Final week of field school arrived: Ruth Martin’s Week 5

by Ruth Martin, VCU student

The final week of field school arrived.  This week started off with a field trip to Williamsburg. After an hour and 45 minute drive that went by very quickly, we entered Williamsburg. When we first entered we were greeted with reenactors.

 

Reenactor driving a horse-drawn carriage through Williamsburg.

Reenactor driving a horse-drawn carriage through Williamsburg.

We headed straight to first archaeological site in Williamsburg. Archaeologists were excavating this part of Williamsburg to determine the dimensions of the marketplace square.

Market Square excavations underway.

Market Square excavations underway.

Next we visited Williamsburg’s field school, who were busy excavating around the enslaved children’s school. Their goal was to uncover outbuildings. Their screening equipment was different from ours in the way that it was built. At Williamsburg they had to hold their screens, shake them, and shift all at the same time. While at Ferry Farm, we have stands that hold our screens while we shift.

After that, we had lunch at the cheese shop, which boasted a variety of interesting sandwiches. After lunch we explored Williamsburg for a while before meeting up with Emily Williams.  She gave us an intriguing lecture on conservation.  In her presentation, she talked about some of the old ways they used to conserve artifacts.  One of these included dropping them in a liquid substance, which preserved the artifacts well but was extremely dangerous for the conservators.  One instance of this is when a conservator dropped live ammunition in the liquid and it shot through the ceiling to the next floor!  However, all artifacts preserved this way hardly need to be cleaned or maintained. Although this practice is no longer in use today, for obvious reasons.  Another outdated conservation technique involved coating metal artifacts in thick black wax.  Conservators believed the wax would seal off the oxygen to prevent rust, or if rust did appear it would be readily apparent on the black wax and easily removed.  In reality, rust forms under the wax layers, but is hardly to the conservator until damage is substantial and often irreparable.  These artifacts today must be stripped of the black wax covering and conserved in another way.

Next, Emily showed us the conservation lab.  She showed us the different projects they were working on, including removing dirt from copper using a microscope, and piecing together a tortoise shell.  Lastly, she showed the way an x-ray image revealed intricate decorations on an object that appeared plain to the naked eye.

  A piece of copper being cleaned with the help of a microscope, you can see the removed dirt-look to the right of the copper piece.


A piece of copper being cleaned with the help of a microscope, you can see the removed dirt-look to the right of the copper piece.

The rest of the week was less eventful.  Ryan and I finished our unit, in which the feature reappeared, which will not be excavated until next season.  We then did profiles of the northern and eastern walls of the unit.  Once we closed it out, it was too late in the field season to begin another unit, so we worked on different tasks (such as profiling and unit summary forms) to round up my final week in field school.

North wall  of the unit, freshly scraped and in process for a profile.

North wall of the unit, freshly scraped and in process for a profile.

 

Field school burned hot: Ruth Martin’s Week 4

by Ruth Martin, VCU student

The round piece of metal, probably a washer.

The round piece of metal, probably a washer.

The fourth week of field school burned hot. On Monday, Ryan and I started our antebellum layer. We found a lot of artifacts.  Which consisted of a ton of nails, some ceramic shards, and cool pieces of metal. The most notable among the metal bits were a backing that most likely belonged to a button, a huge flat piece that was part of a can, and flat circular piece with a square cut in the center. At first glance this piece looks similar to a Chinese coin, however, tit is instead probably a washer or some early version of one.

 

Nails!

Nails!

Piece of metal; the rim suggests it was part of a can.

Piece of metal; the rim suggests it was part of a can.

 

             By the end of the day Ryan and I had dug out most of the antebellum layer and were flattening/cleaning up our unit for the transition to the colonial layer.

On Tuesday, it was time for Stephanie and I to go to the lab. I enjoyed my time in the lab. It was a nice change of pace. In the morning Stephanie and I were taught how to clean artifacts with a toothbrush. we were shown into a washing room with a big glass window, this was so visitors could watch us clean the artifacts. Occasionally visitors would walk by and if they were interested in what we were cleaning, we held up some of our more interesting washed artifacts, such as a cassette tape! Later we tried our hand at labeling. This task was not as hard as I previously had imagined. Though I had assumed that we would be required to write the tiny labels. Instead we used pre-printed labels.

The next day, after our lab adventure, all the field students spent Wednesday in Washington DC. In the morning we explored the zoo. During lunch we signed into a huge glass building. While there Dr. Ruth Trocolli gave an amazing presentation on the GIS program.

The rest of the week was spent out in the field. While I was in the lab and in D.C., Ryan finished leveling our unit, changed contexts, and went through some of the colonial layer. Ryan and I finished the colonial layer and are working through the transitional subsoil layer. Friday morning I found a feature and excavated it. This feature was most likely a plant because it was shallow and irregular in shape.

We didn’t find any wig curlers, but may have found a boundary since the unit to the west of us didn’t find any either. So hopefully we’ll get the unit done by Tuesday or Wednesday.

 

Come and Gone: Ruth Martin’s Week 3

by Ruth Martin, VCU student

                 The third week of field school has come and gone. On Monday we had a wonderful field trip to Mount Vernon. While visiting Mount Vernon we popped into the lab and took a closer look at a few different artifacts that had been laid out. There were pieces of ceramics, pieces of metal and in peculiar  very cool plate fragments mended together.  We were then shown the storage area for artifacts. This room was mainly full of boxes filled with finds from the site.  The interesting thing about Mount Vernon’s archives was that there was a area just for furniture located upstairs.

                Moving towards the Mansion we were told that the color of the Mansion had been changed from a white to an off white color. This is because some research was done and they realized that that the sand coating used on the Mansion would not have been bleached white in George Washington’s time(the mansion is finished in a sand coating).

Mount Vernon in its new off-white shade.

Mount Vernon in its new off-white shade.

                Next we visited a couple units that were being excavated near the house. We got the run down on the techniques used at Mount Vernon verses the techniques used at Ferry Farm(because every site does things a little bit differently). At  Ferry farm we use five  by five foot units to excavate.  At Mount Vernon  they use ten by ten feet units.  Another intriguing difference is the way Mount Vernon interprets it’s layer contexts. At Mount Vernon they dig layers until they see a change in color and then change context(this is pretty normal), however, instead of having assigned named contexts they send everything to the lab before interpreting the context. At Ferry Farm our layers have assigned context labels such as Topsoil, 20th Century, Antebellum, Colonial, and Subsoil.

An open unit being excavated at Mount Vernon.

An open unit being excavated at Mount Vernon.

                The rest of the week was spent on site and with Gorge Washington doing paperwork. Stephanie and I finally made it to the colonial layer, yay! though as we were arriving at that layer the amount of artifacts were becoming increasingly thin. However, I did not get to finish that unit with Stephanie; for no sooner than we had started into colonial layer that I was given a new unit and partner. I started working with Ryan in the 20th century layer. Ryan found a very cool toy truck and we found some usual plastics bits. We also found a huge piece of German Stoneware. It is very thick, which may indicate that it was used for a milk jug or a chamber pot.

 

Toy Truck found in our (Ryan and I) 20th Century layer

Toy Truck found in our (Ryan and I) 20th Century layer

Underside of truck, dated.

Underside of truck, dated.

 

A large rim piece of Rhenish German Stoneware.

A large rim piece of Rhenish German Stoneware.

Ryan and I finished the 20th century on Friday. We are all set to start the antebellum layer and will hopefully recover a ton of wig curlers!

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.

Intense, Fun and Rewarding: Ruth Martin’s Week 1

by Ruth Martin, VCU student

This was the first week of Ferry Farm Field School, during which I learned quite a few new things. The paperwork was something we went over in depth and some of the more detailed parts of information were new to me. I always knew that field work is not easy but I didn’t realize how intense, fun and rewarding it can be. One of the more exciting parts of excavating is screening. It’s a chance to put your skills to the test in differentiating artifacts from rocks and dirt, which can sometimes be a challenge. It’s also an opportunity to learn about the different artifacts that you find.

The amazing screening equipment!

The amazing screening equipment!

This week Stephanie and I set up our unit, and removed the topsoil layer. In the topsoil we mainly found pieces of plastic.

Our test unit, the first layer done!  The top of our 20th century layer begins.

Our test unit, the first layer done! The top of our 20th century layer begins.

In our twentieth century layer, we found a few pieces of pottery- in particular a nice piece of “Rhenish German Stoneware”.  Ashley helped us identify this piece.    The bottom side displayed the salt glaze associated with stoneware, which texture looks and feels like an orange peel. The blue design on the side displayed indicates the pottery fragment was of German origin.

Rhenish German Stoneware found in our 20th century layer.

Rhenish German Stoneware found in our 20th century layer.

On Wednesday we took a break from the intense heat and went to Wakefield. Amy Maraca of the National Parks Service was nice enough to give our field school, nine students in total, a private tour of the grounds and foundations of George Washington’s birthplace.

On Friday we managed to start scraping the top of our antebellum layer, this is where our finds started to get really interesting. We found a horses tooth, a couple pieces of bent rounded metal, and a tiny piece of yellow pineapple pottery! I think that the bits of metal may have originally been part of a horse’s tack, though that’s just a wild guess that needs much more evidence to back it up.