The Colonial Period was Not Far Off: Aaron Ehrlich’s Week 2

by Aaron Ehrlich, VCU student

Week two stared off with rain suspending Monday’s excavation. Unlike the relief I usually get when classes are cancelled due to natural forces, I was a bit upset about putting up my trowel for the day. My unit partner (Bridget) and I were somewhere in the Antebellum layer and we just knew the Colonial Period was not far off. Of course the moment we (field school students) returned to our apartments for the day, the rains stopped! Anticipating a call or email for us to return to the site and resume excavation (which never came….the site was too muddy), I took the opportunity to relax, work on some independent research, and think about our next day at Montpelier.

Director of Archaeology, Dr. Matthew Reeves (far left), explains the direction of Montpelier’s archaeology project.

Director of Archaeology, Dr. Matthew Reeves (far left), explains the direction of Montpelier’s archaeology project.

Our Montpelier visit included a tour of James Madison’s house, learning about past and present archaeological excavation (they have their own field school students!), and concluding at the archaeology lab where Curator of Archaeology Collections Kimberly A. Trickett allowed us to rummage through their collections. For me, this was my third trip to Montpelier—and certainly not my last! The staff here is warm, welcoming, and willing to answer any questions. I know this for a fact, since I’m working on a project that involves 3D scanning prehistoric projectile points found at Montpelier. So far my collaboration with the archaeology staff at Montpelier has been awesome, and their patience and generosity stands as a beacon for openness and inclusiveness.

Day three was back in the dirt with yet another wig curler (making that two) coming from our unit! Up above us, the entire day, storm clouds provoked us. Encircling the region, the rains held off and we were able to work through the day until lightning caused us to close up shop around 3 o’clock.

The screening areas were busy on the 4th of July! You can just see me, in the center, conducting public archaeology.

The screening areas were busy on the 4th of July! You can just see me, in the center, conducting public archaeology.

Peoples, re-enactors, vendors—Ferry Farm was booming with hundreds of people for the 4th of July! Following the previous day’s footsteps, fireworks erupted in our unit when another wig curler (making that three!) came up out of the ground! With excellent coordination between supervisors, interns, and field school students, the public became well acquainted with Ferry Farm’s wig curlers—which made it all the more exciting to show visitors the real thing with our artifact bag! Even though the 4th of July was a volunteer day for field school students, the digging commenced and the crowd provided us the opportunity to conduct some intense public archaeology.

Friday was by far the most productive day in our unit. Bridget and I finally made our way through the Antebellum layer and into Colonial Period. We knew we were nearing the Colonial Period when we began to see “mottling” in the soil, which basically means we could see “spotting” of the next soil layer showing through. By this time the abundance of artifacts found during our exhaustive push through the Antebellum layer slowed down. Without much material culture coming up in the Colonial Period, we continued working our way down to the point where we hit subsoil. Our last few wheelbarrows have produced no artifacts, therefore—with the combination of subsoil—our unit is closed (which fulfills our goal stated in last week’s blog). All we have left for our unit is about a half an hour’s worth of cleanup, yet we won’t be able to close our unit until Wednesday because Monday’s our trip to Mt. Vernon and Tuesday’s our lab day!

A picture of me holding the wig curler found in our unit on the 4th of July.

A picture of me holding the wig curler found in our unit on the 4th of July.

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