by Olivia McCarty, VCU student
By Monday I was excited to get out in the field again, start the second week of field school and begin to excavate the antebellum layer, unfortunately the weather was not as cooperative as I would have liked and we had barely enough time to uncover the site and take a peek at our unit before the rain came. What started out as a little drizzle soon turned into a downpour as we rush around to recover the site and protect it from the rain. A couple of people had been able to compile a little bit of dirt before the downpour had begun and we all pitched in to help them screen through the now muddy dirt in search of a few artifacts. With the day cut short we all traveled back to our apartments, upset that we would not be returning to the site until Wednesday as we had a field trip on Tuesday.
Our field trip was to Montpelier, which is James Madison’s former home. We were able to take a guided tour of the house, look at the field archaeology and see the lab were they hold their artifacts. It was really interesting to see how much of the archaeology was being used at the site. For example even though they had already rediscovered some of the old outer building foundations from James Madison’s time period they only recreated the frames of the house because they still do not know what the houses would have looked like and they built the frames on top of blocks so not to disturb the archaeology record below. This same concepts was used when constructing the walkways of the site, as they are meant to be non invasive so not to disturb the ground.
Another really interesting thing we got to see at Montpelier was the lab. They have lots of cases with different types of ceramics, glass, and metal objects found at the site. While looking at the plethora of ceramics we kind of got a mini lesson from Ashley about what different glazes look like and how you identify what type of ceramics you are looking at. Overall the field trip was really fun
The next day it was back to fieldwork, and finally my group was in the antebellum layer. This layer at Ferry Farm is especially meaty and we were beginning to find lots and lots of different kinds of artifacts. After the impromptu ceramics lesson the day before I was continually trying to guess what the different types of ceramics were, even though I was wrong most of the time, it was great fun putting to use all the identifying characteristics, and learning more as I went. I know now that a salt glaze has an orange peel texture to it, and Mariana Zechini, a fellow field student helped me figure out the differences between a lead and tin glaze explaining that that a lead glaze is heavier and kind of sinks into the ceramic, where a tin glaze just lays on top and looks like nail polish almost, in that it could be chipped away from the piece.
Along with all the ceramics my group was finding we also found our first pipe stem that day as well. This was one of my most exciting days at field school because of all the new things we were discovering and learning about throughout the day. Before leaving for the day we also were forewarned about the following day being the forth of July and how Ferry farm would be the place to be, so to be prepared for a lot of visitors the next day.
Even with the warning from the day before I still was surprised with all the people that came out. Not only were their lots of people but there were also lots of other attractions as well including food trucks, demonstrations and even reenactors. There was in particular one very special reenactor named George Washington, who we got to take our picture with and discuss the artifacts we were finding with him. We also got to discuss our findings with the public as well, many were interested in what we were doing and how we did our work and the children, especially loved to help us screen the dirty. Overall even though the day was very busy it was great to see so many people interested in what we were doing, and to see how excited the kids were when they discovered an artifact.
On Friday we were back to a regular day, previously we had discovered that our unit had a twentieth century utility trench running through it and on Thursday we reached the trench and had to stop excavating our antebellum layer and started excavating the trench separately and for the rest of the day on Friday we continued to work on the trench. Our hard work had paid off and we were able to finish up the trench just before the end of the day and I am excited once again to get back to the antebellum layer next week.