We Couldn’t Believe it Was Over So Fast: Vivian Hite’s Week 5

by Vivian Hite, VCU student

Ready to dig!

Ready to dig!

Day 1-

On Monday we all met at the Rockefeller Library in Williamsburg.  We began our tour at the archaeological dig in Market Corner.  The dig goal was to determine the location of a colonial structure so that they can build a replica there.  The second site we visited was the Bray School for enslaved and freed African Americans during the colonial era. Crystal Castleberry, a former VCU Ferry Farm student, is an intern with Colonial Williamsburg working on the site. After visiting the dig sites we ventured to the museum grade lab.  Conservator Emily Williams presented to us on archaeological conservation methods and procedures after which we toured the lab.  We examined the artifact cases, x-rays, and lab work being done there.  Though many of us enjoy the field aspect of archaeology, some were extremely enthralled to learn the conservation aspect of archaeology and make the connections provided to us.

Day 2-

Tuesday Francesca and I both worked hard to finish our colonial layer.  While spraying down our unit to determine the soil color we noticed two features in the bottom of our colonial layer. One of the features was found in the center of our unit, shaped like an Easter Peep it had a slight color change, a different soil texture, and charcoal flecks within it.  The second feature was found in the northwest corner of our unit bordering the “subsoil” to the west of our unit.  The discovery of both features halted excavation of our unit but it appears we reached subsoil.

After finishing our unit we began to profile our original unit’s east wall.  As we scored each layer we began to see all our work come together; the relationship between each layer and the overall relation between each unit as the overall eastern portion of the site.

Day 3-

Wednesday morning I went into the small finds lab to finish the unit summaries for both my original and my second unit.  As I compiled the information and reviewed the work completed for the last five weeks I realized how much I enjoyed what all I had done.

Paperwork!

Paperwork!

After finishing the unit summaries I returned to the field to help excavate.  The baulks that once helped us record elevation were now being removed.  Layer by layer Stephanie, Olivia, and I removed the baulk that separated our units.  We finished the day with our antebellum layer wondering what else we would be doing the following day.

Day 4-

Thursday we did a little bit of everything.  The morning started with finishing our baulk.  Once that was entirely removed I helped Olivia and Stephanie set up their unit for profiling.  After they finished their profile Stephanie went to the lab to finish her unit summary while Olivia and I moved on to another profile on the south wall.  Before we could finish our profile we were dismissed from the field for an impromptu field trip to Dovetail.  Dovetail is a CRM company in Fredericksburg that works throughout Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, and other northern states.  Once the tour was finished some went home in preparation for the end of season party tonight while Olivia, Mariana, Lauren, and I returned to the field.  All of us still had to finish our profiles from earlier in the day.

Working with Stephanie.

Working with Stephanie.

Day 5- mapping , profiling,

On our last day of field school we all were instructed to give our units a fresh scrape for the following weeks mapping.  After the units were finished some students left the field to pack and return home while others stayed to finish various tasks.  By the end of the day only Olivia, Mariana, Lauren and I were left.  Lauren and Olivia worked on profiles while Mariana and I began mapping our units for the final map.

Mapping and profiling.

Mapping and profiling.

The last day brought all of our work together.  We profiled and learned to map, we tried to throw rocks across the Rappahannock River like George once did, and we signed our names alongside much other field school students names on the north toolbox.  Field school wrapped up just as they told us on the first day it would, but we couldn’t believe it was over so fast.

The signed toolbox!

The signed toolbox!

 

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With the prospect of the antebellum layer less than inches away: Vivian Hite’s Week 4

by Vivian Hite, VCU student

Day 1:

Monday morning we set off for the field knowing we would finish our first unit.  After some leveling out and smoothing we were ready for our picture.  Once we closed the context of our very first unit we were ready to move on to unit number two.  Located directly across from our original unit, we got straight to work.  With the sweltering heat and dry ground it made for a very difficult top soil layer.  As we dug and screened we realized that this was in fact our least favorite layer.  Nothing but roots to try and dig out and plastic pieces, the top soil only showed the great future for the following day.

Day 2:

On Tuesday we began our 20th Century layer.  We decided that we would try and complete a layer a day.  We felt that setting these goals would help us stay motivated during the heat and ensure that we complete our second unit before the end of the field school.  Even with the prospect of the antebellum layer less than inches away, the 20th Century took us an excruciatingly long time to get through.  Aside from gum and gum wrappers, nails, and plastic the layer lacked excitement. Luckily we stuck with our goal and managed to finish the 20th Century knowing that when we came back to the field on Thursday we would be getting to the antebellum layer, my favorite.

Day 3:

Early Wednesday morning we set off for the train station to take us to DC.  I had never been on a train before and the commuter chaos and ticket system got the best of me.  After validating my card twice we boarded the train and got ready for the excursion.  Once we arrived at DC we hopped right on the metro and headed straight for the zoo.  Once we entered the zoo we split ways and moved around the zoo.  In my group we visited the elephant, the pandas, gorillas, and ended at the Amazon.  After realizing we were 15 minutes away from our meeting location but due to arrive in 10, we darted to the entrance.  Jumping back on the metro and skipping lines we arrived at our true destination.

Riding the VRE!

Riding the VRE!

We met up with archaeologist Ruth Trocolli and her colleagues.  She presented on GIS and the archaeology that has been and is currently being done in DC.  The lecture was great in that it put our lessons from methods into perspective and showed them in practice.  It all began to come together as things had been doing throughout the past few weeks.  Lectures and notes, powerpoints and readings all were flooding back and colliding to produce a completed puzzle of information.

Day 4:

Thursday began with our antebellum layer.  An hour into digging and everyone was already feeling the heat.  We worked as diligently as we could, but it was no surprise that we were all hiding under the magnolia tree screening every chance we got.  Prior to lunch Francesca was graced with a wig curler while shoveling through our early antebellum.  The day also provided glass fragments, a wide variety of ceramics, and an abundance of nails.  34 to be exact.  As the day wore on the heat got the better of me and I became a little loopy.  After being sprayed down with a water hose and forced to drink bottles of water, it was back to the dirt.

Francesca with her wig hair curler.

Francesca with her wig hair curler.

Day 5:

Despite the heat, we were able to finish the antebellum layer on Thursday and we’re ready to begin the colonial bright and early Friday morning.  The ground was so dry that it was difficult to see the change in soil color.  It all appeared grey and brittle.  One swipe of a trowel and you could glimpse it.  The orange like clay.  But just as soon as you could see it, the soil became dry and grey yet again.  Compared to our past unit, the colonial layer in this unit actually contained artifacts.  Sherds of ceramics, glass, and nails came out of the earth.   Later in the day the heat got to Francesca and an hour away from closing, we went into the lab to beat the heat.  Knowing that we wouldn’t finish the unit today was okay only because Tuesday was right around the corner and so was the end of our second unit.

A hot day!

A hot day!

As we shoveled through the rocks and soil: Vivian Hite’s Week 3

by Vivian Hite, VCU student

A Week 3 finding.

A Week 3 finding.

Day 1:

Early Monday morning we piled into two waiting red cars and began our trip to George Washington’s estate, Mount Vernon.  Upon our arrival we were greeted by Dr. Ester White at the lab on site.  We perused the artifacts sitting on the counter and compared them with our own Washington artifacts.  After explanation of the past and present archaeological digs, we toured the facility.  An especially interesting part of the visit was the architecture curation room where they were evaluating and refurbishing a window from the “New Room”, which is entirely under renovation.  The neighboring room was their storage facility containing boxes upon boxes of artifacts; each accurately labeled and stacked 3 by 3.   We briefly discussed historical collections and the difficulty of storage and then we were off to the site.

We met up with Karen Price, a former VCU field teaching assistant and Ferry Farm intern.  She explained their current work and the methods and processes they use at Mount Vernon, especially compared to Ferry Farm.  Despite the difference in location, material culture found, and other oddities, some things remained constant.  The utility trenches that they were encountering at Mount Vernon, though more abundant, was not so different from Ferry Farms and the project goals both centered on locating out buildings.   The dissimilarities from the Washington sites just add to the wealth of knowledge of George Washington and help form a more accurate and well-rounded understanding of the man himself.

Day 2:

We were all excited to get back to the site and resume our antebellum layer.  Using the profile from the utility trench we could tell that the layer was rather thick and so we were hoping for ample artifacts.  The other groups began to find wig curlers setting the race for the most.  As we shoveled through the rocks and soil we found artifacts ranging in description.  Glass fragments and nails, a hinge of some sort, and ceramic sherds of all varieties.  As we screened and cleaned the pieces, we couldn’t help but become anxious for the ceramics lecture in the morning.  It would help so much to learn what we were sticking to our tongues.

Ceramics of all kinds!

Ceramics of all kinds!

Day 3:

We filed into an upper level room in the main house on Wednesday morning and prepared ourselves for the wave of information coming our way.  Pencils and notebook poised we began the three hour lecture on ceramics and glass.  As we compared, contrasted, jumped through time, and traveled to different countries we started to understand.  And then we began another slide.  The different types, the copycats, high quality versus low quality, and the varying shades of “white” blurred in our minds as we attempted to keep it all straight.

Thankfully, Ms. Kaktins, our lecturer and ceramic specialist, provided us with type collections of each ceramic, encouraged questions, and gave helpful hints.  By the end of the lecture we were ready to go back outdoors and find some sherds to identify.  Sadly our unit missed the memo.

After completing the Antebellum and beginning the colonial we were hopeful as to what artifacts we might find.  Older and possibly George’s old things were lying in the ground awaiting us.  Just not for us.  We shoveled and troweled and still nothing came out.  We ended the day with under 5 artifacts and an unsettling feeling that our trench was making a return.

Day 4-

Driving to the site we feared the rain.  As a whole, we were all anxiously waiting to close our units and start something new and if that new unit held 40 wig curlers then all the better.  Ashley greeted us that morning and corralled us into the discovery room of the main house.  We were briefed on how to fill out unit summaries and then we were each given a unit from last year.  As a whole the experience proved helpful.  We began to understand how our context forms help to shape the bigger picture.

After finishing our units, we were directed upstairs where Laura gave her famous small finds and Mary Ball and George Washington talk.  In all the morning proved informative and couldn’t have occurred at a better point in our field session.  We were all getting close to the end of our colonial layers and understanding how things fit together not to mention how our current findings in our little 5 ft. by 5 ft. units would move up the knowledge ladder and into lectures presented to those much wiser was eye opening.

By 12:30p we were back outside and ready to go.  Each unit with its own direction, we gathered the necessary supplies.  While some were getting photo ready so as to move to their final steps, our unit became lined with shovels.  The trench was back.  Realizing that our utility trench had not gone deep enough we began to dig.  After sifting through rocks covered in a new sludge-like soil thanks to the rain, we eventually brought the trench into subsoil.  And then Thursday was complete.

Documenting the unit.

Documenting the unit.

Day 5

Friday morning was very dejá-vu.  It was raining yet again and so we began our third morning indoors.  We worked on unit summaries again however it was our own units we began to compile.  After only a half hours work, we were pleasantly surprised we were allowed back into the field.  There we worked towards completing our colonial layer.  As we dug and dug the soil became increasing red and clay like and we were sure we had hit subsoil.  We compared the depth of our unit to others and despite us being deeper we kept finding the slightest amount of artifacts.  Charcoal to be exact.  As I began to trowel, I noticed that the charcoal was all coming from one corner, the South East edge.   After badgering Ashley to look at our unit for the 100th time that day, she noticed that we were most definitely in subsoil.  The Eastern wall had a soil stain running into it that held the charcoal bits.  After consulting with Eric and then Laura, my stain had a name.  Feature 47.  At the time I couldn’t tell what I was most excited about, having a non-20th century feature in my unit or that I had finally hit subsoil.

Discussing our excavation with Ashley.

Discussing our excavation with Ashley.

 

As We Drove through the Winding Countryside: Vivian Hite’s Week 2

by Vivian Hite, VCU student

Day 1:

On Monday morning we all excitedly left the dorms at Mary Washington College eager to continue the previous week’s excavation.  As we arrived to the site we could see clouds out across the Rappahannock and hoped we could get through the day as we had not completed a full day’s work yet.  As soon as we were able to gather our paperwork we hurriedly finished the 20th Century context information.  Just as we filed our paperwork, the storm made its presence known.  We quickly covered the site as we had seen done only a few times before and huddled under the Magnolia tree awaiting its passing.  Sadly, Ashley had to make the call to send us on our way as the storm showed no signs of letting up.  Thankfully we’re better archaeologists than weathermen, as the storm soon cleared yet we were off the site for the day.

Day 2:

Tuesday began with us gathering on the front steps of the dorms waiting for Dr. Means and Ashley to arrive.  After a quick stop at the local Starbucks, we were on the road for Montpelier.  As we drove through the winding countryside, we were curious to see if the tour of the area would be anything like the previous trip to Wakefield.

The visit began with a tour of the house.  Though our interpreter took a different approach than our Wakefield friend, the visit was informative and helped create a background for the archaeological site we were about to see.   On our way to the site we walked through the outlined slave quarters down a tire-derived pathway.  Both the eco sidewalk and blocks the structures sat on allow for no degradation to any archaeological records or sites below.

When we arrived at the dig site we were greeted by Dr. Mark Trickett.  As we observed some of their finds of the day, Dr. Matt Reeves coasted in on his bike.  As part of the site was uncovered, we were able to see some of the pits believed to be part of the slave quarters.  The goal of the excavation is to determine the location and amount of slave quarters in the field.  As the team gathered for lunch we were asked back to their lab to observe other found artifacts.  As we looked up at their summer-camp looking lab we wondered what would be inside.

As we stepped inside the wooden structure we were amazed by the organization of the lab.  It was open and easily accessible for the public and yet a great study tool for those with an archaeological background.   The file cabinets along the side wall each had pull out drawers with artifacts carefully grouped by era or type.  It allowed for some impromptu ceramics lessons in preparation for our upcoming quiz.

The lab at Montpelier.

The lab at Montpelier.

Day 3:

On Wednesday we were finally able to begin our antebellum context.  As other groups had begun the layer and were finding interesting artifacts, we were excited to see what ours would reveal.  Unfortunately by afternoon we had found something in our layer we wish we hadn’t.  Units on both our left and right had discovered a trench running through their units and it ran directly through ours.  Feature 13, a 20th century utility trench, ran directly through our unit.  We continued to excavate our context until it was even and our walls were straight.  Frustration already growing with the amount and size of rocks filling our unit we were not looking forward to the upcoming context.  However, the artifacts we found throughout the day did provide excitement.  With the ample amount of ceramics we found, the lessons from the lab on Tuesday came in handy.  Along with the sherds, nail pieces and other metal fragments were found.

Day 4:

The Fourth started with intense excitement as we all prepared for the celebratory events at Ferry Farm.  We uncovered the site, more than usual, and as the smells and sounds of the vendors and exhibits of the decades past. Luckily, the morning traffic was slow and we were able to photograph our current antebellum context and begin the dreaded trench.

Public archaeology on July 4!

Public archaeology on July 4!

Because of our unit’s location to the edge of the site, the public drifted towards our unit for questions and observations.   Many people just wanted to understand our dig site in regards to the Washington’s house and what we were digging for.  Our explanation of wig curlers was always a favorite especially with the children.  They were always fascinated by the idea of men wearing lavish wigs and us finding those small things in the dirt.  As the visitors flocked to the site, the need for sifting dirt increased.  Much to the children’s dismay our layer exposed mostly rocks; however we did come across a fairly large lead glazed ceramic identified as a milk pan.  Though slowing our work on the trench, the chaos and business of the public’s attention and day’s theatrics caused the Fourth to become my favorite day in the field.

Day 5:

In contradiction to the previous goings on, Friday moved at a slow pace.  The heat and humidity coupled with Thursday’s efforts and the remaining trench, made for a long day ahead.  We eventually got through the trench despite mild waves of sickness and exhaustion and were relieved to finalize the paperwork on the trench.  Tuesday’s dig could not come soon enough.  The only good thing to come from the trench, in our opinion, was that we now had a reference for our context layers.  Our antebellum appeared rich and still remained thick, full of artifacts and hopefully wig curlers and other cool finds.  As the week begins with high hopes, a small fear rides over the other students as we try to determine the colonial layer and explain why it is so thin and deeper than the previous excavation units.   As it appears, Tuesday’s excavation will need to answer some questions and with any luck deliver some artifacts within our unit.

Documenting the utility trench.

Documenting the utility trench.

 

 

Field School Ferry Farm FF-20: Vivian Hite’s Week 1

by Vivian Hite, VCU student

Field School Ferry Farm FF-20

Day 1-

Day 1 began under the pavilion. Ashley, our VCU intern, began to show us around Ferry Farm.  We explored the garden where plants from George’s life were grown; right down to the cherry trees.  Moving throughout the site, we were introduced to the history of Ferry Farm.  From the Native past, the colonial era, the Battle of Fredericksburg, and up to modern day- Ferry Farm’s history is as rich and vibrant as the garden being grown today.

Olivia excavating top soil.

Olivia excavating top soil.

Past archaeologists have searched the site looking for George’s boyhood home.  Schuster, an archaeologist in the 1990’s, infamously dug a trench across the farm looking for the home.  His past investigations have impacted current archaeology.  The home was formally found in 2008.  As the years have progressed, archaeologists have searched for the cellars and outbuildings surrounding the 18th century home.  Wig curlers are an abundant and curious finding at the site.  Approximately 166 have been found over the years and with each find the question of why so many increases. And so our excavation begins.

Looking towards the East, where the gradient of curlers and thus cultural activity increases, we begin our dig.  Starting in a checkerboard pattern, my digging partners and I line our grids and measure our elevation.  After the start of paperwork, we began to move topsoil.  After jumping onto our shovels to get through the grass roots, we attempted to shovel the squares up.  Olivia was a bit heavy handed in the removal process resulting in a deeper north east corner.  Throughout the shoveling, we were instructed to sift through our dirt.  The screens were set up under a large Magnolia tree.  The shade attracted our first public interaction.  Two little girls helped us search through the dirt and look for artifacts.  By the end of the barrel, one girl bragged to her sister about her success in the archaeology- her “rock” got placed in the important bag.

As we made our way through the first layer, a storm abruptly rolled in, and, much to our dismay- we packed up nearly an hour early with high hopes for the next day’s finds.

Day 2!

Day two began in the pavilion where Ashley points to us and says “Surprise! Lab day for you all!” We immediately believe it’s because we were so slow and automatically point to Olivia for her deep digging.

When we went to the lab we met Melissa and she showed us around the house (up and down) and demonstrated how to clean artifacts. Olivia and I were in charge of cleaning a remaining set of artifacts and then to start on rewashing artifacts, while Francesca awaited a lab technician to show her how to label.  Washing was intimidating at first.  I was looking forward to lab work because I was able to handle unique artifacts I had yet to find in drab top soil, however the gentle brushing of nails, the massaging of brick, and the light scrubbing of ceramics was terrifying- what if we rubbed off the glaze, the brick absorbed too much water, or the nails rust fell apart- and the oyster shells- Olivia sat there picking the dirt out of each hole with a dental pick. We decided that lunch would be best outside- perhaps the heat we had so luckily avoided would dry our pruned fingers out. After lunch, we rotated and Olivia and I learned how to label.  Cutting the labels into the tinniest of strips was challenging.  Every snip was never close enough.  Glue. Place. Glue. Glue. Place. Glue.  In the beginning deciding the best place to attach a label was difficult and many questions ensued, however left to our own devices, we reflected back to our Methods class and soon picked up on it, with an occasional review from the assistant and quizzes on what we thought an artifact was- Olivia is no member of the NRA- 2 shell casings and she guessed firecracker and eraser.

Olivia in the lab.

Olivia in the lab.

Once Olivia recorded our last Context into the catalog binder, I moved to store the bag when I commented on how lucky we were to have not had the next bag- FULL of Rocks! A girl sitting on the computer working on some sketch or painting asked to see the bag. She corrected that it was “not rocks but cement, sweetie”.  She explained she was a field student here last year and remembered that unit.  It was part of Schuster’s trench that he had filled with broken cement.  At one point they had two racks full of cement samples.  After pleasantries, we headed out to see if our field friends needed any help closing the site. As we were leaving Mariana mentioned they had already found a feature. Another Schuster remain- an STP, it began with a nail, then some tape, and stopped  there.  More excitement I thought then the roots we get to continue with tomorrow.  Luckily our intern Allen, fairy god mother, we joke around the apartment, had squared off and leveled out our unit so we weren’t as behind as we thought we were.

In all I was surprised to realize that lab work was not as exciting as I imagined it would be.  Everyone always says how much they hate it but some people love it, and in class I believed I was one of those people However. As I sat in the room on display with children looking in on my every rinse, I kept wondering what others had found and what I was missing out on.  Guess we will find out tomorrow.

Day 3

Today we were a little lost in the shuffle.  We began the morning under the magnolia tree at the site.  We went over our progress so far and then we began to uncover the site. This was a bit crazy.  Since we were in the lab yesterday, we missed the entire uncover/recover process.  People were stepping here and there with confidence, in the end we stuck with wheelbarrows, buckets and trowels.  Envy and determination filled us when we saw the others units.  Units to our left and right were going into the antebellum layer soon, while we still were in topsoil.  Eventually we were able to smooth the layer and take a picture of the context.  We then moved on to our 20th century layer: complete with 1 ceramic sherd, 1 glass fragment, 1 piece of polyester, and a bunch of rocks.  After lunch we snooped the other units out and heard stories of bones, marbles, and shells- not a foot away from our unit.  The motivation sunk in and we were ready to dig in.  Our goal was to get through the 20th Century context today however a surprise storm took up over the river and ended our dig abruptly. Luckily we had just finished screening our last scraping.  It was a mad dash to return tools to the ever faithful surveyors shed and cover the site as the storm rolled in.  The confused chaos of the morning was replaced with a need to act.  No matter the act. And fast.  The tarp, me and other field school students unrolled to cover our units was yanked out of someone’s hand by the wind and wrapped itself in a fallen Bridget.  Stones and screens were being thrown onto the site as hats, gloves and dirt blew across the field.

Later in the evening after the power had returned to our dorms and the calm had ridden in, Olivia and I went for a walk and stumbled upon the Kenmore Plantation. Though the house was closed we noticed the Confederate Army cemetery and stopped to read the monuments along the road.  Mini-monument Avenue also had its personal “Hollywood” cemetery- full of the Gordon’s of Kenmore. Reading the names “…Aged at ….” With the water still resting in the engagements and the night setting in put a perspective onto the history found here and added the human to the dig.  It’s so easy to lose sight around you with your head in a hole, focused on layer upon layer, context upon context, wig curler and lithic, but these are just the objects that comprise someone’s life. A person’s life.