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.

 

 

New Week, New Unit: Mariana Zechini’s Week 4

by Mariana Zechini, VCU student

This week, Lauren and I completed our first unit and began digging our second unit directly east of our first one. I was excited to move on to a different unit and see what we would find. We knew that we would encounter part of Feature 13, a modern utility trench that runs through the site, but that didn’t hinder my excitement for some new soil!

Monday was spent changing units and removing the topsoil. Tuesday was spent excavating our 20th century disturbance layer, which provided various interesting artifacts. This layer yielded one wig curler fragment, ceramics, one pipe stem, glass and a clay marble.

On Wednesday, we took a field trip to DC to visit some animals at the zoo, and more importantly, listen to a lecture on GIS and the archaeology going on in Washington, DC from Dr. Ruth Tricolli, the archaeologist for DC’s Historic Preservation Office. She discussed the importance of GIS knowledge and what is being done in the District of Colombia using this technology. She showed us several maps of the types of archaeology being done in the city and where, as well as how she and her staff have been able to locate former streams or man-made land in the area.

A funky meerkat in the small mammals building.

A funky meerkat in the small mammals building.

 

After our visit with Dr. Tricolli, field school students headed for the National Museum of Natural History to see the Written in Bone exhibit. Being from Northern Virginia, I have visited this museum a number of times and I love it more each time. I am especially interested in the Written in Bone and Human Origins exhibits that were completed within the past few years. The Written in Bone exhibit, housed on the second floor of the museum, outlines the hardships that colonists faced in the Chesapeake area during the 17th century by studying skeletal and cultural remains. I have a strong interest in bones and so it is very inspiring to see this collection, as well as the Human Origins exhibit, which describes the life and anatomy of our early human ancestors.

Hanging out with the sea lions.

Hanging out with the sea lions.

On Thursday morning, we arrived at our unit and noticed that one area had dried out significantly more than the other, which indicated that we had reached the top of our utility trench. Lauren and I quickly dug through the trench, which spanned the length of our west wall and moved on to our antebellum layer by lunch. We were excited to excavate the antebellum layer since our 20th century layer had yielded so many interesting artifacts. We found one wig curler, white salt glazed stoneware, American stoneware, various metal pieces, nails, glass and lithic debitage.

 

One of two wig curlers found this week!

One of two wig curlers found this week!

Friday morning we rushed to get two wheelbarrows full of soil so that children from Ferry Farm’s archaeology camp could help us screen. Three very intelligent campers helped me screen one wheelbarrow where they found brick, oyster shell, ceramics and lithic debitage! We moved on to our colonial layer, but we are not finding many more artifacts. Hopefully we will be able to complete this unit by the end of next week!

 

 Our unit as of Thursday afternoon

Our unit as of Thursday afternoon.

 

Down to Sub: Mariana Zechini’s Week 3

by Mariana Zechini, VCU student

This week started out with a trip to Mount Vernon on Monday. There, we met with the Director of Historic Preservation, Dr. Esther White, who showed us some interesting artifacts currently being worked on by staff as well as the collections facility where we had a brief discussion about the problems with archaeological conservation. Afterwards, Deputy Director of Archaeology, Eleanor Breen took us up to the mansion where archaeology is being done right outside of the kitchen. Karen Price, a field school intern at Ferry Farm last year, was there to talk to us about the archaeology being done on site and the similarities and differences of archaeology at Mount Vernon versus the archaeology at Ferry Farm. At Mount Vernon, test units are ten feet by ten feet unlike Ferry Farm where test units are five feet by five feet. This lets archaeologists see a larger area at one time. She also noted that they do not dig in a grid system like Ferry Farm does. Seeing these differences made us understand that each archaeological site will vary in how they operate and methods of excavation will change in order to suit the site’s needs.

One of the test units being excavated at Mount Vernon

One of the test units being excavated at Mount Vernon

On Tuesday we returned to Ferry Farm where my partner, Lauren, and I were got back to work on a trench we were digging last week. Luckily, we were able to finish digging the trench (which yielded few artifacts) and continue excavating our antebellum layer. We found bone fragments, ceramics, possible cow’s tooth, a pipestem and one wig curler fragment.

Artifacts found on Tuesday include one pipestem, one wig curler fragment, bone fragments, ceramics and one tooth.

Artifacts found on Tuesday include one pipestem, one wig curler fragment, bone fragments, ceramics and one tooth.

On Wednesday morning, Mara Kaktins, Ferry Farm’s ceramics and glass specialist, gave a roughly three hour lecture to students about the different types of ceramics and glass found on site. In the afternoon was spent finishing our antebellum layer where we found one half of a wig curler! Lauren and I were so excited to contribute to the enormous wig curler count at Ferry Farm.

Thursday and Friday morning started off rainy but instead of being sent home, students met inside to learn how to do unit summaries. Each student received paperwork from one unit dug last year. This was a valuable experience because it let us see the importance of clear and understandable paperwork.  Site Director and Small Finds Specialist, Laura Galke, was nice enough to give a lecture to students and interns about small finds found at Ferry Farm. Small finds are defined as personal items that can tell archaeologists about an individual such as wig curlers, buckles and fans.

Luckily the weather cleared up and we were able to dig! As we were digging our colonial layer, however, we noticed that our STP was not deep enough and we had to stop excavation of our colonial layer to finish digging our STP.

Friday morning began with finishing up unit summaries before heading out to the field. Lauren and I dug our STP in under two hours and were able to continue digging the colonial layer, which yielded few artifacts, one being what could possibly be the distal end of a pig’s tibia. After several buckets and wheelbarrows full of dirt with zero artifacts found, it seemed that we were finally reaching subsoil. I was excited to finish our unit, until we found a beautiful jasper flake in our final bucket of the day. Monday morning, Lauren and I will do a final scrape of our unit to see if it yields any more artifacts before hopefully continuing on to another unit!

 The wig curler found on Wednesday marked with W.B. under the crown.

The wig curler found on Wednesday marked with W.B. under the crown.

Week Two is Through: Mariana Zechini’s Week 2

by Mariana Zechini, VCU student

Despite a rainy start this week, the VCU 2013 field school was able to enjoy two full days in the field, along with a field trip to Montpelier and a hectic but inspiring 4th of July.

Screening through mud after a rainy Monday morning.  Photo taken by Ashley McCuistion.

Screening through mud after a rainy Monday morning.
Photo taken by Ashley McCuistion.

On Monday morning, after spending fifteen minutes opening the site and a mere five minutes (at least it seemed like only five minutes) digging, the field school was sent home due to bad weather. Lauren and I stayed behind for an hour or so to help the interns screen through the soil that we had produced within that short amount of time. Although the soil had turned to mud by the time we were able to screen it, I had fun helping out!

On Tuesday we were off to visit James Madison’s Montpelier where we toured the grounds and had a glimpse of life at Montpelier during James’ and Dolly’s time there. Matt Reeves, the Director of Archaeology at Montpelier, met us at the site where other field school students and interns were digging. There, they are digging in the South Lawn, where there has been evidence of heavy slave activity. Dr. Reeves then showed us the lab where artifacts are currently being processed. In the lab, field school students were able to look at an extensive type collection of nails, ceramics, glass, bone, buttons and metal. Getting familiar with these artifacts will help to identify them immediately in the field. Although the day itself was cloudy and gloomy, my first trip to Montpelier was exciting and insightful.

James Madison's view of the Blue Ridge Mountains on a cloudy day.

James Madison’s view of the Blue Ridge Mountains on a cloudy day.

Wednesday started off just like Monday: wet and rainy. I had hoped to at least make it to lunch today and was pleasantly surprised when we were able to work until 2:30pm before closing early. Unfortunately this is when Lauren and I had just closed our 20th century context and were about to finally dig into the antebellum layer! Instead, we spent the Fourth of July showing off early 19th century artifacts to visitors.

Artifacts from Wednesday included nails, lithic debitage, glass, ceramic and bone.

Artifacts from Wednesday included nails, lithic debitage, glass, ceramic and bone.

Describing Independence Day at Ferry Farm as “busy” is an understatement. There are various vendors, performers and activities happening on site. My favorite part of the patriotic chaos, though, is sharing what archaeologists find in the field with curious visitors. My day was filled with informing people about the activities that have been going on at Ferry Farm in the previous centuries. I was able to talk to people about the diverse history of the site, from Washington to the Civil War and I was able to show off the two, yes TWO, wig curler fragments we found that day!

 One of two wig curlers Lauren and I found on the Fourth of July! The W.B. is a maker's mark and sometimes topped with a crown, as in this case.

One of two wig curlers Lauren and I found on the Fourth of July! The W.B. is a maker’s mark and sometimes topped with a crown, as in this case.

Friday was the most tiring day of the week, mostly due to the crazy day we all experienced on Thursday. Lauren and I hit a utility trench that runs through our unit that we can hopefully finish digging on Tuesday when we return to the field.

The nasty 20th century utility pipe running through the eastern wall of our unit.

The nasty 20th century utility pipe running through the eastern wall of our unit.

Ferry Farm Field Fun: Mariana Zechini’s Week 1

The famous surveyor’s shed at Ferry Farm which houses most of our tools and equipment.

The famous surveyor’s shed at Ferry Farm which houses most of our tools and equipment.

This week was the first week of the VCU 2013 field school at Ferry Farm. The first morning, Ashley, our TA, introduced us to the diverse history at Ferry Farm by leading us on a tour of the site. In the afternoon, we were able to start digging. My partner, Lauren, and I recorded elevations and soil color and texture before finally putting our shovels to the dirt. We made it through most of the topsoil by the end of the day and found mostly plastic, but some lithic debitage as well.

Lauren and I setting up our test unit on our first day. Photo taken by Bernard K. Means

Lauren and I setting up our test unit on our first day. Photo taken by Bernard K. Means

Below the topsoil lies the 20th century disturbance layer. Lauren and I dug about half of the layer and stopped once we spotted a feature in the southeast corner of our unit. As it turns out, the concentration of rocks and difference in soil color was the top of an STP excavated by previous archaeologists. We immediately stopped digging and began the paperwork for our feature. Digging features separately is extremely important in archaeology. Features can include shovel test pits, middens, cellars and a number of other things and are treated as an entirely new context and layer. Wednesday and Friday were spent working on the STP feature. Artifacts recovered included, ceramic, nails and plastic. Unfortunately, before we were able to finish excavating our feature, a storm quickly hit Ferry Farm and crew members and field school students rushed to get units covered and paperwork in order before safely evacuating the site.

The top of our STP feature can be seen in the southeast corner of our unit.

The top of our STP feature can be seen in the southeast corner of our unit.

On Thursday, the field school took a trip to Wakefield where Amy Muraca led us through the grounds. We mostly discussed how the site has been interpreted over the years, as well as various archaeology projects that have been performed on the site. We were fortunate enough to also see the collections housed at the George Washington Birthplace National Monument which include a variety of artifacts. Ashley also presented Amy Muraca with plastic replicas of two artifacts: a wine seal with Augustine Washington’s initials and a 19th century pipe bowl with “Egypt” incised on it. These plastic models were made in the Virtual Curation Lab housed in the School of World Studies at VCU.

One of the marbles found in the 20th century disturbance layer.

One of the marbles found in the 20th century disturbance layer.

On Friday, Lauren and I got through most of the 20th century layer and found two marbles (one green, one black), glass, nails and lithic debitage. I am very excited to continue digging and I look forward to what these next few weeks will bring!