Into the antebellum (again)! Francesca Chesler’s Week 4

By Francesca Chesler, VCU student

The first day of week four began with the excavation of our new unit with the coordinates N 595 E 560. We worked hard to get through the topsoil layer and into the 20th century. The most difficult part about this was beating the heat, which made it difficult to see the change in soil color and slowed down my progress in excavating the unit because of the constant, but necessary water breaks. By the end of Monday, we reached the 20th century.

Tuesday began with finishing the 20th century and slowly reaching the antebellum layer. Our previously excavated unit had a very large antebellum layer and a utility trench, so I didn’t know what to expect. At the end of the day we stopped finding plastic, which indicated the beginning on the antebellum layer. I also found part of a wig curler this day, but it was too small to be considered an entire wig curler.

Top of the Antebellum layer on Tuesday.

Top of the Antebellum layer on Tuesday.

Part of the wig curler found on Tuesday.

Part of the wig curler found on Tuesday.

On Wednesday we went on a field trip to Washington D.C. Our day began bright and early with a walk to the train station, and we started the morning with a trip to the National Zoo! While not really related to archaeology, it was a wonderful experience and I enjoyed seeing the various animals, especially the various large cats in the zoo.

A group photo at the zoo.

A group photo at the zoo.

After the zoo, we got a brief lecture from Ruth Troccoli, about career opportunities in the field archaeology. Dr. Troccoli is the archaeologist for the Historic Preservation Office in D.C. and kindly shared her knowledge and work with our class. I was very excited to hear about internship opportunities, one which I will be taking advantage of in the near future. We ended the day with a trip to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. While there were large crowds, I saw nearly every exhibition and particularly enjoyed the “Eternal Life in Ancient Egypt” exhibit. As a child I was obsessed with ancient Egypt, especially the mummification process and the elaborate burial rituals associated with the pharaohs and other wealthy people of ancient Egypt, an interest which sparked my love for anthropology at a young age. As we boarded the train back to Fredericksburg, I began to think about the rest of the week’s excavations and what would be found.

Thursday was my favorite day of field school so far. My partner and I began shoveling vigorously into our unit, anxious to make up for lost time during the field trip. Since we were in the antebellum layer, where many people have found wig curlers previously, I began to carefully scrutinize the unit and noticed many small ceramic sherds and rocks which looked like wig curlers, much to the vexation of my partner who advised me to not pick up everything, as we would be screening all the dirt later. While teamwork is a good thing, sometimes you have to stick to your gut and scrutinize everything, even if it takes more time. After about an hour or so of shoveling, I noticed a round brown object a few inches away from my shovel and unsurprisingly, picked it up. Luckily, it was a wig curler! I was so happy and lucky to have finally found one. Until this point, I was doubting my abilities but finding a wig curler helped boost my confidence in my skills as a field student and future archaeologist.

Posing with the wig curler.

Posing with the wig curler.

Close­up shot of the wig curler, with the maker’s mark.

Close­up shot of the wig curler, with the maker’s mark.

Friday was hottest day of the week, and I immediately began sweating as soon as I stepped outside. On this day I felt like I was working twice as slowly because of the heat, but I was wrong as we eventually reached the colonial layer and began shoveling our way into subsoil. I tried my best to deal with the unusually hot and humid weather by drinking a lot of water and applying lots of sunblock, but the heat eventually got to me and I started seeing purple spots and feeling dizzy. Luckily, there is lots of work to be done at Ferry Farm and I got to spend the last hal f­hour of the day sorting paperwork in the nice, air­conditioned lab with my partner, who was so kind to join me inside when she easily could have stayed outside and finished the unit by herself. I am very thankful that I will get to finish the unit with my partner and look forward to the final week of field school!

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