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.

Advertisements

Into the Cement Jungle: Olivia McCarty’s Week 4

by Olivia McCarty, VCU Student

Week four marked the start of my partner’s and my second unit, blistering hot weather, and two fieldtrips to Washington D.C.

The first fieldtrip of the week was on Saturday with Mary Doering, who invited us up to look at her fascinating collection of 18th and 19th century clothing. It was amazing to see all the work that went into making just one of these garments, and while I don’t think I will ever be lucky enough to find a whole garment while excavating, our group was able to take a look at a variety of buckles, buttons, and other fasteners that we may well find in our excavation of Ferry Farm, so here is hoping to that there are many of these small finds hidden within my new unit.

Monday began with my partner Stephanie King and I immediately getting assigned our new unit and for rest of the day we began to work our way through the topsoil. Stephanie had the pleasure of discovering a child’s plastic toy animal along with many other artifacts as well. By the end of the day we had already finished our topsoil and were getting ready to move onto the 20th century. It is interesting to see how much faster we are going through this unit when compared to the beginning of field school when it took my group of three people two day to get through the topsoil then. I am starting to feel like I am really getting the hang of everything now and don’t have to bother the interns nearly as much as I used to.

I was being put to the test the very next day, as I was excavating on my own, as my partner had to go work in the lab. Now everything was on me and I didn’t have a partner to help remind me if I forgot about something!  I was a little hesitant at first but I soon realized that nothing was really changing, the only thing I had to worry about was working hard because I didn’t want my partner and I getting too far behind the other groups. As I toiled away in the 20th century layer I got to see some very interesting artifacts; including some ceramic sherds that I was actually able to identify because of our ceramics lecture. The sherd I liked the best was a piece of white ware that had a black floral transfer print on it. Though I didn’t reach my goal of completing the 20th century layer by the end of the day I was close to the end and only needed to do a final scrapping to smooth some of the lumps out and I would be ready to go.

Stephanie holding the plastic toy she found

Stephanie holding the plastic toy she found

However the 20th century would have to wait, as the next day we had another fieldtrip to Washington D.C. Instead of driving up there this time we decided to take the commuter train and metro to get around. This was exciting for my roommate Vivian, who had never taken the train or metro before. After public transportation dropped us off in D.C. our first stop was the zoo! I had not been to the D.C. zoo since I was six and enjoyed wondering around it immensely, however most of the outside animals were much smarted then us and were hiding in shady places as it was a very hot day. I took full advantage of the misting stations that the zoo has around its walkways, and my group even got to get our feet wet at the sea lion and seals exhibit to try and beat the heat.

After spending the morning communing with the wild animals, we journeyed into the cement jungle at noon to meet up with D.C. archaeologist, Dr. Ruth Trocolli, who gave us an informative lecture on GIS, and how it is implemented. She also passed around some interesting playing cards that had archaeology information on them. Once our lecture was over we raced over to the Natural history museum and explored their “written in bone” exhibit, which was fascinating for me having just taken human osteology in the fall. The zoo, lecture, and museum left us all pretty tired and we soon headed back to Fredericksburg to prepare for another day of excavating.

A great caption on one of the playing cards Dr. Trocolli passed around

A great caption on one of the playing cards Dr. Trocolli passed around.

Thursday was the beginning of another very hot day, and now that I had my partner back we got straight to work evening out our unit. As we worked on smoothing everything out we also were confronted with the top of a feature, the 20th century utility trench that runs through most of our field school units. After getting a picture of our unit we were ready to begin excavating the trench. Dr. Means stopped by to give us some pointers, explaining that it was okay to put some force behind our shovel when we dug, and showing us how it was done. The trench kept us busy for the rest of the day, with very few artifacts being found.

: Lauren and Mariana trying to beat the heat by jumping through the sprinkler

: Lauren and Mariana trying to beat the heat by jumping through the sprinkler.

Friday morning we got right back to the trench and after working for a while and doing a fresh scraping of the walls of our trench we were done. With the completion of the trench we also got to measure it and found that we had removed more than a foot of dirt from it! After all that hard work we still have more to work on and we quickly moved onto the antebellum layer. Though we were able to make a decent dent in it we still have some ways to go before we hit the colonial layer. My goal for the last week of field school is to make sure that I hit the colonial layer and finish it out so that the unit will be completed before the field season is over.

Me standing proudly in our utility trench

Me standing proudly in our utility trench

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Screening eight individual buckets: Olivia McCarty’s Week 3

by Olivia McCarty, VCU student

      Karen Price discussing the excavation units at Mount Vernon.

Karen Price discussing the excavation units at Mount Vernon.

This week was a busy one filled with trips, lectures, fieldwork and unfortunately rain. We started out with a journey to Mount Vernon. Where we got to take a peek at their lab area, and discuss the process they used to identify the original colors used on the house and in the “new room,” which they are now renovating. It was very interesting to see how hard they worked on making sure even the smallest details were correct, for example they even did archaeology to discover where old post holes might have been so that the fence will be the same place as it was during George Washington’s times.  After a tour around the lab area we got to go see some archaeologists working in the field, they use 10’ by 10’ units when excavating and they were humongous to use since we dig 5’by 5’ units; their units equal four of ours but I also appreciated why they did that because it was nice to see a bigger picture of the whole area immediately instead of working in a smaller area one at a time.

Tuesday we were back in the field and back in our antebellum layer. We started out the day with a bang making a lot of head so that by mid day we were getting to the top of the Colonial layer, which was exciting!  We took some time making sure our unit nice and level and once we closed out our paper work, including in the notes, the huge horse tooth we found we had found that day, and then we began to excavate the Colonial layer for the rest of the day.

Two pipe stems we found in our antebellum layer.

Two pipe stems we found in our antebellum layer.

Wednesday was a little different in that we had a ceramic lecture in the morning given to us by Mara Kaktins, the ceramic’s specialist at Ferry Farm. The lecture was very interesting but also packed with so much information that I felt like I would be lucky to just remember one of the names we discussed.  After the lecture I was also really excited to return to the field that afternoon to test out my new found knowledge by examining all the ceramic sherds we uncovered; unfortunately for me that didn’t happen because our colonial layer was pretty scarce when it came to artifacts and we hardly found anything that day, and non of the pieces were notable ceramic types either.

Thursday began with rain which prevented us from going into the field; however we were still put to work learning how to write up field unit summaries, which is basically a quick look at what was in each unit. We all had about a million questions going though the paper work, however it was also great to see how the groups for last year worked in their unit and what they found. To break up the monotonous paper work our field director, Laura Galke, gave us an interesting lecture on some of the small finds artifacts that had already been analyzed at Ferry Farm and how these small but personal artifacts can give a lot of insight into what life was like and how they dealt with everything.  By midday the skies had cleared enough for us to head back out to work. Ashley also had a surprise for my group explaining that since it was half way through the field school that she was going to switch up some of the groups and that I would now be moving to a new unit to work with fellow field school student Stephanie King. Stephanie’s unit was also in the Colonial layer.

My new unit partner Stephanie working hard.

My new unit partner Stephanie working hard.

Friday was another rainy morning so back inside we went to finish up our paper work from the day before but it also came with a welcome surprise of fresh doughnuts that Ashley was kind enough to get for us to make the work go faster with a yummy morning treat.  Luckily the rain cleared our even early that day and by 10 we were able to head out into the field. As Stephanie and I began working on our unit we were finding a lot of debitage, which are the waste materials produced when you make stone chipped tools. By the end of the day even the debitage were disappearing and soon we weren’t fining any artifacts at all which was telling us that we were approaching subsoil, which mean that their was not more human artifact to be found. After verifying this by screening 8 individual buckets of freshly scraped dirt from our unit we had official reached the bottom of our unit! It was a great way to finish out the week knowing that we had now successfully excavated our very first unit completely!

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.

 

At the Top of the Antebellum Layer: Olivia McCarty’s Week 1

by Olivia McCarty, VCU student

Now that I am done with my first week of field school I can safely say that I am looking forward to many more weeks of the same, though I would appreciate it if these afternoon storms would stop cutting our days short. The excitement I had on day one has not diminished as each day I get to unearth and discover different artifacts then the day before. This week has taught me a number of important techniques from how to systematically dig and excavate a unit carefully, to the smaller trade secrets of always leaving your metal dustpan in the shade so you don’t scorch your hand the next time you try and pick it up. Field school has already done a great job of giving me a better understanding of what archaeology real is, and what it means to be an archaeologist.

A view of the stone corner markers that show where George Washington's childhood house stood. The house foundation was rediscovered during the 2007 excavation at Ferry Farm

A view of the stone corner markers that show where George Washington’s childhood house stood. The house foundation was rediscovered during the 2007 excavation at Ferry Farm

We started our first day of field school with a tour of the Ferry Farm grounds given to us by our field school TA Ashley McCuistion. It is important to be knowledgeable about the history of a site before you dig so you know what to look for when digging. For example this area was not only George Washington’s Childhood home but was also a place of American Indian habitation more then 10,000 years ago and more recently was a Union camp during the Civil War, so we can expect to find many different artifacts from different periods when excavating this site.  After our tour we quickly got down to business and gathered the tools we needed for excavation; a trowel, dustpan, shovel, wheelbarrow, and bucket, and started to assign units.

My partner’s Vivian Hite, Francesca Chesler, and I got a unit with the grid coordinates of N595 E565. We then began to survey our plot by measuring out the elevations of our unit, doing a Munsell soil test to determine the color the soil was, and then feeling our soil to determine what it was made up of. I asked Ferry Farm intern Allen Huber a lot of questions during the first day, as I continually wanted to make sure I was doing everything right.  After taking the measurements, we grabbed our shovels and started to remove the topsoil. I was pretty excited to have a tool in my hand by this point and dug a little too deep at first, but was assured it was okay. With the wheelbarrow filled high we journeyed onto the screens where we dumped our dirt. Here is where I discovered that to be a good archaeologist you have to bag any artifact that you find and that includes the 21st century plastic we found in our topsoil layer too. Soon after it was the end of the day and we worked on putting our tools away and cleaning up our site and covering it well, already excited about coming back to work on our unit the next day.

Cleaning a tooth in the lab with a toothbrush

Cleaning a tooth in the lab with a toothbrush

However when we showed up on day two we were told that our group was headed to the lab. At first I was concerned that this was because of my exuberant shovel digging from the day before and that I would never be allowed to work in the field again, but later on in the day it was learned that each group has to work in the lab for a day because for every hour spent in the field two to three hours has to be spent in the lab recording, labeling and washing all the artifacts. So lab work is a very important process for archaeology because it helps to preserve our finds and allow more research to be done. My group worked on washing and labeling the artifacts. It was really fun to see and handle all the different artifacts found at the site. Washing was probably the harder of the two tasks because the different categories of artifacts require different washing techniques. Being in the lab really helped me to understand more of the preservation process.

On day three it was out in the field again and my group and I tried to catch up with the other groups as we finished with our topsoil and worked on our 20th century layer. It was nice being out in the sunny field again and as we screened more of our dirt I felt like I was looking at the artifacts with a more discerning eye after seeing what was in the lab the day before. We had troubles early on keeping our unit smooth but we eventually worked out a system by asking other groups what they did. Our time in the field was cut short because of a fierce storm that was rolling in, and clean up was a whole lot faster passed as everyone was trying to cover the units before the rain came.

We took a field trip on day four to Wakefield, which is George Washington’s birthplace. Our group was lucky enough to get a tour of the area by Amy Muraca, who showed us the Washington landscape, ancestral cemetery, the colonial revival house there, and even took us around their lab department that holds many interesting artifacts from the colonial times. It was a relaxing and informative day that also held a lunch at the beach where I surprisingly enough found some type of animal’s tibia and where many of my other classmates spotted shark’s teeth along the coast.

Me proudly holding my annular sherd.

Me proudly holding my annular sherd.

By day five we were back in the field once again and my group was more determined then ever to reach the antebellum layer and get out of the twentieth century, especially after we heard that one of the other groups had just found a wig curler that day. We could tell we were getting closer and closer to the antebellum layer as Vivian found a Rockingham shard and I found a sherd of annular ware, both pottery types date from the late 18th century to early 19th century.  We finally reached our goal in the afternoon and were at the top of the antebellum layer with no time to spare as we took the official picture of our site just a couple of minutes before thunder could be heard.

Overall this week of field school has allowed me to actually put to practice the different techniques I learned throughout class and I am very much excited to start the antebellum layer this coming week!