Week 2: More Rain, Montpelier, and Public Archaeology on America’s Birthday

by Bernard K. Means, VCU/Virtual Curation Laboratory

The VCU field crew on the morning of July 4, 2013.

The VCU field crew on the morning of July 4, 2013.

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.

Dr. Matt Reeves, far left, discusses the active excavations at James Madison's Montpelier.

Dr. Matt Reeves, far right, discusses the active excavations at James Madison’s Montpelier.

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.

Vivian Hite suitably prepared herself for Munselling soil on July 4.

Vivian Hite prepared herself for Munselling soil on July 4.

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.

A dugout canoe from the Patawomeck

A dugout canoe from the Patawomeck

Blacksmiths hard at work.

Blacksmiths hard at work.

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.

Visitors help Vivian and Francesca with screening

Visitors help Vivian and Francesca with screening.

Vivian talks to young members of the public.

Vivian talks to young members of the public.

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.

Aaron finds a wig hair curler.

Aaron finds a wig hair curler.

More screening with the public!

More screening with the public!

Some of the reenactors also came over to see the proceedings, and kindly posed with our students.

Ashley, Lauren, and Mariana pose with Civil War reenactors.

Ashley, Lauren, and Mariana pose with Civil War reenactors.

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.

Ruth and Stephanie screening soil.

Ruth and Stephanie screening soil.

Lauren and Marianna describe their findings.

Lauren and Mariana describe their findings.

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.

Bridget and Aaron discuss their unit's findings.  They've recovered three wig hair curlers here.

Bridget and Aaron discuss their unit’s findings. They’ve recovered three wig hair curlers here.

Allen with a thimble.

Allen with a thimble.

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.

Ashley measures out a 20th century trench that crosses over the excavation area.

Ashley measures out a 20th century trench that crosses over the excavation area.

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.

Lauren with a shark's tooth that she found.

Lauren with a shark’s tooth that she found.

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