Mount Vernon, Rainy Mornings and Features Galore! Francesca Chesler’s Week 3

by Francesca Chesler, VCU student

The Washington’s mansion at Mount Vernon. There were a lot of visitors on this day!

The Washington’s mansion at Mount Vernon. There were a lot of visitors on this day!

Week 3 began with a class field trip to Mount Vernon, where George Washington lived after the death of his brother, Lawrence Washington in the 1750s. We began the field trip with a visit to the lab, where many important artifacts, including a teapot, numerous ceramics and and glass bottles were on display. We also visited a part of the lab where restoration to a window pane was taking place, something that piqued my interest as I have learned over the course of field school that I am very interested not only in field archaeology, but the preservation and conservation of artifacts as well. After visiting the lab, we had the opportunity to see how archaeology is conducted at Mount Vernon. I was surprised that excavation units were double the size of units at Ferry Farm; a 10’ x 10’ unit seems like a very daunting task! Nevertheless, the archaeologists at Mount Vernon were very knowledgeable and hardworking.

Archaeologist at Mount Vernon explaining how she excavates around the numerous utility pipes on the property.

Archaeologist at Mount Vernon explaining how she excavates around the numerous utility pipes on the property.

We concluded our visit with a tour of the mansion, which was extremely crowded with visitors. The vast amount of people inside the house made it difficult to hear the various tour guides. Luckily, I visited the site last year along with many elementary school field trips and still remembered a lot of what the tour guides had said in previous years. In addition to touring the mansion, we walked around his

large property which had gardens, the tombs of George and Martha Washington, various animals and their stalls and a large museum which depicted the life of George Washington, and even mentioned his boyhood home at Ferry Farm! This was my favorite field trip to date, and I am very interested in volunteering or even working at Mount Vernon in the future, as it is very close to my parents house in Fairfax county.

Tuesday started with further excavations to the colonial layer. We learned the hard way that the antebellum layer yielded more artifacts. As we began shoveling into the colonial layer, more problems

with our utility trench came to light. Because there were 2 to 3 people working in the unit at the same time, there was not a lot of space to spread out and the eastern wall of the trench began to crumble from the pressure. We spent the rest of the week fixing the trench, as it also needed to be deeper than originally planned.

On Wednesday, Mara Katkins gave us a lecture on different types of ceramics and glass in addition to a large packet of information with notes on her lecture. I learned that my knowledge on ceramics and glass, especially the different types of stoneware is virtually non­existent! I am very anxious for our quiz on ceramics, and will try my best to visit the lab at Ferry Farm again to learn more about the many different types of ceramics and glass.

The rest of the week was very humid and rainy, and we spent many mornings inside doing paperwork. While less exciting than being in the field, paperwork is an important process in the archaeological record and needs to be completed eventually. We completed unit summaries of the previous field school, FF 18, and I learned a lot in the process. The forms we fill out this year are nearly identical, but many people had difficulty identifying the soil type and I saw a lot of “silty clay sandy loam” on forms which seems redundant as loam is a synonym for clay; nevertheless we were instructed to fill out the unit summary forms using their paperwork and profile drawings.

Paperwork on a rainy morning.

Paperwork on a rainy morning.

On Friday, we returned to our unit and worked on reaching the subsoil layer and fixing the 20th century trench. As the soil began to turn into a reddish clay, and less artifacts were found, we realized that we were approaching the subsoil layer. However, there was a mysterious dark stain with flecks of charcoal which was different from the rest of the unit in both artifacts in color. This was later identified as Feature 47, and we were told that excavation would eventually stop as we were no longer finding artifacts and did not want to disturb this feature, which was determined not to be a shovel test pit. My goals for the fourth week include finishing this current unit and starting a new one, and I would still like to find a wig curler!

Feature 47, full of charcoal and shaped like a giraffe!

Feature 47, full of charcoal and shaped like a giraffe!





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