A Wonderful First Week: Francesca Chesler’s Week 1

by Francesca Chesler, VCU student

On our first day of field school, Ashley gave us a brief tour of the grounds surrounding Ferry Farm. I learned that the main structure of the building used to be a boys home, with the hopes that the maladjusted boys would be inspired by George Washington to achieve great things and modify their behavior. We were also given a tour of the archaeological site; Olivia, Vivian and I were given a unit, with the context number 00159 and the coordinates N595 E565 to excavate.

General view of the site.

General view of the site.

This was my first time ever excavating a site, so the process made me feel very nervous. I learned how to record the elevation of units, with the middle being 0 for the topsoil layer. We also used the Munsell Soil color chart to determine the color of the topsoil, which was dark brown. The three of us then used shovels to remove the topsoil, a difficult and arduous process. My favorite part of the day was screening; we found lots of onions, plastic debris and quartz rocks. At the end of the day, we helped the interns cover the site with black tarp and concrete, and put all the materials in the surveyors shed.

My day in the lab, I spent a lot of time cutting out tiny labels and putting them on artifacts!

My day in the lab, I spent a lot of time cutting out tiny labels and putting them on artifacts!

On the second day, we were assigned to the lab. While I was a little disappointed that we couldn’t be in the field, my time in the lab was well spent. I spent the first half of the day labeling artifacts with an intern, we used a special glue and distilled water for the labels, and recorded the process in a log when we were done. After lunch, I learned how to clean artifacts. The most difficult artifacts to clean were bones and oyster shells, because it was difficult to get the dirt off without destroying the artifact.

After spending a day in the lab, I was very excited to be in the field again! Compared to the other units, ours was still topsoil! We worked hard to remove the final layer of topsoil and start digging into the 20th century layer. The most difficult part of this process was making sure the unit we were excavating was even, as the south east corner was a lot deeper than the other parts initially. Vivian and Olivia came up with the idea to all trowel our soil in one direction, East to West to even the unit up. This process greatly improved the physical aesthetics of our unit, and we began to see lighter colored soil, dark yellow brown with bright orange spots. Through screening we discovered brick fragments, a sherd, a nail dating to the 20th century, polyester fabric and aluminum fragments. The day ended early due to extreme wind and rain, but I am really excited to get back into the field and excavate again. My goal is to reach the Antebellum layer by next week!

On Thursday, we went on a field trip to the birthplace of George Washington and experienced the “cynical” but humorous version of the tour. I learned that the kitchen and the house were reconstructions built in the 1930s, which were not historically accurate but looked aesthetically pleasing to the architects of the time. We also saw the memorial burial site of Augustine Washington and his family, which was separated from the re-constructed house and kitchen. We had lunch on the Potomac River, and Olivia found a tibia on the beach! We also saw lots of shark teeth, crabs and oyster shells. We ended the day in the collections building, with Professor Means showing us 3D printed artifacts and got to tour the storage room containing a large amount of George Washington busts, paintings, photographs from the early 20th century and historic maps as recent as the 1960s.

Friday was definitely my favorite day of field school so far. I enjoyed listening to every ones presentations, and I learned that one group even found a wig curler! While our presentation was brief, I think we did a great job explaining our goals and what we had excavated so far.  On this day, I found a lot of artifacts including brick and charcoal fragments. In addition to this, Olivia found a Rockingham ceramic sherd. Vivian, Olivia and I worked very hard to finish off our 20th century layer, and right before we finished the day early because of storms, we finally reached the antebellum layer! I cannot wait to begin excavating our unit on Monday. I hope that I will find some ceramic artifacts and faunal remains.

This is the Rockingham ceramic sherd Olivia found.

This is the Rockingham ceramic sherd Olivia found.

Overall, I had a wonderful first week at field school! I think that I need to improve my excavation techniques, but that can only be done through hard work and practice. I am excited for the next four weeks of field school, and all the things I am going to learn!

Right before the last day of Week 1 ended, we reached the antebellum layer!

Right before the last day of Week 1 ended, we reached the antebellum layer!


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