Field School Ferry Farm FF-20: Vivian Hite’s Week 1

by Vivian Hite, VCU student

Field School Ferry Farm FF-20

Day 1-

Day 1 began under the pavilion. Ashley, our VCU intern, began to show us around Ferry Farm.  We explored the garden where plants from George’s life were grown; right down to the cherry trees.  Moving throughout the site, we were introduced to the history of Ferry Farm.  From the Native past, the colonial era, the Battle of Fredericksburg, and up to modern day- Ferry Farm’s history is as rich and vibrant as the garden being grown today.

Olivia excavating top soil.

Olivia excavating top soil.

Past archaeologists have searched the site looking for George’s boyhood home.  Schuster, an archaeologist in the 1990’s, infamously dug a trench across the farm looking for the home.  His past investigations have impacted current archaeology.  The home was formally found in 2008.  As the years have progressed, archaeologists have searched for the cellars and outbuildings surrounding the 18th century home.  Wig curlers are an abundant and curious finding at the site.  Approximately 166 have been found over the years and with each find the question of why so many increases. And so our excavation begins.

Looking towards the East, where the gradient of curlers and thus cultural activity increases, we begin our dig.  Starting in a checkerboard pattern, my digging partners and I line our grids and measure our elevation.  After the start of paperwork, we began to move topsoil.  After jumping onto our shovels to get through the grass roots, we attempted to shovel the squares up.  Olivia was a bit heavy handed in the removal process resulting in a deeper north east corner.  Throughout the shoveling, we were instructed to sift through our dirt.  The screens were set up under a large Magnolia tree.  The shade attracted our first public interaction.  Two little girls helped us search through the dirt and look for artifacts.  By the end of the barrel, one girl bragged to her sister about her success in the archaeology- her “rock” got placed in the important bag.

As we made our way through the first layer, a storm abruptly rolled in, and, much to our dismay- we packed up nearly an hour early with high hopes for the next day’s finds.

Day 2!

Day two began in the pavilion where Ashley points to us and says “Surprise! Lab day for you all!” We immediately believe it’s because we were so slow and automatically point to Olivia for her deep digging.

When we went to the lab we met Melissa and she showed us around the house (up and down) and demonstrated how to clean artifacts. Olivia and I were in charge of cleaning a remaining set of artifacts and then to start on rewashing artifacts, while Francesca awaited a lab technician to show her how to label.  Washing was intimidating at first.  I was looking forward to lab work because I was able to handle unique artifacts I had yet to find in drab top soil, however the gentle brushing of nails, the massaging of brick, and the light scrubbing of ceramics was terrifying- what if we rubbed off the glaze, the brick absorbed too much water, or the nails rust fell apart- and the oyster shells- Olivia sat there picking the dirt out of each hole with a dental pick. We decided that lunch would be best outside- perhaps the heat we had so luckily avoided would dry our pruned fingers out. After lunch, we rotated and Olivia and I learned how to label.  Cutting the labels into the tinniest of strips was challenging.  Every snip was never close enough.  Glue. Place. Glue. Glue. Place. Glue.  In the beginning deciding the best place to attach a label was difficult and many questions ensued, however left to our own devices, we reflected back to our Methods class and soon picked up on it, with an occasional review from the assistant and quizzes on what we thought an artifact was- Olivia is no member of the NRA- 2 shell casings and she guessed firecracker and eraser.

Olivia in the lab.

Olivia in the lab.

Once Olivia recorded our last Context into the catalog binder, I moved to store the bag when I commented on how lucky we were to have not had the next bag- FULL of Rocks! A girl sitting on the computer working on some sketch or painting asked to see the bag. She corrected that it was “not rocks but cement, sweetie”.  She explained she was a field student here last year and remembered that unit.  It was part of Schuster’s trench that he had filled with broken cement.  At one point they had two racks full of cement samples.  After pleasantries, we headed out to see if our field friends needed any help closing the site. As we were leaving Mariana mentioned they had already found a feature. Another Schuster remain- an STP, it began with a nail, then some tape, and stopped  there.  More excitement I thought then the roots we get to continue with tomorrow.  Luckily our intern Allen, fairy god mother, we joke around the apartment, had squared off and leveled out our unit so we weren’t as behind as we thought we were.

In all I was surprised to realize that lab work was not as exciting as I imagined it would be.  Everyone always says how much they hate it but some people love it, and in class I believed I was one of those people However. As I sat in the room on display with children looking in on my every rinse, I kept wondering what others had found and what I was missing out on.  Guess we will find out tomorrow.

Day 3

Today we were a little lost in the shuffle.  We began the morning under the magnolia tree at the site.  We went over our progress so far and then we began to uncover the site. This was a bit crazy.  Since we were in the lab yesterday, we missed the entire uncover/recover process.  People were stepping here and there with confidence, in the end we stuck with wheelbarrows, buckets and trowels.  Envy and determination filled us when we saw the others units.  Units to our left and right were going into the antebellum layer soon, while we still were in topsoil.  Eventually we were able to smooth the layer and take a picture of the context.  We then moved on to our 20th century layer: complete with 1 ceramic sherd, 1 glass fragment, 1 piece of polyester, and a bunch of rocks.  After lunch we snooped the other units out and heard stories of bones, marbles, and shells- not a foot away from our unit.  The motivation sunk in and we were ready to dig in.  Our goal was to get through the 20th Century context today however a surprise storm took up over the river and ended our dig abruptly. Luckily we had just finished screening our last scraping.  It was a mad dash to return tools to the ever faithful surveyors shed and cover the site as the storm rolled in.  The confused chaos of the morning was replaced with a need to act.  No matter the act. And fast.  The tarp, me and other field school students unrolled to cover our units was yanked out of someone’s hand by the wind and wrapped itself in a fallen Bridget.  Stones and screens were being thrown onto the site as hats, gloves and dirt blew across the field.

Later in the evening after the power had returned to our dorms and the calm had ridden in, Olivia and I went for a walk and stumbled upon the Kenmore Plantation. Though the house was closed we noticed the Confederate Army cemetery and stopped to read the monuments along the road.  Mini-monument Avenue also had its personal “Hollywood” cemetery- full of the Gordon’s of Kenmore. Reading the names “…Aged at ….” With the water still resting in the engagements and the night setting in put a perspective onto the history found here and added the human to the dig.  It’s so easy to lose sight around you with your head in a hole, focused on layer upon layer, context upon context, wig curler and lithic, but these are just the objects that comprise someone’s life. A person’s life.


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