Goodbye For Now: Mariana Zechini’s Final Week

by Mariana Zechini, VCU Student

The last week of field school was bittersweet. On Monday, VCU students met in Colonial Williamsburg to tour the site, talk to archaeologists and meet with Emily Williams, the Conservator of Archaeological Materials. We met in Williamsburg around 9:30 and immediately headed over to two areas where archaeologists are currently digging. The first site is located at Market Square and run by Meredith Poole and Andrew Edwards. A Virtual Curation Laboratory intern and recent graduate of VCU, Crystal Castleberry, is interning at Colonial Williamsburg and specifically working on the Bray school site where she talked us through what is going on there. The Bray School was a school for enslaved children in the 18th century and excavations are currently being done in the yard.

 Crystal Castleberry talks to VCU students about current excavations at the Bray School site in Williamsburg.

Crystal Castleberry talks to VCU students about current excavations at the Bray School site in Williamsburg.

Afterwards, Emily Williams gave a presentation on conservators, their role and why they are important. Conservation has always been interesting to me, especially after working with the 3D scanner at the Virtual Curation Laboratory but I never fully understood the amount of work that goes into preserving artifacts! Emily Williams talked to us about the academic background that an archaeological conservator needs as well as to interpret and protect artifacts so that they will be around for future generations to study.

An x-ray of a watering can reveals a design on the object.

An x-ray of a watering can reveals a design on the object.

On Tuesday, Lauren and I spent the day in the lab at Ferry Farm. Every Tuesday, one group went into the lab to learn about procedures done once artifacts have been recovered. Lauren and I were the last group to visit the lab and I was interested to see the differences in laboratory procedures from Fairfax County’s Cultural Resource Management and Protection Branch, where I have been working all summer. Lauren and I spent the morning washing artifacts and practicing for our ceramics test. In the afternoon we bagged labeled artifacts. I enjoyed the labeling process because it is something that I had never done before.

 Lauren washes artifacts in the lab on Tuesday.

Lauren washes artifacts in the lab on Tuesday.

 

Wednesday we were finally back in the field after a four day break. Lauren and I had left our lovely unit at the colonial layer and weren’t finding many artifacts. We spent the day shoveling through our colonial and transitional layers with zero artifacts being recovered. Fortunately, this meant that we had completed our second unit! We were thrilled that we were able to finish the unit before the end of field school.

Thursday morning was spent profiling units, which is something I had never done before. Profiling is a great way to hone your stratigraphy skills because it allows you to see a vertical representation of each layer. In the afternoon, Dr. Means took us to Dovetail, a cultural resource group located minutes from Ferry Farm. There, we met with Kerry González, their Lab Manager, who showed us laboratory procedures that take place there, as well as hundreds of ceramics recovered from a kiln site down the road from University of Mary Washington. This was very interesting because the Virtual Curation Laboratory has scanned some of the kiln furniture recovered from the same exact site!

Friday was, sadly, the last day of field school. We started the morning off with our ceramics test and then Lauren and I spent the rest of the morning writing unit summaries for the two units that we excavated. During lunch, field school students went down to the river to throw rocks across it, as per tradition. No one made it all the way across but it was very fun nonetheless!

Students tossing rocks across the Rappahannock. Photo by Bernard Means.

Students tossing rocks across the Rappahannock. Photo by Bernard Means.

 

Friday afternoon, Vivian and I had the opportunity to map the 10 ft x 30 ft area that field school students had excavated over the five weeks at Ferry Farm. I was very excited because I hadn’t expected to be able to learn about the mapping process and I wanted to learn all about the procedures done after a unit has been excavated, including profiling, report writing and mapping. Vivian and I finished mapping about four units before closing the site.

Vivian and I map the area excavated by field school students. Photo by Bernard Means

Vivian and I map the area excavated by field school students. Photo by Bernard Means

As per tradition, the four remaining field school students signed the toolbox at the end of the day.

Signing the toolbox!

Signing the toolbox!

I can’t express in words how much I value my time at Ferry Farm. Field school was an amazing opportunity and experience where I was able to connect with peers and professionals through archaeology. Goodbye for now, Ferry Farm!

 

Ferry Farm on the Fourth of July.

Ferry Farm on the Fourth of July.

 

 

Last, But Not Least: Lauren Volker’s Week 5

by Lauren Volkers, VCU student

Day 24 (Monday): Today we went to Colonial Williamsburg to get a tour of the archaeology sites and to see their lab. When we first arrived we went to one of the archaeology sites, one of them is across from the court house. One of the directors, Andrew Edwards, gave us an overview of the site and what they are looking for. Currently they are looking for a Market Square house that was on a Frenchmen’s map in 1782. They use this map to help them get an idea of where the buildings use to be. Dr. Edwards also talked about Jimmy trenches that they encounter. Jimmy trenches are named after Jimmy Knight who dug trenches every meter to look for buildings. After we went to another site where we visited a VCU grad, Crystal Castleberry. Crystal then told us about the site she is working on with other interns. The site use to be the site of the Bray School that educated slave children owned by William and Mary. Then we took a quick break for lunch and met up with Emily Williams who works in the lab and gave us a short lecture on reconstruction. We got a tour of their lab and got to see how they clean artifacts. They even had an x-ray of a vessel to see what it was, which was really cool.

Field Director Andrew Edwards talking about the site.

Field Director Andrew Edwards talking about the site.

Day 25ish: Today Mariana and I were in the lab all day. In the morning we washing artifacts from last year’s field school and then ate lunch outside with everyone else. It was interesting to see how they wash artifacts and the different tools they use. After lunch we learned to bag artifacts, I didn’t know how detailed they were. First you take a dry tray and go through each type of artifact and then group the ones that are the same. The plus side Mariana and I got some ceramic practice in before our test. After we got to label some artifacts, which was very meticulous. I really enjoyed labeling but trying to get the little bits of paper to face the right way was really annoying.

 

Mariana in the lab washing a tooth.

Mariana in the lab washing a tooth.

Day 26ish (Wednesday): In the morning Mariana and I finished our colonial layer, but ran into a root mold so we had to stop and get a new context for it. After we didn’t find anything we continued digging our transition layer and we reached subsoil just a little after lunch. We had to keep digging earlier because we had coal flecking in our soil. Once we finished out our unit we got to remove our SW balk. Removing a balk is much easier because you only need a context if you find something and you go down by layers.

Our finished unit!

Our finished unit!

Day 27ish: Once we finished our balk in the morning we then got to learn how to profile our wall. I think profiling is one of my favorite things to do, its oddly relaxing. First you have to line a level string to make sure your measurements are accurate. Then you score the wall to see the stratigraphy in the wall and measure each layer each half an inch. Then you get the old paper work to right down what the soil color and texture was for each layer. In the afternoon Dr. Means surprised us with a field trip to Dove Tail to look at their facility. It was really interesting to see how they run their lab because they were able to transform an office facility into a working archaeology lab. After we returned to finish up our paper work and then cover up the site.

Mariana and I’s scored East wall profile.

Mariana and I’s scored East wall profile.

 

Day 28ish (Last day): This morning we started with our ceramic’s test, which went pretty well and then we had our weekly group discussion. After, we all of the field students went down to the Rappahannock River to see if anyone could through a stone across to the other side like George Washington supposedly did. My first throw was horrible! I released the rock to late and ended up throwing it on the ground, but my second try I did much better. Aaron had the best throw out of everyone and made it pretty close to the other side. After Mariana and I did both our unit summaries and then we profiled some south walls. After I finished one of our unit summaries I got to do a whole wall profile by myself, which was super exciting! At the end of the day most of the other field school students left so the last of us got to sign the tool box for this year’s field school and then put tarps over our units for the last time, sadly. This maybe the last day, but this experience has been amazing and I will surely never forget it.

All of our finished units and the utility trench going through them.

All of our finished units and the utility trench going through them.

The return makes one love the farewell: Bridget Polk’s Week 5

by Bridget Polk, VCU student

This week was the final week of field school, topping off the month long experience. It’s great to finally say that I can participate in archaeology but I am reminded that there is always room to learn. New people can teach me new techniques or just help with my understanding of the field. I look back at my first blog post at how excited I was and realize that I am still just as excited as I was then, no matter how tired I may feel. I really did pick to do something that I love.

We began our week on a visit to Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, VA. There, we visited the dig sites where they were looking for a market building and part of an old dormitory. From there, we saw the sites of the town, walking through Merchants Square and proceeding to eat lunch at the Cheese Shop. We walked over to visit the Conservationists where we got to visit the lab and view how conservation of artifacts happened.

 

Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg

The rest of the week, we took to cleaning up and finishing the units that we had started. Profiling became one of my favorite things to do, as it came naturally to me. I got to profile three walls by the time Friday came around. Around Wednesday, we took the baulks down all the way to the bottom of the unit. Who knew there would still be artifacts in the baulks? After finding a few nails and bits of ceramics later, we had the unit down completely. The last thing to do was to scrape our part of the site clean. Starting from the wall, all of us worked our way west, scraping the units to allow them to be fresh and able to be mapped by the interns and field director next week.

 

Our unit’s profile. Look at that stratigraphy!

Our unit’s profile. Look at that stratigraphy!

How it all transfers to paper.

How it all transfers to paper.

I will miss getting to dig but it’s time for me to be thinking about going back to school and graduating. While I sit in my desk in classes, I’m just going to be itching to be back in the field with a trowel in my hand, a pencil in my pocket, and a smile on my face.

 

 

My last week of field school was a great one: Olivia McCarty’s Week 5

by Olivia McCarty, VCU student

My last week of field school was a great one, we got to go to Williamsburg, we finished our unit, and I learned how to profile.

The week started out with a trip to Williamsburg, where we got to visit the two archaeological sites that they are presently working on. The first site’s goal was to try and find the original Market Square buildings foundation, which is shown in a 1782 map, unfortunately they weren’t having much luck, but it was still a very interesting site to see. The other site that we saw was the Bray School, which was a school that was created during the colonial era. This school is quite special because it was established to teach enslaved African American children how to read, write, and learn vocational skills at a time when this idea was unfortunately very unpopular. Crystal Castleberry, a former VCU student and Ferry Farm field student, is lucky enough to be working on the project and gave us a great tour of the site.

Once the tour was completed we had some free time to walk around Williamsburg and eat lunch at the delicious Cheese Shop. After lunch, we then got a lecture on conservation by Emily Williams, who is the Conservator of Archaeological Materials at Colonial Williamsburg. She gave us lots of advice about what it means to be a conservator, and what skills you need to have. I for one definitely did not know how important it was to have a good science background to be a conservator and I also enjoyed getting to walk around their lab after her lecture and see how they worked on preserving all of their artifacts. The tours and the lectures were a great way to start the week and I was already looking forward to Tuesday when I would be back in my own unit once again.

Since it was the last week of field school I knew that we really had to work hard to make sure that we finished in time, and boy did we begin the morning with a bang, the kids archaeology camp came over and help us screen we had to shovel through a lot of our antebellum layer to keep up with the demand. The antebellum layer at Ferry farm, is usually the most artifact heavy layer, so after the kid’s camp left my partner and I dumped out our artifact bag and sorted everything out just so we would know what we had found. I enjoyed seeing all the different ceramic sherds together, and I also tried to remember the names of all the different kinds of ceramics we had, including a particularly pretty porcelain piece I found. Once we finished taking inventory of our artifacts, it was back to our unit to finish our antebellum layer.

Our findings!

Our findings!

As we smoothed and leveled out our unit, we unfortunately discovered that our 20th century utility trench was wider then we originally thought, and that our trench also bisected a 20th century shovel test pit from a previous archaeological excavation that would also need to be excavated separately.  So once we closed out our antebellum layer we had to begin to re-excavate our utility trench. After some more heavy handed shoveling, and checking out the profile of our walls we were finally convinced that we had cleared out all of the dirt from that feature and were ready to move on to the next feature on our list, the bisected shovel test pit. However time was not on our side and the day was coming to a close so our shovel test pit would have to wait until Wednesday.

Stephanie works in our unit.

Stephanie works in our unit.

Wednesday came quickly enough and Stephanie and I were ready to attack our shovel test pit and clear it out of our unit. As we started to excavate we quickly realized that this wouldn’t be the same process as when we dug out our trench because this feature was so much smaller and there was limited space so we took turns digging it out. Along with it being a smaller feature we were also given different tools to help us with our excavation and traded in our hefty shovels for a small kitchen spoon that got into the hard to reach places easily and scooped out the dirt so we could get a clear view of the bottom of our shovel test pit. The end was soon in sight and we finished up the feature very quickly after that.

Finally we were ready to start excavating our unit as a whole once more. With only two and a half days left of field school we started to tackle the last layer that was in our way, the colonial layer. We got some help from Ferry Farm intern Katie, who pitched in to help us meet our deadline. After making a decent dent in our colonial layer, we yet again noticed another soil change in the soil. Upon closer inspection we could see that it had a clearly defined long skinny rectangular boarder, and with some discussion we decided that we had just discovered a very nice root mold, which at Ferry Farm we excavate separately from the rest of the unit. Preparing to work on yet another feature we began to dust up the units loose dirt and noticed that the root mold wasn’t the only feature we were seeing. Right on the northwest side of our trench there was an irregular shaped blob that was also an unusual soil color. We hadn’t merely discovered just one feature; we were fortunate enough to discover two. Fearing that my last two days of field school were going to be working on excavating even more features we asked our field director Laura Galke what we should do and she decided that we should stop excavating, because we didn’t have enough time to excavate these new features properly. As we closed out our last unit for the season it was bitter sweet knowing that on one side of things I wouldn’t have to deal with anymore features and yet also wanting to find out what that second feature could possible be.

On Thursday with our unit completed we were given many other smaller jobs to complete and even had a surprise field trip. Our first and newest task we had to complete was profiling. Profiling is when you take a look at the walls in your unit and map out the stratigraphy you see, Ashley and Vivian explained this process to Stephanie and I and helped us get started with scoring our different layers. Having scored, or marked, the four different soil changes on our wall we began to try and map it by measuring a layer every half a foot and marking it on our map. I very much liked the profiling process, as I feel like it brought everything we were working on together, and really helped me hone my ability to see where the different soil changes occurred. With our unit and profile completed we were then sent to the lab to finish out our unit summary, where we described what we found in each layer and noted anything that my have been significant or helped the director when she writes her end of the season report about the findings at Ferry Farm. With everyone in my group having completed their units early Dr. Means was able to finagle one last field trip in to help us learn more about archaeology vocations.

This field trip was to Dovetail, a local cultural resource group in Fredericksburg that does archaeology at sites where the archaeological record is going to be destroyed or modified by having a building or some other human activity effect it. We were able to see where they keep the artifacts, how they work with all the different states laws that they have to follow, and what kind of qualifications you need to work there. It was a great last field trip to have because field school is the first step you need to take to work at one of these cultural resource companies.

The last day of field school was a sad one, but we still had plenty of work to do.  We started out the day with a ceramics test, a quick discussion about some readings, and then gave all the units we worked on a fresh scrape so that they could begin mapping the whole area we excavated this year. As it approached midday we as a field school headed down to the river to join in on a fun Ferry Farm tradition of trying to copy a young George Washington and throw a stone across the Rappahannock river. Even though the river is much smaller than it was in Washington’s day no one in my group was lucky enough to make it across the river, but many valiant efforts were made.

A plan view!

A plan view!

We returned to the site and had the option of profiling or going inside and working on paperwork. I decided to enjoy the nice weather and stay outside and work on profiling along with some of my other classmates. The next profile I had to work on was a lot more complicated because it had two trenches showing up in its walls but knowing that this was going to be my last project of the field season I worked hard on completing it. I finished shortly before it was time to leave and after we covered up our site one final time we also were given a marker and joined all previous field school groups of writing our names on the toolbox. It was a great ending to the field school. These past five weeks I have learned so much, gotten to experience a myriad of new things, and met a great group of people through this class. I feel so lucky for having been apart of Ferry Farm, and I know that this place, and experience has given me a great foundation to build upon as I plan to continue to further my exploration in the field of archaeology.

Final week of field school arrived: Ruth Martin’s Week 5

by Ruth Martin, VCU student

The final week of field school arrived.  This week started off with a field trip to Williamsburg. After an hour and 45 minute drive that went by very quickly, we entered Williamsburg. When we first entered we were greeted with reenactors.

 

Reenactor driving a horse-drawn carriage through Williamsburg.

Reenactor driving a horse-drawn carriage through Williamsburg.

We headed straight to first archaeological site in Williamsburg. Archaeologists were excavating this part of Williamsburg to determine the dimensions of the marketplace square.

Market Square excavations underway.

Market Square excavations underway.

Next we visited Williamsburg’s field school, who were busy excavating around the enslaved children’s school. Their goal was to uncover outbuildings. Their screening equipment was different from ours in the way that it was built. At Williamsburg they had to hold their screens, shake them, and shift all at the same time. While at Ferry Farm, we have stands that hold our screens while we shift.

After that, we had lunch at the cheese shop, which boasted a variety of interesting sandwiches. After lunch we explored Williamsburg for a while before meeting up with Emily Williams.  She gave us an intriguing lecture on conservation.  In her presentation, she talked about some of the old ways they used to conserve artifacts.  One of these included dropping them in a liquid substance, which preserved the artifacts well but was extremely dangerous for the conservators.  One instance of this is when a conservator dropped live ammunition in the liquid and it shot through the ceiling to the next floor!  However, all artifacts preserved this way hardly need to be cleaned or maintained. Although this practice is no longer in use today, for obvious reasons.  Another outdated conservation technique involved coating metal artifacts in thick black wax.  Conservators believed the wax would seal off the oxygen to prevent rust, or if rust did appear it would be readily apparent on the black wax and easily removed.  In reality, rust forms under the wax layers, but is hardly to the conservator until damage is substantial and often irreparable.  These artifacts today must be stripped of the black wax covering and conserved in another way.

Next, Emily showed us the conservation lab.  She showed us the different projects they were working on, including removing dirt from copper using a microscope, and piecing together a tortoise shell.  Lastly, she showed the way an x-ray image revealed intricate decorations on an object that appeared plain to the naked eye.

  A piece of copper being cleaned with the help of a microscope, you can see the removed dirt-look to the right of the copper piece.


A piece of copper being cleaned with the help of a microscope, you can see the removed dirt-look to the right of the copper piece.

The rest of the week was less eventful.  Ryan and I finished our unit, in which the feature reappeared, which will not be excavated until next season.  We then did profiles of the northern and eastern walls of the unit.  Once we closed it out, it was too late in the field season to begin another unit, so we worked on different tasks (such as profiling and unit summary forms) to round up my final week in field school.

North wall  of the unit, freshly scraped and in process for a profile.

North wall of the unit, freshly scraped and in process for a profile.

 

I was able to actually do something with what I’ve learned: Stephanie King’s Week 5

by Stephanie King, VCU student

This week, we went to Colonial Williamsburg to see how archaeologists approach excavation within the historic town. We spoke with a few people, including VCU alumni Crystal Castleberry, who filled us in on what they were looking for and what challenges they faced. Apart from strange methods used in the past (especially an extraordinarily large system of criss-crossing trenches), the soil layers in Williamsburg are incredibly thick and rife with 19th and 20th century disturbances.

Touring the Bray School site with Crystal Castleberry as guide.

Touring the Bray School site with Crystal Castleberry as guide.

After enjoying the many distractions of the Colonial shopping center (Scottish imports!) and lunch at the Cheese Shop, we went to the Rockefeller Library and toured the historic preservation laboratory.

Emily Williams in the Colonial Williamsburg Archaeological Conservation Laboratory.

Emily Williams in the Colonial Williamsburg Archaeological Conservation Laboratory.

X-ray of a conserved metal object.

X-ray of a conserved metal object.

Returning to Ferry Farm, we realized that we were all fairly close to done with our second units. Everyone wrapped up their units by Thursday, and we learned how to profile the excavated walls on the eastern side of the site. Technically, some of the units are not “closed” because features are present — we closed our final contexts for the year to leave those features in situ so their relation to one another can be thought over. Because a few of these features resemble plant molds, there may be evidence that the back yard of the Washington home was purposely gardened to create a welcoming facade. Best leave the features there so they can be excavated carefully without the pressure of a few-days left of field school.

Field school party!

Field school party!

The send-off for field school was delightful fun. Our mentors were gifted good tidings of wine and chocolates, students received their own party favors, and we watched a slideshow of photos from the past five weeks. And Sharknado. Archaeology is serious business. And so, naturally, a vast majority of us came to the last day of field school entirely covered in temporary tattoos.

Throwing stones across the Rappahannock.

Throwing stones across the Rappahannock.

Sadly, I didn’t find a single wig curler (not a one!), but I certainly would not mind stopping by to help further at Ferry Farm. It feels wonderful to know that I was able to actually do something with what I’ve learned over the past few years. Hopefully, I can used what I’ve learned from the past few weeks to do something more.

We Couldn’t Believe it Was Over So Fast: Vivian Hite’s Week 5

by Vivian Hite, VCU student

Ready to dig!

Ready to dig!

Day 1-

On Monday we all met at the Rockefeller Library in Williamsburg.  We began our tour at the archaeological dig in Market Corner.  The dig goal was to determine the location of a colonial structure so that they can build a replica there.  The second site we visited was the Bray School for enslaved and freed African Americans during the colonial era. Crystal Castleberry, a former VCU Ferry Farm student, is an intern with Colonial Williamsburg working on the site. After visiting the dig sites we ventured to the museum grade lab.  Conservator Emily Williams presented to us on archaeological conservation methods and procedures after which we toured the lab.  We examined the artifact cases, x-rays, and lab work being done there.  Though many of us enjoy the field aspect of archaeology, some were extremely enthralled to learn the conservation aspect of archaeology and make the connections provided to us.

Day 2-

Tuesday Francesca and I both worked hard to finish our colonial layer.  While spraying down our unit to determine the soil color we noticed two features in the bottom of our colonial layer. One of the features was found in the center of our unit, shaped like an Easter Peep it had a slight color change, a different soil texture, and charcoal flecks within it.  The second feature was found in the northwest corner of our unit bordering the “subsoil” to the west of our unit.  The discovery of both features halted excavation of our unit but it appears we reached subsoil.

After finishing our unit we began to profile our original unit’s east wall.  As we scored each layer we began to see all our work come together; the relationship between each layer and the overall relation between each unit as the overall eastern portion of the site.

Day 3-

Wednesday morning I went into the small finds lab to finish the unit summaries for both my original and my second unit.  As I compiled the information and reviewed the work completed for the last five weeks I realized how much I enjoyed what all I had done.

Paperwork!

Paperwork!

After finishing the unit summaries I returned to the field to help excavate.  The baulks that once helped us record elevation were now being removed.  Layer by layer Stephanie, Olivia, and I removed the baulk that separated our units.  We finished the day with our antebellum layer wondering what else we would be doing the following day.

Day 4-

Thursday we did a little bit of everything.  The morning started with finishing our baulk.  Once that was entirely removed I helped Olivia and Stephanie set up their unit for profiling.  After they finished their profile Stephanie went to the lab to finish her unit summary while Olivia and I moved on to another profile on the south wall.  Before we could finish our profile we were dismissed from the field for an impromptu field trip to Dovetail.  Dovetail is a CRM company in Fredericksburg that works throughout Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, and other northern states.  Once the tour was finished some went home in preparation for the end of season party tonight while Olivia, Mariana, Lauren, and I returned to the field.  All of us still had to finish our profiles from earlier in the day.

Working with Stephanie.

Working with Stephanie.

Day 5- mapping , profiling,

On our last day of field school we all were instructed to give our units a fresh scrape for the following weeks mapping.  After the units were finished some students left the field to pack and return home while others stayed to finish various tasks.  By the end of the day only Olivia, Mariana, Lauren and I were left.  Lauren and Olivia worked on profiles while Mariana and I began mapping our units for the final map.

Mapping and profiling.

Mapping and profiling.

The last day brought all of our work together.  We profiled and learned to map, we tried to throw rocks across the Rappahannock River like George once did, and we signed our names alongside much other field school students names on the north toolbox.  Field school wrapped up just as they told us on the first day it would, but we couldn’t believe it was over so fast.

The signed toolbox!

The signed toolbox!