The Final Countdown: Francisca Chesler’s Week 5

by Francisca Chesler, VCU student

My last week of field school began with a field trip to Colonial Williamsburg. I have only been to Williamsburg once, on an elementary school field trip so I was very excited to visit once again. We visited two excavation sites, one in the center of activity, where archaeologists were working very diligently to uncover the original location of the Market Square building, based on historical records. The other excavation site we visited was the location of the Bray School, a school for slaves where VCU graduate Crystal Castleberry was working as an intern.

Screens at the Bray School Site.

Screens at the Bray School Site.

We ended the day with a lecture on conservation and preservation efforts with Emily Williams and got   to tour their lab. I enjoyed speaking with Emily Williams because I am interested in a career specializing in archaeological conservation.

On Tuesday, Vivian and I worked hard to finished our second unit, with great results. We were the first group to finish excavating both of our units. In addition to this, there were two features in our unit, one of which may have been a planting or even a prehistoric feature.

The unit at the subsoil layer.

The unit at the subsoil layer.

Feature in our unit, possibly from a plant.

Feature in our unit, possibly from a plant.

On Wednesday, we began profiling our first unit with the coordinates N595 E565. I liked profiling because it helped me better understand the stratigraphic relationship of our unit, and how it related to other units where the soil changed color. This was my first time profiling and greatly enjoyed the experience, while not as strenuous as digging or exciting as screening the dirt.

The profile drawing for our first unit.

The profile drawing for our first unit.

On Thursday, with everyone else finishing their second units, I had the opportunity to profile a second unit with the help of Bridget. I thought it was a fun experience to work with other members of field school, as I got to do more drawing, instead of measuring the second time around. In addition to this, I helped Ruth and Bridget trowel through Ruth and Ryan’s baulk. We found a few artifacts, but more than I was previously expecting. These artifacts included oyster and clam shells, nails and tiny ceramic sherds. After field school ended for the day, we all went back to Ferry Farm to celebrate with a group dinner, a viewing of the cinematic masterpiece Sharknado, and a round of trivia with fabulous prizes including temporary tattoos.

Friday, the final day of field school began with a ceramics quiz first thing in the morning. I had been dreading the ceramics quiz since it was first announced, but thanks to the help of my fellow field school students and our study sessions after days in the field, felt adequately prepared. As we went indoors to take the quiz, I felt greatly relieved as I recognized a few of the sherds from the lab, such as the porcelain and tin glazed ceramics. I ended up getting an A on the quiz, and I feel pretty confident in my ability to identify ceramics. After lunch, I was surprised to see my parents walking towards the site! I knew they were going to help me move out later in the day, but had no idea they would be visiting the actual site. I am very happy and fortunate to have such supportive parents, and they took great interest in the site and the museum.

Showing my parents the site.

Showing my parents the site.

Overall, I had an amazing time at field school and this was definitely the highlight of my summer, and a great way to begin my career as an archaeologist. Even though I had moments where I doubted myself, I learned so much in these five weeks and this has definitely given me an idea of what I want to do in the future, especially with the courses I can take at VCU and graduate schools I might apply to. I really cannot wait for classes to start in the fall, and look forward to the 3D Virtual Curation Lab internship in the fall!

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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!

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 Wonderful First Week: Francesca Chesler’s Week 1

by Francesca Chesler, VCU student

On our first day of field school, Ashley gave us a brief tour of the grounds surrounding Ferry Farm. I learned that the main structure of the building used to be a boys home, with the hopes that the maladjusted boys would be inspired by George Washington to achieve great things and modify their behavior. We were also given a tour of the archaeological site; Olivia, Vivian and I were given a unit, with the context number 00159 and the coordinates N595 E565 to excavate.

General view of the site.

General view of the site.

This was my first time ever excavating a site, so the process made me feel very nervous. I learned how to record the elevation of units, with the middle being 0 for the topsoil layer. We also used the Munsell Soil color chart to determine the color of the topsoil, which was dark brown. The three of us then used shovels to remove the topsoil, a difficult and arduous process. My favorite part of the day was screening; we found lots of onions, plastic debris and quartz rocks. At the end of the day, we helped the interns cover the site with black tarp and concrete, and put all the materials in the surveyors shed.

My day in the lab, I spent a lot of time cutting out tiny labels and putting them on artifacts!

My day in the lab, I spent a lot of time cutting out tiny labels and putting them on artifacts!

On the second day, we were assigned to the lab. While I was a little disappointed that we couldn’t be in the field, my time in the lab was well spent. I spent the first half of the day labeling artifacts with an intern, we used a special glue and distilled water for the labels, and recorded the process in a log when we were done. After lunch, I learned how to clean artifacts. The most difficult artifacts to clean were bones and oyster shells, because it was difficult to get the dirt off without destroying the artifact.

After spending a day in the lab, I was very excited to be in the field again! Compared to the other units, ours was still topsoil! We worked hard to remove the final layer of topsoil and start digging into the 20th century layer. The most difficult part of this process was making sure the unit we were excavating was even, as the south east corner was a lot deeper than the other parts initially. Vivian and Olivia came up with the idea to all trowel our soil in one direction, East to West to even the unit up. This process greatly improved the physical aesthetics of our unit, and we began to see lighter colored soil, dark yellow brown with bright orange spots. Through screening we discovered brick fragments, a sherd, a nail dating to the 20th century, polyester fabric and aluminum fragments. The day ended early due to extreme wind and rain, but I am really excited to get back into the field and excavate again. My goal is to reach the Antebellum layer by next week!

On Thursday, we went on a field trip to the birthplace of George Washington and experienced the “cynical” but humorous version of the tour. I learned that the kitchen and the house were reconstructions built in the 1930s, which were not historically accurate but looked aesthetically pleasing to the architects of the time. We also saw the memorial burial site of Augustine Washington and his family, which was separated from the re-constructed house and kitchen. We had lunch on the Potomac River, and Olivia found a tibia on the beach! We also saw lots of shark teeth, crabs and oyster shells. We ended the day in the collections building, with Professor Means showing us 3D printed artifacts and got to tour the storage room containing a large amount of George Washington busts, paintings, photographs from the early 20th century and historic maps as recent as the 1960s.

Friday was definitely my favorite day of field school so far. I enjoyed listening to every ones presentations, and I learned that one group even found a wig curler! While our presentation was brief, I think we did a great job explaining our goals and what we had excavated so far.  On this day, I found a lot of artifacts including brick and charcoal fragments. In addition to this, Olivia found a Rockingham ceramic sherd. Vivian, Olivia and I worked very hard to finish off our 20th century layer, and right before we finished the day early because of storms, we finally reached the antebellum layer! I cannot wait to begin excavating our unit on Monday. I hope that I will find some ceramic artifacts and faunal remains.

This is the Rockingham ceramic sherd Olivia found.

This is the Rockingham ceramic sherd Olivia found.

Overall, I had a wonderful first week at field school! I think that I need to improve my excavation techniques, but that can only be done through hard work and practice. I am excited for the next four weeks of field school, and all the things I am going to learn!

Right before the last day of Week 1 ended, we reached the antebellum layer!

Right before the last day of Week 1 ended, we reached the antebellum layer!