Mapping the End: Aaron Ellrich’s Week 5

by Aaron Ellrich, VCU student

The final week began with a trip to Colonial Williamsburg. It had been years since the last time I visited the historic town! What made this trip unique is that I wasn’t there to walk the streets and poke around the various shops. Rather, I was there to learn about current archaeological excavations and conservation. Seeing two separate archaeological projects, these active sites addressed the changing landscape in and around the historic district. Later on, CWF’s Emily Williams delivered an informative lecture on archaeological conservation and laboratory procedures. For me, our trip to Colonial Williamsburg brought back a lot of old memories while simultaneously providing new ones!

Inside CWF’s conservation laboratory.

Inside CWF’s conservation laboratory.

 Tuesday was back at it in the field. With only a few days left of field school, Bridget (my unit partner) and I were worried about finishing up on time. This was due to disturbances found in the archaeological record—such as a feature in the northwest corner (found last Friday) as well as extensive mole activity (aka bioturbation) along the southwest side of our unit! Since every feature has to be excavated separately, we finished excavating the northern half of feature 49 on Tuesday and, after changing context, moved to the mole run—which came with a surprise!

Bone handle found inside the mole hole!

Bone handle found inside the mole hole!

After completing our unit and profiling the east wall, the entire team (including field school students and interns) worked together in order to complete project FF-20. All the units in our area received a fresh scrape so that mapping, done by the interns the following week, could be completed. With all the field school students accustomed to what needed to be done, the last two days I worked the screens, completed the summary reports on the units Bridget and I excavated, and aced my ceramics test! The only drawback for my final week at Ferry Farm was that I was unable to throw my stone across the Rappahannock River, like George. In the end, the 2013 field school season taught me a lot about archaeology beyond the classroom. Final thanks to: the George Washington Foundation, Mary Washington University, Bernard, Laura, Dave, Eric, Ashley, all the professionals who took the time to express their knowledge to us, and all the 2013 interns who helped us along the way. I had a wonderful and enlightening experience!

Final group picture! The stone throw—I almost made it across!

Final group picture! The stone throw—I almost made it across!

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The Final Countdown: Francisca Chesler’s Week 5

by Francisca Chesler, VCU student

My last week of field school began with a field trip to Colonial Williamsburg. I have only been to Williamsburg once, on an elementary school field trip so I was very excited to visit once again. We visited two excavation sites, one in the center of activity, where archaeologists were working very diligently to uncover the original location of the Market Square building, based on historical records. The other excavation site we visited was the location of the Bray School, a school for slaves where VCU graduate Crystal Castleberry was working as an intern.

Screens at the Bray School Site.

Screens at the Bray School Site.

We ended the day with a lecture on conservation and preservation efforts with Emily Williams and got   to tour their lab. I enjoyed speaking with Emily Williams because I am interested in a career specializing in archaeological conservation.

On Tuesday, Vivian and I worked hard to finished our second unit, with great results. We were the first group to finish excavating both of our units. In addition to this, there were two features in our unit, one of which may have been a planting or even a prehistoric feature.

The unit at the subsoil layer.

The unit at the subsoil layer.

Feature in our unit, possibly from a plant.

Feature in our unit, possibly from a plant.

On Wednesday, we began profiling our first unit with the coordinates N595 E565. I liked profiling because it helped me better understand the stratigraphic relationship of our unit, and how it related to other units where the soil changed color. This was my first time profiling and greatly enjoyed the experience, while not as strenuous as digging or exciting as screening the dirt.

The profile drawing for our first unit.

The profile drawing for our first unit.

On Thursday, with everyone else finishing their second units, I had the opportunity to profile a second unit with the help of Bridget. I thought it was a fun experience to work with other members of field school, as I got to do more drawing, instead of measuring the second time around. In addition to this, I helped Ruth and Bridget trowel through Ruth and Ryan’s baulk. We found a few artifacts, but more than I was previously expecting. These artifacts included oyster and clam shells, nails and tiny ceramic sherds. After field school ended for the day, we all went back to Ferry Farm to celebrate with a group dinner, a viewing of the cinematic masterpiece Sharknado, and a round of trivia with fabulous prizes including temporary tattoos.

Friday, the final day of field school began with a ceramics quiz first thing in the morning. I had been dreading the ceramics quiz since it was first announced, but thanks to the help of my fellow field school students and our study sessions after days in the field, felt adequately prepared. As we went indoors to take the quiz, I felt greatly relieved as I recognized a few of the sherds from the lab, such as the porcelain and tin glazed ceramics. I ended up getting an A on the quiz, and I feel pretty confident in my ability to identify ceramics. After lunch, I was surprised to see my parents walking towards the site! I knew they were going to help me move out later in the day, but had no idea they would be visiting the actual site. I am very happy and fortunate to have such supportive parents, and they took great interest in the site and the museum.

Showing my parents the site.

Showing my parents the site.

Overall, I had an amazing time at field school and this was definitely the highlight of my summer, and a great way to begin my career as an archaeologist. Even though I had moments where I doubted myself, I learned so much in these five weeks and this has definitely given me an idea of what I want to do in the future, especially with the courses I can take at VCU and graduate schools I might apply to. I really cannot wait for classes to start in the fall, and look forward to the 3D Virtual Curation Lab internship in the fall!

Week 5: An End and a Beginning

By Bernard K. Means, VCU/Virtual Curation Laboratory

Crystal Castleberry, a legacy of the VCU archaeology field school (2012 edition) gives a tour of the Bray School site in Colonial Williamsburg.

Crystal Castleberry, a legacy of the VCU archaeology field school (2012 edition), gives a tour of the Bray School site in Colonial Williamsburg.

After five memorable weeks, the 2013 VCU field school came to an end on July 26, 2013.  The week began with a field trip to visit archaeological sites and conservation facilities in Colonial Williamsburg and ended with scraping, mapping, and profiling the units excavated by the nine VCU field school students. Fortunately, the week’s efforts were helped by a weather pattern that brought days that were still hot and moderately humid, but not those of the previous week.  And, rain held off all week as well, making for perfect days to excavate at the site where George Washington grew up.

Ashley McCuistion, far left, discusses field strategies with Laura Galke, far right

Ashley McCuistion, far left, discusses field strategies with Laura Galke, far right

I asked the students to reflect on what field school meant to them, and reported this for my Day of Archaeology post on Friday, July 26. I’ll refer the reader to that post for details.  Overall, the nine field school students expressed their feeling that they had a true appreciation for what archaeology entails—something that is not possible solely through class room study.  Most felt better prepared for a future career in archaeology, however that might manifest.  I can say that, while ability and temperament varied somewhat, all of the field school students proved that they make a solid addition to anyone’s field crew.

Field director Laura Galke examines a Colonial-era cellar feature.

Field director Laura Galke examines a Colonial-era cellar feature.

Our work at George Washington’s childhood home at Ferry Farm would not have been possible without the support of the George Washington Foundation (GWF).  The Foundation provided the students with an excellent and knowledgeable field director in Laura Galke, GWF archaeologist and small finds analysis, who not only guided the field excavations, but also provided the social context for the items recovered by the students.

Assistant field director Erik Larsen taking notes.

Assistant field director Erik Larsen taking notes as Vivian scrapes her unit.

Her assistant field director, Eric Larsen, challenged the students to work harder and to consider multiple perspectives when interpreting the past.

Ashley McCuistion demonstrates coring in the backdirt pile.

Ashley McCuistion demonstrates coring in the backdirt pile.

VCU student Ashley McCuistion, a GWF intern, was my teaching assistant, and excelled at instructing her fellow students on multiple field tasks, many taking simultaneously.  The efforts of Laura, Eric, and Ashley, as well as other GWF interns, is evident in earlier blog postings.

The field school poses with the Rappahanock River in the background.

The field school poses with the Rappahanock River in the background.

The end of week 5 was a bittersweet moment for me, being the end of this intensive field effort.  It was great to see these nine students take further steps on their goals of becoming archaeologists—one’s that I will be proud to call colleagues in the not too distant future.  However, as all but one are taking classes from me in the next academic year (one student has graduated), my interaction with these developing professionals will continue.  And, I look forward to this next chapter with this great set of students.

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“Jimmy Trenches,” Slaves at/in School, and King Tut: Our Trip to Colonial Williamsburg

by Bernard K. Means, VCU/Virtual Curation Laboratory

The group from Ferry Farm in front of the Governor's Mansion

The group from Ferry Farm in front of the Governor’s Palace.

On Monday, July 22, I took the intrepid band of VCU field school students down I95, around I295, and across I64 to Colonial Williamsburg.  For those of you who do not know, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CWF) has as its mission:

to be a center for history and citizenship, encouraging national and international audiences to learn from the past through the preservation, restoration, and presentation of 18th-century Williamsburg and the study, interpretation, and teaching of America’s founding democratic principles (www.history.org/foundation).

We began our morning at the Market Square excavations, directed by CWF archaeologists Meredith Poole and Andrew Edwards.  Meredith was unable to meet with us that day, but Andrew gave us a great overview of these excavations.

Andrew Edwards discusses the current Market Square excavations.

Andrew Edwards discusses the current Market Square excavations. A “Jimmy Trench” is located to the left of the excavator in the orange shirt.

The goal of these excavations is to find the original Market Square building’s location, which is shown on a 1782 map. The current excavations are challenged by the repeated reuse of this particular area, including a church that stood into the 20th century before being removed.  Previous excavations have taken place in this area, including work by the CWF architectural department in 1948 to dig a series of trenches at a 45 degree angle to the 18th century city’s plan.  Excavated under the direction of Jimmy Knight, and known today as “Jimmy trenches,” these trenches were designed to locate buildings but were not excavated according to modern archaeological standards.  These trenches encountered archaeological deposits, but artifacts were not necessarily saved–complicating modern interpretations.

Crystal Castleberry excavating a feature at the Bray school.

Crystal Castleberry excavating a feature at the Bray school site.

After we left this site, we went over to where CWF is running a field school through the College of William and Mary, the Bray School site: “a school for enslaved children operating in the 1760s.” There we were met by CWF intern Crystal Castleberry, a recent VCU graduate who was a VCU field school student at Ferry Farm in 2012.  It was great to see Crystal in this supervisory role and she gave us a great overview of their current excavations.

Crystal discusses the Bray School excavations.

Crystal discusses the Bray School excavations.

The College of William and Mary field school is investigating outbuildings, and the activities around them, associated with the Bray School.

College of William and Mary field school students at work.

College of William and Mary field school students at work.

Crystal joined us for lunch at the Cheese Shop, where we met with Emily Williams, CWF’s Conservator of Archaeological Materials.

Emily gave us a great overview of archaeological conservation in the afternoon, including its history across the world and past and current archaeological conservation efforts at CWF.  I learned, for example, that early 20th century conservation efforts at the site of Tutankhamun’s tomb have ensured that 99.9 percent of the material excavated in the 1920s survives to this day!  I stress to my students the importance of archaeological conservation, something that I’ve learned over the years through frequent conversations and collaborations with Emily. Emily told the students that archaeological conservation is not simply preserving past archaeological objects and putting them away, never to be seen again, but is integral to learning about the objects–their provenance, manufacture, and use–and making sure that the objects are available for all to study.

Emily Williams, left front, shows the archaeological conservation laboratory at CWF.

Emily Williams, left front, shows the archaeological conservation laboratory at CWF.

In fact, when we were developing our protocols for the Virtual Curation Laboratory, we met with Emily Williams in her laboratory to discuss how to implement our 3D artifact scanning project in a way sensitive to the materials we were digitally documenting.

VCU alumnus Clinton King demonstrates the 3D scanning process to Emily Williams and one of her interns.

VCU alumnus Clinton King demonstrates the 3D scanning process to Emily Williams and one of her interns.

A number of the students are interested in careers in archaeological conservation, and Emily was able to provide them with the information they need if they wish to pursue further studies. I could not think of a better place to take our last official field trip for the VCU field school.

Xrays illuminated design elements on a watering can.

X-rays illuminated design elements on a watering can.

Sweating Dirt: Lauren Volker’s Week 4

by Lauren Volker, VCU student

Day 16: This Saturday we went to Washington, D.C. to get a special up close look at 18th century clothing from Mary Doering. We decided to meet in Washington D.C. near the Smithsonian Institution Building. After we went to a conference room where we meet Mary Doering and she showed us some clothing and accessories she has collected over the years. At first she showed us some women’s dresses, and other outfits that they wore back in the 18th century from going out attire to staying home. It was really interesting to see the different outfits and how some dresses even had separate pockets that you could attach to a belt. We then moved onto men’s clothing and different vests and trousers they wore. My favorite was the men’s underwear and the leather pants. Then Mary Doering showed us some shoes, buckles, and a wallet that had a name and date sown into it. After we grab some lunch and then a couple of us went to National Museum of American History, since some of us have never been before. Unfortunately a few parts were closed for reconstruction.

Posts we left behind for Ferry Farm at the National Museum of American History.

Posts we left behind for Ferry Farm at the National Museum of American History.

Day 17: Another Monday come and gone and today Mariana and I finally finished our unit! In the morning Mariana and I finished leveling our unit and had to screen by buckets to make sure we don’t find any artifacts. Since last Friday Dr. Means found lithic debitage in our last bucket we have had to dig a little further to make sure we did in fact reach subsoil. It was also a really hot day and the weather says it’s going to get hotter as the week goes on. Hopefully no one will pass out and it cools off soon. We also got a new unit N600 E565, the unit in front of our old one. We started top soil and got close to the 20th century by the end of the day.

Day 18: Another hot day and Mariana and I continued our new unit. We got through our topsoil and into our 20th century. We found a wig curler so hopefully that will mean will find more as we dig deeper. We also found glass shards, plastic, lithic debitage, a clay marble, and ceramic sherds. By the end of the day Mariana and I finished our 20th century layer and on Thursday we will be able to start our Antebellum layer.

Mariana and I’s new unit after the top soil was removed.

Mariana and I’s new unit after the top soil was removed.

Day 19: Today we went to Washington D.C again to receive a lecture from Dr. Ruth Trocolli about GIS (Geographic Information Systems). First we took the train to D.C., which was pretty cool since I’ve never taken the Amtrak Train before. Before the lecture we went to the D.C. and walked around for a while. I saw cheetahs (which are my favorite), pandas, elephants, orangutans, gorillas, and many more animals. The GIS lecture was really cool because it should us how we can use technology to see where historical sites are and how that can help both archaeologists and developers. The program shows a map of the area and then where all the historic and prehistoric sites can be found and more information can be added to add more details. After we went to the Natural Museum of Natural History to see the Written on Bone and the Human Origin exhibit. The Written in Bone exhibit is my favorite, because you can see all sorts of different skeletons of animals in the beginning and then humans. I like how they show human remains that died and the causes so you can see how it affected their skeletal remains. I also really like bones so I could be a little biased. Still an awesome exhibit and you should go see it if you haven’t already!

 A panda eating bamboo.

A panda eating bamboo.

A cheetah!

A cheetah!

Day 20: Another scorcher out in the field, but Mariana and I were every productive. In the morning we noticed our utility trench outlined in our soil so we excavated that in the morning. We didn’t find much beside a whole bunch of rocks and pebbles. After lunch we started on our antebellum layer and got to about half way at the end of the day. We were also drinking a lot of water and got misted by the water screen hose to cool down. In our antebellum layer we found ceramic sherds, glass shards, lithic debitage, brick, and coal.

Mariana and I’s finished utility trench (left).

Mariana and I’s finished utility trench (left).

Day 21: Today had to be the hottest it’s been all week. It was supposedly 100°F, but Dr. Means stopped by with a nice surprise for us, sparkling water! We also took a lot of water breaks. Mariana and I continued our antebellum layer and in the morning we had to produce a lot of dirt so the archaeology camp had something to go through (Thanks to Ashley and Katie for helping!). In the end we had ceramic sherds, glass shards, coal, brick, a tooth, lithic debitage, pipe stems, and nails. Just before lunch Mariana and I finished our antebellum layer and then started our colonial layer. We found very little artifacts, which can happen and we got to leave early since the weather was so hot. Hopefully next week won’t be as hot as this one.

 

All of the artifacts we found in our antebellum layer.

All of the artifacts we found in our antebellum layer.

 

With Our Trowels Combined…:Bridget Polk’s Week 4

by Bridget Polk, VCU Student
Week four of field school and what a hot week it was! I started out the week finishing a unit that I had begun helping an intern, Courtney, which contained a 20th century patio.  Down below, Courtney and I were able to take the unit to the previously determined subsoil from FF-18, a previous dig year. By the end of the week, I was back with my original dig partner Aaron. While I was with Courtney, I found 2 wig curlers making my total 3 thus far this summer. Quite an impressive number I might add.

Me with my two wig curlers!

Me with my two wig curlers!

Finally, it became time to take a field trip. This week, we visited the D.C. area starting out at the zoo and ending with a visit to Dr. Ruth Trocolli for a lecture on GIS applications in archaeology. I really enjoyed the trip, as it is not that often I get to visit the capital. Also, this happened to be my first time to go to the D.C. zoo. All in all, it was a good day and it was back to digging the next day.

A most photogenic Meerkat.

A most photogenic Meerkat.

Before the end of the week, I was back with Aaron at our old unit. We were able to bring the unit down to the top of the colonial layer where we discovered a feature! This was my first feature that I actually got to dig all season so Aaron, who dug out our 20th century utility trench, let me have free reign on it to learn how to dig it exactly. It was an experience to say the least, as we had to determine many measurements and make sure we mapped everything just right. But in the end we were able to almost finish the feature up before the end of the day Friday. I can’t wait to see what this last week of field school has in store for us.

The Western side of our unit where the new feature is located. You can also see a mole path in there as well.

The Western side of our unit where the new feature is located. You can also see a mole path in there as well.

 

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.