramic vessel fragments if one has an inexperienced eye.

Bernard K. Means holds a fragment of American Indian ceramics, as well as a quartz flake.

Bernard K. Means holds a fragment of American Indian ceramics.

The surface of the ceramic was eroded but it was clearly tempered with crushed quartz.

Closeup of ceramic vessel fragment and flake,

Closeup of ceramic vessel fragment and a flake.

Following lunch, each team of excavators–including the interns and the VCU field school students–gave an overview of their work that week on their test unit(s).  This is something that happens every Friday, and is designed to ensure that everyone understands what is happening throughout the site, what is being found, and why particular units are being excavated.

Cate and Courtney B. excavating the rock-filled pit.

Cate and Courtney B. excavating the rock-filled pit.

The site tours began with Courtney Bowles and Cate Davis discussing a rock -filled pit that they have been excavating.  Vertically placed rocks and other clues indicated that this pit was filled rapidly. Next, we listed to Catie D. and Courtney W., followed by Ashley McCuistion and Allen Huber. Ashley and Allen are excavating their own unit, when they are not directly supervising the VCU field school students.

Ashley and Allen stand over their unit.

Ashley and Allen stand over their unit.

Bridget and Aaron discussed their excavations, including the finding of the wig hair curler fragment, a white salt-glazed sherd, and the American Indian ceramic vessel fragment.

Aaron and Bridget excavating their unit.

Aaron and Bridget excavating their unit.

Lauren Volkers and Mariana Zechini have been excavating a unit that contained a shovel test pit (STP) excavated during a 1990s archaeological survey of Ferry Farm.  They had just completed removing the soil from the backfilled STP, which provided them with a view of the internal stratigraphy of the rest of their unit.

Mariana takes notes while Lauren provides her with measurements.

Mariana takes notes while Lauren provides her with measurements.

Next, we all went over to the unit being excavated by Francesca Chesler, Vivian Hite, and Olivia McCarty. They were out of the late 19th and 20th century layers and just getting into the antebellum layers.

Francesca, Vivian, and Olivia discuss their findings with assistant field director Eric Larsen.

Francesca  and Olivia discuss their findings with assistant field director Eric Larsen.

The last unit being excavated by the VCU field school is that by Stephanie King and Ruth Martin.  They also are just getting into the antebellum layers.

Stephanie and Ruth discuss their unit with Ashley and field director Laura Galke.

Stephanie and Ruth discuss their unit with Ashley and field director Laura Galke.

Further details of the first week of VCU’s field school at Ferry Farm will be provided by the students themselves, so keep an eye on this blog!

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