by Vivian Hite, VCU student
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.