Riches of the Antebellum and Trenches of the 20th Century: Francesca Chesler’s Week 2

By Francesca Chesler, VCU student

My first day of the second week of field school ended very abruptly due to unfortunate weather conditions. We had just uncovered the site and began finishing up our paperwork when it started pouring rain, and our day quickly ended. I was disappointed that we had to finish so early, but meeting everyone for dinner later that night was a great bonding experience.

On Tuesday, we went on a field trip to Montpelier, home of James Madison. I had never been to Montpelier before, so I was really excited to visit his estate. Our tour guide was a very interesting person, and I think that a tour guide can really influence how one interprets a historical site. Our tour guide, while extremely knowledgeable about the site, seemed to downplay the complete dehumanization of slavery and doted on the fact the Dolley Madison’s former slave would give her food and money later on in his life as a free man. Although I have not read anything in the historic record about this, I was very skeptical about this story. Nevertheless, I liked this field trip a lot as we got to see how other field schools and labs were run. I also liked how the field school at Montpelier had a very large lab compared to the one at Ferry Farm, and even a dig site or sand pit for children to play in. The field school students were also very friendly and answered my many questions about what they were cleaning in the lab and what they had found in the field so far.

Montpelier, the home of James Madison.

Montpelier, the home of James Madison.

I was very excited for Wednesday to begin after spending a weekend and two days away from the site! My partners and I began vigorously excavating our unit, which is still in the antebellum layer and our hard work paid off. We found many ceramic artifacts, and I began to see the difference in ceramics, such as the color of pearlware compared to creamware and the texture of salt­- glazed ceramics. My favorite find of the day was a sherd of green ceramic, identified as porcelain by Ashley. I really liked this find because most of the porcelain I had seen, from Montpelier to the lab in Ferry Farm was blue and white. I think this unique sherd was very special and once again reminded me why I want to be an archaeologist, to find artifacts that may seem mundane to others, but are endlessly fascinating to me. We also found out that our unit had a feature, a utility trench dating to the 20th century. Therefore, we had to stop excavating the antebellum layer and score and excavate the trench, which had a large pipe underneath it. The day ended before we could begin excavating the trench, and I predicted that we would not have time to finish it until Friday.

The green porcelain sherd I found on Wednesday. I think the color is very unique.

The green porcelain sherd I found on Wednesday. I think the color is very unique.

Thursday, July 4th, was a very special day for me. Almost immediately after we uncovered our work unit, I found a pipe stem that dated from the 1750s­1800s! I was extremely happy to find this pipe stem because our unit seemed mainly to consist of nails and ceramic sherds. Also, we were given the option to take the day off, everyone decided to show up to excavate and interact with the public.

Because our unit was very close to the general public, we were constantly surrounded by people. I am a very shy person, so at first it was very overwhelming to see so many people watching us work. However, I realized that they were simply curious and wanted to know more, especially the children, and I tried my best to answer all of their questions. I enjoyed helping the children sift through the dirt as they were easily excitable and thought that nearly every rock and pebble was something of great value. I could not think of a better way to celebrate Independence day then excavating at the childhood home of George Washington!

Interacting with the public on July 4th. They were very interested in our finds.

Interacting with the public on July 4th. They were very interested in our finds.

Pipe stem dating from the 1750­-1800s.

Pipe stem dating from the 1750­-1800s.

 As Friday rolled around, our group worked very hard to excavate our feature, a utility trench from the  20th century. Although I am not as strong as my digging partners, I attempted to shovel into the trench,largely consisting of large rocks and earthworms. I was not expecting to find anything in the trench, but we found many artifacts including nails, ceramic sherds, glass and part of a milk pan. We were all very focused on our task at hand, and finished excavating our feature by the end of the day! I am very excited to visit Mount Vernon on Monday and get back into the field on Tuesday. My main goal is to improve my excavation techniques, something which can only be done through experience and to find a wig curler and another pipe stem!

 

Our unit on Friday with the large utility trench.

Our unit on Friday with the large utility trench.

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