Can it Be? We are Done with Week 3

by Bernard K. Means, VCU/Virtual Curation Laboratory

The VCU team after the Mansion tour at Mount Vernon.

The VCU team after the Mansion tour at Mount Vernon.

Week 3 was a lengthy one, bookended by a fieldtrip on Monday to George Washington’s Mount Vernon and a special field trip Saturday to the Smithsonian Institution’s Ripley Center in Washington D.C. (more on that below). We were less bedeviled by weather problems than in Weeks 1 and 2, although not completely free of them while in the field.  Heat, humidity, and morning or afternoon thunderstorms continued to hamper fieldwork some, but most of the VCU students were able to finish–or nearly finish–their first units, and some started excavating new units.

Mariana Zechini with a wig hair curler that she had just found.

Mariana Zechini with a wig hair curler that she had just found.

Vivian and Olivia are shovel ready.

Vivian and Olivia are shovel ready.

Ruth and Stephanie finalize their units.

Ruth and Stephanie finalize their units.

Lauren and Mariana shovel scrape their unit.

Lauren and Mariana shovel scrape their unit.

Vivian and Francesca excavate their 20th century utility trench with aplomb.

Vivian and Francesca excavate their 20th century utility trench with aplomb.

Bridget and Aaron start a new unit, by removing the root-bound top layer.

Bridget and Aaron start a new unit, by removing the root-bound top layer.

The VCU field school students were aided in their endeavors by the supervision of VCU’s Ashley McCuistion.

Ashley discusses the complex stratigraphy of one unit.

Ashley discusses the complex stratigraphy of one unit.

Ashley discusses the state of excavation with the VCU field school students.

Ashley discusses the state of excavation with the VCU field school students Aaron and Bridget.

Although they’ve heard about the importance of laboratory work in my classes, Aaron and Bridget were able to appreciate this first hand this week.  Our policy is to rotate field school students into the laboratory at least once during their tenure at field school.

Aaron washing in the lab.

Aaron washing in the lab.

Bridget in the lab.

Bridget in the lab.

The rainy parts of days are less than fun for the VCU field school students, but it does give them a chance to catch up on paper work.  They all understand that archaeological fieldwork is by its nature destructive, and that accurately completed paper work is key to future studies of the past.

George Washington ensures that everyone is honest with their paper work.

George Washington ensures that everyone is honest with their paper work.

On Friday, we were fortunate to have a visit from Dave Brown and his fellow colleagues at the Fairfield Foundation. Their visit started out with a tour of the site by Ashley McCuistion, who discussed the 10,000 year history of the landscape, focusing on our current efforts in the Washington-era landscape, but also discussing the American Civil War component.

Ashley stands within the footprint of the Washington Family home while giving a tour to the Fairfield Foundation.

Ashley stands next to the footprint of the Washington Family home while giving a tour to the Fairfield Foundation.

Following the mid-day lunch break, and what I understand was a spirited discussion of Small Finds, especially wig curlers, the VCU field school students and the George Washington Foundation interns gave tours of their excavation units, discussing as they had the past two Fridays, what this week’s findings were, and where they expected to direct their attentions in Week 4.

Stephanie and Olivia discuss their test unit.

Stephanie and Olivia discuss their test unit.

Dave Brown of the Fairfield Foundation discusses with the Ferry Farm excavation team some of the enigmatic features.

Dave Brown of the Fairfield Foundation discusses with the Ferry Farm excavation team some of the enigmatic features that are being excavated.

The VCU field school did not end Friday afternoon as it had in past weeks.  On Saturday morning, we all met at the Smithsonian’s Ripley Center to discuss 18th century clothing with Mary D. Doering.

We wait within the depths of the Ripley Center to meet with Mary D. Doering.

We wait within the depths of the Ripley Center to meet with Mary D. Doering.

Mary has specialized in costume history for over forty years as a collector, lecturer and guest curator.  Since 2001 she has taught costume and textile history at the Smithsonian Masters Program in the History of the Decorative Arts (an academic partnership with George Mason University).  This was a particularly good way for us to end Week 3. Mary’s discussion of 18th century women’s and men’s clothing gave the VCU students an appreciation for how people would have looked during the time of Mary Washington and her children, including George.  And, of course, how little of this elaborate clothing is preserved in the archaeological record.  Seeing, touching, and handling 18th century clothing is an experience I think few of them will forget.

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