A point beyond human occupation: Stephanie King’s Week 3

by Stephanie King, VCU student

This week was particularly busy for us between a visit to Washington’s Mount Vernon and two hefty lectures. On Monday, the Field School convened at Mount Vernon, home to George Washington from 1754 until his death in 1799. While there, we met with Dr. Esther White, the director of historic preservation at Mount Vernon. She had a layout of choice pieces from various archaeology projects, namely the South Grove Midden (colloquially, a “trash” pit). She also gave us a tour of the preservation room, where elements of the house are re-created or restored. Specific details about element construction are analyzed here, down to the color of the paint during Washington’s occupation. She then gave us a look into the facility used for artifact storage, where we revisited the pressing issue of the space and resources required for archaeological collections to be maintained.

Dr. Esther White discusses restoration efforts.

Dr. Esther White discusses restoration efforts.

Of course, we toured the household as well, and spent a good bit of time alongside of the archaeological dig currently taking place outside of the kitchen (located outdoors to save the house from the inevitable kitchen fire). We took time to visit the museums inside of the visitors’ center, too, and Washington’s tomb.

On Wednesday, we were treated to a loaded ceramics lecture from Mara Kaktins, a specialist with the George Washington Foundation. We were given a series of pamphlets that will help us better understand what we are finding in the field and where assorted items fit in Ferry Farm’s history. Mara also introduced us to some basic techniques in identifying glass, namely the differences between hand-blown and machine-molded forms, and what different shaped bottles may have been used for.

Laura Galke gave a short talk on Thursday, discussing the relevance of “small finds” artifacts and the portrayal of Mary Washington (George’s mother) in 19th and 20th century writings. How Mary was interpreted in the 1800s differed drastically from more modern writings that claim she was anywhere from “querulous” to “crusty”. Part of the importance of Ferry Farm is in understanding the relationship between Mary and her children, especially after Augustine’s death when finances became a challenge. Small finds are very important, as they may clue us into how Mary Washington appreciated gentile society but was mindful of the lifestyle’s expense.

A possible scraping tool.

A possible scraping tool.

On Friday, dig-partners were exchanged and my new partner Olivia and I closed the original unit at the southeastern end of the excavation. As we were at the bottom of our Colonial layer, most of the artifacts were lithic flakes and the like (though we did find a possible scraping tool). Once the number of possible artifacts became almost nonexistent, we felt that we had reached subsoil, or a point beyond human occupation. We will be moving to the unit directly east of our original in the coming week.

Closing out the unit.

Closing out the unit.

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