A Week Beginning with Rain: Ruth Martin’s Week 2

by Ruth Martin, VCU student

And so the second week of field school began with rain. On Monday morning all of the field team went out ready to work. We uncovered the site – pulling back black waterproof tarps by removing the concrete blocks that held them in place. No sooner had we gotten all of the metal equipment out of the shed and toolbox than it started to rain. The rain came down in increasingly heavier waves, so we covered the site back up again. We then tried to wait it out underneath the magnolia tree, where we dragged all the metal equipment to protect it. Eventually we got soaked through, and called it a day.

Tuesday was our field trip day(it’s also our lab so no one had go in this week). We traveled to Montpelier- the place where the father of the Constitution, James Madison grew up and lived. We were given a tour of the mansion, then walked around the grounds. Placed on top of the soil near the mansion were replicas of the framing of the slave quarters. The wooden frames were placed on top of the soil to prevent disruption in the soil record and well as the use of recycled shredded tires as a walkway.

Afterwards we checked out the ongoing site. We even got to visit the lab. In the lab there were drawers that could be pulled open, inside there were artifacts displayed and labeled.

Inside the Montpelier lab at the artifact display drawers.

Inside the Montpelier lab at the artifact display drawers.

The 4th of July, Thursday was a little crazy.  We –the 9 field students–weren’t used to having so many people on site. Normally there are only a few visitors per day, so it was exciting to see so many people interested in our work at once.

This week Stephanie and I didn’t get too far in our layers, we are still in our antebellum layer. Though our antebellum layer seems unusually thick. We found a few interesting things such as a square coroner of glass, a piece of pipe stem, a white ceramic that is possibility piece of a tea cup handle and some beautiful pieces of quartz. By Friday we were finding an increasing amount of olive colored glass, an indicator that we are close to the colonial layer.

Ceramic fragment and part of a pipe stem.

Ceramic fragment and part of a pipe stem.

 

 Piece of quartz.

Piece of quartz.

The Heat is On! Bridget Polk’s Week 2

by Bridget Polk, VCU student

Week 2 has come and gone. With the temperatures beginning to rise, I start to question why dig season is in the summer. But at the end of the day, I forget all that as I take time to think about the day. Do I still want to do this? The answer is: yes! I love being able to get down into the dirt and sift around solving mysteries that some might not have been able to understand. It furthers my education and many others’ education as well.

Arriving on site Monday, I was apprehensive about the weather and hoped it would hold out for us to dig but sadly, the rains came and digging was cancelled. I would have loved to have been digging still but it was nice to have a day off as I work on the weekends and don’t really have a break lately.

The view from Montpelier.

The view from Montpelier.

Moving on to Tuesday, Our class visited the home of James Madison, Montpelier. There, we visited the grounds to learn about a fellow founding father and how archaeology was crucial for the reconstruction of the gorgeous house. We were able to visit the field school at Montpelier and see their dig site. It was great to compare the two and meet a few of the students and interns. Next, we visited their lab. It is one of the largest and most visitor friendly labs I have seen. I would like to encourage anyone who is going to Montpelier to visit the lab and take a look at what they have found. The staff is super friendly and would love to show you around.

Finally on Wednesday we got to dig again! As temperatures began to rise, my water intake increased as well. It’s important to be safe while digging out in the hot sun. My dig partner, Aaron, and I found another wig curler throughout the day as we dug our way down through the antebellum layer.

Wig curler found on the Third. Number 2!

Wig curler found on the Third. Number 2!

The Fourth of July was interesting for us to say the least. All of us chose to dig on this holiday and really tried to shine with the public. Not to mention, we found another wig curler too! It was fun watching the littler kids sifting through the soil and getting excited over what they thought was a jewel but was probably just a rock. It reminded me of when I was young and loved to learn about history. These kids might grow up to be like me when they get older and that puts a smile on my face to think that I could have excited them to pursue archaeology.

Friday came and went by pretty quickly as Aaron and I dug down to the colonial layer almost finishing up our first unit! We will be back on Wednesday to take pictures and get it all done. Monday will be our field trip to Mount Vernon and Tuesday I am in the lab! I’ll update next week!

 A beautiful piece of glass I found in the Colonial layer.


A beautiful piece of glass I found in the Colonial layer.

Talking to George Washington: Oliva McCarty’s Week 2

by Olivia McCarty, VCU student

One of the pipe stems we found in the antebellum layer.

One of the pipe stems we found in the antebellum layer.

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.

The enslaved worker’s buildings at Montpelier.

The enslaved worker’s buildings at Montpelier.

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.

Ashley telling us about a ceramic sherd we found

Ashley telling us about a ceramic sherd we found

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.

Ashley laughing with a Union solider reenactor.

Ashley laughing with a Union solider reenactor.

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.

 

As We Drove through the Winding Countryside: Vivian Hite’s Week 2

by Vivian Hite, VCU student

Day 1:

On Monday morning we all excitedly left the dorms at Mary Washington College eager to continue the previous week’s excavation.  As we arrived to the site we could see clouds out across the Rappahannock and hoped we could get through the day as we had not completed a full day’s work yet.  As soon as we were able to gather our paperwork we hurriedly finished the 20th Century context information.  Just as we filed our paperwork, the storm made its presence known.  We quickly covered the site as we had seen done only a few times before and huddled under the Magnolia tree awaiting its passing.  Sadly, Ashley had to make the call to send us on our way as the storm showed no signs of letting up.  Thankfully we’re better archaeologists than weathermen, as the storm soon cleared yet we were off the site for the day.

Day 2:

Tuesday began with us gathering on the front steps of the dorms waiting for Dr. Means and Ashley to arrive.  After a quick stop at the local Starbucks, we were on the road for Montpelier.  As we drove through the winding countryside, we were curious to see if the tour of the area would be anything like the previous trip to Wakefield.

The visit began with a tour of the house.  Though our interpreter took a different approach than our Wakefield friend, the visit was informative and helped create a background for the archaeological site we were about to see.   On our way to the site we walked through the outlined slave quarters down a tire-derived pathway.  Both the eco sidewalk and blocks the structures sat on allow for no degradation to any archaeological records or sites below.

When we arrived at the dig site we were greeted by Dr. Mark Trickett.  As we observed some of their finds of the day, Dr. Matt Reeves coasted in on his bike.  As part of the site was uncovered, we were able to see some of the pits believed to be part of the slave quarters.  The goal of the excavation is to determine the location and amount of slave quarters in the field.  As the team gathered for lunch we were asked back to their lab to observe other found artifacts.  As we looked up at their summer-camp looking lab we wondered what would be inside.

As we stepped inside the wooden structure we were amazed by the organization of the lab.  It was open and easily accessible for the public and yet a great study tool for those with an archaeological background.   The file cabinets along the side wall each had pull out drawers with artifacts carefully grouped by era or type.  It allowed for some impromptu ceramics lessons in preparation for our upcoming quiz.

The lab at Montpelier.

The lab at Montpelier.

Day 3:

On Wednesday we were finally able to begin our antebellum context.  As other groups had begun the layer and were finding interesting artifacts, we were excited to see what ours would reveal.  Unfortunately by afternoon we had found something in our layer we wish we hadn’t.  Units on both our left and right had discovered a trench running through their units and it ran directly through ours.  Feature 13, a 20th century utility trench, ran directly through our unit.  We continued to excavate our context until it was even and our walls were straight.  Frustration already growing with the amount and size of rocks filling our unit we were not looking forward to the upcoming context.  However, the artifacts we found throughout the day did provide excitement.  With the ample amount of ceramics we found, the lessons from the lab on Tuesday came in handy.  Along with the sherds, nail pieces and other metal fragments were found.

Day 4:

The Fourth started with intense excitement as we all prepared for the celebratory events at Ferry Farm.  We uncovered the site, more than usual, and as the smells and sounds of the vendors and exhibits of the decades past. Luckily, the morning traffic was slow and we were able to photograph our current antebellum context and begin the dreaded trench.

Public archaeology on July 4!

Public archaeology on July 4!

Because of our unit’s location to the edge of the site, the public drifted towards our unit for questions and observations.   Many people just wanted to understand our dig site in regards to the Washington’s house and what we were digging for.  Our explanation of wig curlers was always a favorite especially with the children.  They were always fascinated by the idea of men wearing lavish wigs and us finding those small things in the dirt.  As the visitors flocked to the site, the need for sifting dirt increased.  Much to the children’s dismay our layer exposed mostly rocks; however we did come across a fairly large lead glazed ceramic identified as a milk pan.  Though slowing our work on the trench, the chaos and business of the public’s attention and day’s theatrics caused the Fourth to become my favorite day in the field.

Day 5:

In contradiction to the previous goings on, Friday moved at a slow pace.  The heat and humidity coupled with Thursday’s efforts and the remaining trench, made for a long day ahead.  We eventually got through the trench despite mild waves of sickness and exhaustion and were relieved to finalize the paperwork on the trench.  Tuesday’s dig could not come soon enough.  The only good thing to come from the trench, in our opinion, was that we now had a reference for our context layers.  Our antebellum appeared rich and still remained thick, full of artifacts and hopefully wig curlers and other cool finds.  As the week begins with high hopes, a small fear rides over the other students as we try to determine the colonial layer and explain why it is so thin and deeper than the previous excavation units.   As it appears, Tuesday’s excavation will need to answer some questions and with any luck deliver some artifacts within our unit.

Documenting the utility trench.

Documenting the utility trench.

 

 

Riches of the Antebellum and Trenches of the 20th Century: Francesca Chesler’s Week 2

By Francesca Chesler, VCU student

My first day of the second week of field school ended very abruptly due to unfortunate weather conditions. We had just uncovered the site and began finishing up our paperwork when it started pouring rain, and our day quickly ended. I was disappointed that we had to finish so early, but meeting everyone for dinner later that night was a great bonding experience.

On Tuesday, we went on a field trip to Montpelier, home of James Madison. I had never been to Montpelier before, so I was really excited to visit his estate. Our tour guide was a very interesting person, and I think that a tour guide can really influence how one interprets a historical site. Our tour guide, while extremely knowledgeable about the site, seemed to downplay the complete dehumanization of slavery and doted on the fact the Dolley Madison’s former slave would give her food and money later on in his life as a free man. Although I have not read anything in the historic record about this, I was very skeptical about this story. Nevertheless, I liked this field trip a lot as we got to see how other field schools and labs were run. I also liked how the field school at Montpelier had a very large lab compared to the one at Ferry Farm, and even a dig site or sand pit for children to play in. The field school students were also very friendly and answered my many questions about what they were cleaning in the lab and what they had found in the field so far.

Montpelier, the home of James Madison.

Montpelier, the home of James Madison.

I was very excited for Wednesday to begin after spending a weekend and two days away from the site! My partners and I began vigorously excavating our unit, which is still in the antebellum layer and our hard work paid off. We found many ceramic artifacts, and I began to see the difference in ceramics, such as the color of pearlware compared to creamware and the texture of salt­- glazed ceramics. My favorite find of the day was a sherd of green ceramic, identified as porcelain by Ashley. I really liked this find because most of the porcelain I had seen, from Montpelier to the lab in Ferry Farm was blue and white. I think this unique sherd was very special and once again reminded me why I want to be an archaeologist, to find artifacts that may seem mundane to others, but are endlessly fascinating to me. We also found out that our unit had a feature, a utility trench dating to the 20th century. Therefore, we had to stop excavating the antebellum layer and score and excavate the trench, which had a large pipe underneath it. The day ended before we could begin excavating the trench, and I predicted that we would not have time to finish it until Friday.

The green porcelain sherd I found on Wednesday. I think the color is very unique.

The green porcelain sherd I found on Wednesday. I think the color is very unique.

Thursday, July 4th, was a very special day for me. Almost immediately after we uncovered our work unit, I found a pipe stem that dated from the 1750s­1800s! I was extremely happy to find this pipe stem because our unit seemed mainly to consist of nails and ceramic sherds. Also, we were given the option to take the day off, everyone decided to show up to excavate and interact with the public.

Because our unit was very close to the general public, we were constantly surrounded by people. I am a very shy person, so at first it was very overwhelming to see so many people watching us work. However, I realized that they were simply curious and wanted to know more, especially the children, and I tried my best to answer all of their questions. I enjoyed helping the children sift through the dirt as they were easily excitable and thought that nearly every rock and pebble was something of great value. I could not think of a better way to celebrate Independence day then excavating at the childhood home of George Washington!

Interacting with the public on July 4th. They were very interested in our finds.

Interacting with the public on July 4th. They were very interested in our finds.

Pipe stem dating from the 1750­-1800s.

Pipe stem dating from the 1750­-1800s.

 As Friday rolled around, our group worked very hard to excavate our feature, a utility trench from the  20th century. Although I am not as strong as my digging partners, I attempted to shovel into the trench,largely consisting of large rocks and earthworms. I was not expecting to find anything in the trench, but we found many artifacts including nails, ceramic sherds, glass and part of a milk pan. We were all very focused on our task at hand, and finished excavating our feature by the end of the day! I am very excited to visit Mount Vernon on Monday and get back into the field on Tuesday. My main goal is to improve my excavation techniques, something which can only be done through experience and to find a wig curler and another pipe stem!

 

Our unit on Friday with the large utility trench.

Our unit on Friday with the large utility trench.

A Wide Array of Materials: Stephanie King’s Week 2

by Stephanie King, VCU student

This week had an unexciting start, with rain putting an early end to Monday’s dig. Tuesday had the class at Montpelier, the home to James Madison and his wife Dolly, who was also very capable in her husband’s political and social arenas.

 

Pagoda at Montpelier

Pagoda at Montpelier

The tour of the grounds was largely self-guided, with a brief walk-through of the Madison mansion provided after an equally short introductory video. When the Madisons were present, additions were added to the house as the family grew and the Madisons’ political and social careers advanced. The massive structure that stands today is the result of efforts to restore the home to when James and Dolly were retired, and is still largely a work-in-progress as materials from the home are reacquired or reconstructed. Parts of the home were lavishly decorated according to Dolly’s acute tastes in modern style. Unfortunately, taking photos inside the home was prohibited.

We managed to catch the archaeology crew at Montpelier in their first week of field school. Dr. Matthew Reeves, the director of archaeology at Montpelier, was glad to give us a site tour and invited us to explore the collections inside of the archaeology lab. Professor Means also took the opportunity to use his digital microscope to look at floral remains recovered from flotation analyses. However, the day was cut short (again) due to steady rain.

Tin-glazed earthenware (left) and Chinese porcelain (right)

Tin-glazed earthenware (left) and Chinese porcelain (right)

 

Wednesday was pretty ordinary as far as field school goes, and one of our first full field days. Our unit produced a wide array of materials, from metal pieces and tin-glazed whiteware to a luminous piece of quartz. Some of my favorites for the day included a small fragment of Chinese-imported ceramic and another that resembled Staffordshire slipware, with brown marbling on a light-yellow paste. Judging by these pieces and many others, we are still firmly in our Antebellum layer.

Abolitionist Senator Henry Wilson and two Union soldiers

Abolitionist Senator Henry Wilson and two Union soldiers

Independence Day was exceptionally busy at Ferry Farm. With expositions from the Patawomeck Indians, of Colonial costume and dance (even our own George Washington), and archaeological excavations, there was plenty to see and do and no shortage of people to talk to. Plenty of children and adults alike were excited to assist students in sifting excavated dirt, and many who came to the excavation were eager to learn about its importance. I am proud to have been able to teach even a few people about the efforts of the George Washington Foundation in recreating the historic landscape at Ferry Farm. As an exercise in public archaeology, we all did a fantastic job of relaying our goals to Ferry Farm’s visitors.

 

A fragment of crystalline quartz

A fragment of crystalline quartz

My partner and I reached (at least in part) the Colonial layer of our unit on Friday, although we are still finding pieces of whiteware that are not related to the era. The temporal shift was made apparent by the change in soil color and texture. My goal is to be solidly in the Colonial era by next Tuesday afternoon, after our trip to Mount Vernon on Monday, and to have more diagnostic artifacts that don’t lower the layer’s integrity.

 

Dug and Buried: Lauren Volkers’s Week Two

by Lauren Volkers, VCU student

July 1st, Ferry Farm dig site everything soaking wet from the rain.

July 1st, Ferry Farm dig site everything soaking wet from the rain.

Day 6 (July 1st): Unfortunately it was another short day, due to weather. I was really excited to get down to the antebellum layer today, but Mother Nature had other ideas. We first started to uncover everything and get all of our materials from the surveyor shed, but right as we started to dig it started to rain. As it started to mist we all started to shift through our dirt and that’s when it really started to rain. Mariana and I only were able to get enough dirt to fill half a bucket before we had to start covering everything up. So unfortunately we were only to get about an hours’ worth of digging in today. It was pretty fun to shift through the mud, since the rain made all of our dirt into mud, and it wasn’t too bad getting all wet. Hopefully the weather will be a little bit nicer for the rest of week so we can get more digging done.

 Laura (our field director), Ashley (TA/ field crew chief), Allen (field crew chief), and other interns help shifting some dirt/mud looking for artifacts.

Laura (our field director), Ashley (TA/ field crew chief), Allen (field crew chief), and other interns help shifting some dirt/mud looking for artifacts.

 

Day 7: Today we went on a field trip to Monpelier, James Madison’s old home. First we watched a short film on the history of James Madison and the property. Then we went on a tour of James Madison’s house and got to see what the house may have looked like on the inside. The house is different than what it looked like back then because they had to deconstruct the house since the duPonts (owners of the house after the Madisons) made additions to the house. The goal was to get the house to look like what it would have been during James Madison’s retirement. After the tour the director of Archaeology Matt Reeves gave us a tour of the current excavation site, where the slave houses would have been and possibly a smoke house for tobacco.

The excavation site at James Madison where the slave houses and a possible tobacco house stood.

The excavation site at James Madison where the slave houses and a possible tobacco barn stood.

Then we had a quick lunch break before we went up to see the Archaeology lab. The Archaeology lab was impressive because they had an interactive screen that had information about the site, how things are done, and what they have found so far. I really liked the pull out trays that displayed a bunch of artifacts they found, my favorite were the little toy figures. Some of us were trying to quiz ourselves with the ceramic pieces they had on display. Hopefully I will be able to remember most of them in time for our ceramics test.

A metal statue of James and Dolly Madison.

A metal statue of James and Dolly Madison.

Day 8: Today Mariana and I continued our 20th century layer and finally got to our antebellum layer! Unfortunately due to weather again we had to close early due to a storm. We found our antebellum layer because there were more rocks and the dirt had a little bit of mottling in it. We did not find much in our 20th century layer but we did find glass shards, ceramic sherds, nails, plastic, and lithic debitage. Luckily since we are just about to start our antebellum layer means we will have plenty of dirt for the public to go through and hopefully interesting artifacts to show everyone tomorrow for the 4th of July festival at Ferry Farm.

Day 9: It’s the 4th of July! Ferry Farm was very busy today due to the vendors and the public coming out to celebrate the 4th of July. We also add re-enactors come out too! My favorite was the man who played George Washington; he was really dedicated to his part and knew quite a bit about the history.

volkers figure05

Dr. Means came out too and helped/talk to the public. Since there were so many people Mariana and I got a lot of help shifting through dirt and finding artifacts. I think today was our best day for artifacts because we found: many sherds of ceramics, agate ware, a lot of nails, a sharks tooth, glass shards, lithic debitage, animal bone, and our first hair curler! Unfortunately, again, we had to pause our antebellum layer because a trench was discovered going through our unit and units around us. The trench was first discovered by Katie and Ryan (interns at Ferry Farm) and it turns out that it was a 20th century utility line. Hopefully we can get through it pretty quickly.

volkers figure06

Mariana and I’s first wig curler that has a full end.

Day 10: Today was our second full day of the week so yeah! It was really hot and humid today so we did not get a lot done today since it was so hot. Mariana and I just worked on the trench that went through our unit and luckily it didn’t go through our STP (shovel test pit), but it did get pretty close. Since the trench was 20th century we weren’t expecting to find much. We did find part of a wig curler (not an end piece so it did not count towards the total number of wig curlers), ceramic sherds, glass, and nails. Near the end of day Mariana and I did get near the end of the trench so hopefully on Tuesday we can touch up the walls and continue excavating our antebellum layer.

Our unit with the STP and the 20th century utility pipe running through it. Photo taken by Mariana Zechini.

Our unit with the STP and the 20th century utility pipe running through it.
Photo taken by Mariana Zechini.