A point beyond human occupation: Stephanie King’s Week 3

by Stephanie King, VCU student

This week was particularly busy for us between a visit to Washington’s Mount Vernon and two hefty lectures. On Monday, the Field School convened at Mount Vernon, home to George Washington from 1754 until his death in 1799. While there, we met with Dr. Esther White, the director of historic preservation at Mount Vernon. She had a layout of choice pieces from various archaeology projects, namely the South Grove Midden (colloquially, a “trash” pit). She also gave us a tour of the preservation room, where elements of the house are re-created or restored. Specific details about element construction are analyzed here, down to the color of the paint during Washington’s occupation. She then gave us a look into the facility used for artifact storage, where we revisited the pressing issue of the space and resources required for archaeological collections to be maintained.

Dr. Esther White discusses restoration efforts.

Dr. Esther White discusses restoration efforts.

Of course, we toured the household as well, and spent a good bit of time alongside of the archaeological dig currently taking place outside of the kitchen (located outdoors to save the house from the inevitable kitchen fire). We took time to visit the museums inside of the visitors’ center, too, and Washington’s tomb.

On Wednesday, we were treated to a loaded ceramics lecture from Mara Kaktins, a specialist with the George Washington Foundation. We were given a series of pamphlets that will help us better understand what we are finding in the field and where assorted items fit in Ferry Farm’s history. Mara also introduced us to some basic techniques in identifying glass, namely the differences between hand-blown and machine-molded forms, and what different shaped bottles may have been used for.

Laura Galke gave a short talk on Thursday, discussing the relevance of “small finds” artifacts and the portrayal of Mary Washington (George’s mother) in 19th and 20th century writings. How Mary was interpreted in the 1800s differed drastically from more modern writings that claim she was anywhere from “querulous” to “crusty”. Part of the importance of Ferry Farm is in understanding the relationship between Mary and her children, especially after Augustine’s death when finances became a challenge. Small finds are very important, as they may clue us into how Mary Washington appreciated gentile society but was mindful of the lifestyle’s expense.

A possible scraping tool.

A possible scraping tool.

On Friday, dig-partners were exchanged and my new partner Olivia and I closed the original unit at the southeastern end of the excavation. As we were at the bottom of our Colonial layer, most of the artifacts were lithic flakes and the like (though we did find a possible scraping tool). Once the number of possible artifacts became almost nonexistent, we felt that we had reached subsoil, or a point beyond human occupation. We will be moving to the unit directly east of our original in the coming week.

Closing out the unit.

Closing out the unit.

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!

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.

Another Week Bites the Dust: Lauren Volker’s Week 3

by Lauren Volker, VCU student

Day 11: Today we went to Mount Vernon to take a look at the archaeology site and to see George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. First we got a look at the lab and some artifacts that they found on site. We got a close up look at their restoration department and some local projects they are working on. After a quick tour of their storage room we went to see the archaeology site they are working on. Currently they are working on finding the kitchen that Samuel had when he lived at Mount Vernon and other outhouses. After we got to tour the grounds and see all of the other buildings they reconstructed. It was really interesting to learn that they now painted the house a cream color after discovering that was the color George Washington had the house, not white. We also got to take a tour through George Washington’s house and got to see the New Room that they are working currently reconstructing.

George Washington’s Mt Vernon Estate

George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate

2

Day 12: Today Mariana and I finished excavating our utility trench and were able to continue excavating our antebellum layer. Hopefully we can catch up with everyone else (all the other units are on the colonial layer). We were able to continue excavating our antebellum layer and still found quite a few artifacts. Some of the artifacts include: nails, ceramic sherds, glass shards, a possible horse tooth, pipe stems, and hair curler sherds (none of them count since none of them had an end).

Mariana and I’s finished trench.

Mariana and I’s finished trench.

Some dirt we screened from our antebellum layer.

Some dirt we screened from our antebellum layer.

Day 13: Today we started the day with a ceramic lecture that took up all of our morning. The lecture was very informative, but a lot of information to take in. Hopefully I can remember all of it in time for our ceramic’s test. After lunch Mariana and I continued our antebellum and we found another hair curler with an end! This one has a WB (maker’s mark) and a crown with a dot in it. We also finally got to our colonial layer, finally!

A wig curler with the maker’s mark and a crown.

A wig curler with the maker’s mark and a crown.

Day 14: This morning it was raining and luckily instead of sending us home we got to learn how to do unit summaries. I actually really liked writing unit summaries and filling out the paper work. Right after we also got to hear a lecture from Laura Galke about small findings. Unfortunately we had to stop our excavating of our colonial layer because after leveling off our unit with our STP, we realized our STP was deeper than we thought. Mariana also uncovered a distal end of a pig’s tibia so we are going to have to wait to get it out until we can continue our colonial layer. Hopefully we can finish it tomorrow and it’s not to deep.

Everyone hard at work writing unit summaries (In photo Olivia, Aaron, Katie, and Mariana).

Everyone hard at work writing unit summaries (In photo Olivia, Aaron, Katie, and Mariana).

The distal end of a pig’s tibia in our colonial layer.

The distal end of a pig’s tibia in our colonial layer.

Day 15: This morning again it misted on us, so we got to continue our unit summaries. After the mist stopped we got to go out and excavate. The rest of the day turned out to be very nice because it was slightly chilly and cloudy so it wasn’t hot digging. Mariana and I were also able to fully dig out our STP and we ended up going down another foot, so in total our STP was a little over 2 ft deep. By the end of the day we also got really close to subsoil. We thought we were finally done with our colonial layer because we went through about 8 buckets of dirt and not artifacts, but of course on our last bucket Dr. Means found a lithic debitage so hopefully we can finish up our unit next week.

There’s Something About George: Bridget Polk’s Week 3

by Bridget Polk, VCU student

Washington’s home of Mount Vernon. We toured the archaeology lab and got to enjoy the current excavation site. The differences between Ferry Farm and Mount Vernon are different as they dig in bigger units. But the bigger hole didn’t seem like it would be any easier than our 5-foot by 5-foot units. The trip continued with a tour of the house.  The architecture was great, but the view was even better! It was so peaceful even when there were so many people around.

The view from Mount Vernon and what a beautiful day it was!

The view from Mount Vernon and what a beautiful day it was!

Tuesday, Aaron and I got to experience work in the lab. Cleaning artifacts isn’t always fun but I enjoy it still. I think it’s important to help move the collections along in the process of documentation so that it isn’t just sitting somewhere being forgotten about. It’s important to get that information out for research purposes.

The next day brought rain in the morning, keeping us from our work. However, we learned how to conduct paperwork to summarize sites. After lunch, Aaron and I dug down into the subsoil of our unit to make sure it was subsoil! After finally coming up with pure clay, we, with the help of our T.A., Ashley, and site director, Laura Galke, were able to say that we did in fact reach subsoil and thus could close out our first unit.

The paperwork that we were taught to fill out, it’s a lot easier than it looks!

The paperwork that we were taught to fill out, it’s a lot easier than it looks!

Our new unit was actually the next square over. We knew what we were getting into as far as how the tree roots and type of soil changes we would be looking for based on our experience with the previous unit. I’m hoping to dig the unit down to the subsoil again by the end of the week but maybe that’s a little too ambitious. It’s okay if we take our time. George is waiting, after all.

The portrait of George Washington in the museum at Mount Vernon.

The portrait of George Washington in the museum at Mount Vernon.

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!

Are there more wig curlers lying in wait? Aaron Ellrich’s Week 3

by Aaron Ellrich, VCU student

Inside Mt. Vernon’s archaeology lab. I’m at the center of the photo checking out prehistoric items (such as projectile points and pottery sherds) found in and around Mt. Vernon.

Inside Mt. Vernon’s archaeology lab. I’m at the center of the photo checking out prehistoric items (such as projectile points and pottery sherds) found in and around Mt. Vernon.

From baby George at Wakefield to adolescent George at Ferry Farm, the beginning of week three brought us to George Washington’s final resting place, Mt. Vernon. Before paying our respects to the nation’s first president, Dr. Esther White took us around Mt. Vernon’s archaeology lab and repository. Bringing out some of Mt. Vernon’s exceptional archeological material—from prehistoric times and into the 20th century—Dr. White explained past and present archaeological work done on Mt. Vernon’s property. The day was rich, with our tour of the house, museum, gift shops, and (most importantly) our discussion about the type of archeology being conduced on site with archaeologists Eleanor Breen and Karen Price. For me, this archaeological discussion was critical. For instance, we found out that much of the archaeological work at Mt. Vernon is not necessarily research driven but compliance archaeology, and—contrary to the 5’x5’ unit we excavate at Ferry Farm—Mt. Vernon archaeologists were excavating 10’x10’ units!

Scrub a dub dub in a tub! In the lab washing artifacts recovered during 2012 excavations at Ferry Farm.

Scrub a dub dub in a tub! In the lab washing artifacts recovered during 2012 excavations at Ferry Farm.

Tuesday, Bridget and I were in the lab learning how to properly wash and label artifacts recovered from excavation. Unlike the physical work received in the field, lab work came with pruned fingers (from washing artifacts), a nice squishy seat, and (along with cool AC) a day’s break from the penetrating sun. However, this does not mean the two of us were kicked back sipping mojitos while the rest of the field school students baked in the sun. For me, I discovered that labeling artifacts requires patience and precision. Visually taxing, I also learned that labeling artifacts—by gluing on the tiniest sliver of paper (which has the artifact number)—is not necessarily my forte. In the lab, the trowel and shovel is abandoned, only to be replaced by toothbrush and tweezers. Nevertheless this work is part of archaeology as a whole, which makes it equally important as fieldwork.

Wednesday was a significant day for field school students. From 8:30 to noon we were given a ceramics and glass lecture by Mara Kaktins. The lecture was intense, sort of like a “crash course” in understanding ceramic and glass production, technique, style, seriation, horizon vs. traditional, handmade vs. machine-made…my mind was blown like a glass bottle and left with a pontil scar! With an entire folder of notes covered in the lecture, as well as two PowerPoint’s, we were sent back into the field at 12:00 to continue excavation. For Bridget and I, the latter half of the day was a success: we finally hit subsoil and completed our first unit!

The rain strikes again! All of us filling out summary reports while cardboard-George extends a helping hand.

The rain strikes again! All of us filling out summary reports while cardboard-George extends a helping hand.

Thursday came with rain! Unable to excavate until the rains ceased, we were shown how to properly fill out “summary reports”. For all of us, this was a time to learn the paperwork side of the trade, which is arguably the most important component (and harked about across the discipline) of archaeology—the material record. Not long into our neck-breaking pencil-work, Field Director Laura Galke rounded up the troops and delivered an excellent lecture on small finds at Ferry Farm. Before heading back out into the field after the rains cleared up, Laura’s talk left us with a better understanding of the meaning behind personal items (or “small finds”) found at Ferry Farm, such as buttons, wig curlers, and tambour hooks. On Friday, morning rains cleared up and Bridget and I began our next unit! As of now, we’re past the topsoil layer and penetrating into the 20th century context. Are there more wig curlers lying in wait? We pulled up three from our last unit and I’m shooting for more!

Bridget and I squaring off our second unit. The unit to the left was our first one, which contained the three wig curlers!

Bridget and I squaring off our second unit. The unit to the left was our first one, which contained the three wig curlers!