by Lauren Volkers, VCU student
Day 1: My first day at Ferry Farm, located in Fredericksburg, was both spectacular and very informative. To start off the day Ashley McCuiston, our TA, gave us a tour of Ferry Farm and provided a brief history on the house and surrounding land. George Washington’s boyhood home is no longer standing, but there are rock features that outline where George Washington’s house once stood. Currently there is an old house/building that is still standing that use to serve as a boy’s home for misguided boys. The idea was that if the young men could live where George Washington grew up, they would be inspired to adjust their behavior and strive to reach their goals. Today the house/building serves as a visitor’s center for Ferry Farm and houses a lab for the archaeologists. There is also a garden in the back where they are growing all sorts of vegetation and plants that the Washingtons would have been growing when they lived on the land too.
After receiving our tour and taking a brief lunch we dove, not literally, into archaeology. We were first split up into groups and met our field school crew chiefs, Ashley and Allen, that are supervising and teaching us how to properly excavate an archaeological site. My partner for the excavation is Mariana, which is really cool because we use to play soccer together so it nice to at least know someone on the first day. After that we were given our own unit and coordinates, ours is N600 and E560, and Ashley and Allen went over the paper work that we will have to fill out for every context we run into. Before we could start digging we had to write down our coordinates, context number, elevation of the soil, the size of our unit, and get a Munsell soil sample. A Munsell soil sample is taking a small sample of the soil and comparing our sample with a Munsell soil color chart to figure out what color our soil is. After all of our paperwork was filled out and all of our supplies retrieved we were finally able to start removing the topsoil. At the end of the day, we were shown how to cover up the site with black tarp and where the concrete blocks go so the tarps wouldn’t go flying at night. We also put back all of our materials in the surveyor’s shed, a small shed where we keep most of our supplies we use to dig.
Day 2: One the second day we were able to remove the topsoil, but didn’t find much besides bits of plastic and plenty of rocks. Since we finished removing the topsoil we were shown how to get our unit set up for a picture. After that we kept digging into our 20th century disturbance layer, but after a while I noticed an increase in the amounts of rocks and a change in the soil color—the soil went from a dark brown to a yellowish brown, in the south east corner of our unit. After asking Ashley and Allen they confirmed that we found our first feature and that it was a shovel test pit (STP) 513 from a previous archaeologist. After finding our feature we stopped excavating our 20th century disturbance layer and started excavating our STP since the soil and contents came from a different time. It was very interesting to learn how to excavate a feature, but it was also annoying because my partner Mariana found a glass marble that was half exposed so we were going to have to wait to take it out until we could resume our 20th century disturbance layer. We also found a nail and marking tape in the ground near our feature, which was probably left behind from a previous archaeologist.
As we started excavating our STP we had to be careful so we wouldn’t go outside our STP’s boundaries, since that soil is different than the soil inside. There were mostly rocks and soil inside of our STP, but we did find two nails and a ceramic sherd while screening our dirt, which was exciting. Unfortunately we had to end the day early because a storm was coming in and it surprisingly came upon us quickly, because the wind became very strong. Luckily we were able to work fast and cover our site, without injury, before the storm came in. I was very surprised that just on our second how fast we were able to cover our entire site and return everything before it got ruined by the storm. Go us!
Day 4: On Thursday we got a break from working and took a field trip to George Washington’s Birthplace in Wakefield. It was a beautiful place because it was right on the Potomac River and the view was amazing, the constant breeze was also a plus. It was really nice for Amy Muraca from the National Park Service to take time out of her day and show us around the landscape and the storing facility where they store the artifacts found on the property. We got tour of a house that was a monument to George Washington, which was funny because only two things, a table and a metal wine bottle, in the house were from George Washington’s home and the house wasn’t even modeled after the house. The supposed outline to George Washington’s birthplace house was also really odd looking, which makes you wonder if the archaeologists that excavated the site before are certain that that is the true outline of his home. After taking a tour of an old cemetery where is actually houses some of the remains of the Washington family. For lunch we ate on a beach, which was beautiful and relaxing despite all of the mosquitoes. I think my favorite part of the day was when Ashley and Dr. Means presented some 3D printed replicas to Amy Muraca—her face looked like it was Christmas morning.
Day 5: On Friday Mariana and I were finally able to finish our feature, but the soil at the bottom is very dark and after consulting with Laura, our Field director, could indicate a new feature or the just color of a deeper layer. We will not find out which it is however, until we get our current layer (20th century disturbance layer) down to where our STP stops. After finishing and taking a picture of our feature, we also had to map it so when looking back other archaeologist will know where exactly the STP was.
We then continued excavating our 20th century disturbance layer to get it down to the antebellum layer. So far Mariana and I have not found much besides: plastic, two glass marbles, ceramic sherds, small glass shards, nails, and plenty of rocks but that is expected of the 20th century layer. We also had to end early again because dark clouds were staring to roll in so hopefully next week there will be more interesting things in our antebellum layer and we will get more than one full day in the field!