by Bernard K. Means, VCU/Virtual Curation Laboratory
Week 2 got off to an inauspicious start. Half an hour after excavations began, a storm moved in quickly and the site had to be covered in short work. Fieldwork was cancelled for the day. On Tuesday, we made our way over to Montpelier to meet with Director of Archaeology Dr. Matt Reeves, Field Director Mark Trickett, and Laboratory Director Kim Trickett for a tour of the restored mansion of James Madison, the field excavations, and their public laboratory. As I’ve written about that elsewhere, I won’t burden the reader with a review of that excellent field trip here.
Wednesday, the field school students made great progress excavating through their twentieth century layer, and most were into the antebellum layer, when the day ended a couple of hours early–yet another summer storm came through the area, and the threat of lightning in particular led to an end for the day. Probably just as well, as the VCU field school students would need to rest up and prepare for a big day, the July 4 celebration at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.
For the VCU field school students, July 4 was an official university recognized holiday, so I asked if any of them were willing to volunteer as part of the open excavation that would take place that day. I let them know that the day would be very intense, as hundreds if not thousands of visitors would come to see archaeologists at work, after the visitors were done with the other activities, including reenactors representing different periods and peoples in American History.
I was not surprised that all of the students enthusiastically volunteered to work on July 4. As several expressed, they could not think of a better place and day to excavate where the first president of the U.S. spent his childhood–learning the many lessons that would steer him through the rocky first years of our nation, following the fiercely fought battle for independence.
Not only could members of the public help with screening, they could also walk up very close to where the VCU students were excavating. The unit being excavated by Vivian, Francesca, and Olivia in particular received a great deal of attention from visitors. All three of them mastered very well the test of interacting with the public and presenting their findings, as did the entire VCU crew. The casual visitor or seasoned archaeological professional would have no idea that this was only their second week of learning archaeological methods and procedures.
Some of the reenactors also came over to see the proceedings, and kindly posed with our students.
Although July 4 was an exhausting–and rewarding–day, the VCU field school students were ready and anxious to get in a full day of excavating on July 5, the end of their second week.
Because this was a Friday, the time after lunch was taken up with unit summary presentations. Each team of VCU students, as well as the George Washington Foundation interns, gives a short overview of that week’s excavations, including significant findings, excavation progress, and what direction they will be heading when they reopen their unit for Week 3. This practice, of course, helps provide the students with a broader perspective and an understanding of where their unit fits into the overall archaeological investigations.
In addition to supervising the VCU field school students, Ashley and Allen have been excavating a unit–this thimble was one of their findings on the last day of the work week.
Week 3 will begin with a field trip to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and the completion of the first units begun by the VCU field school students as they approach and finish the Colonial occupation layer.