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In the field on 9/8/2008
Our first day in the field was beautiful—not too hot, shaded, and just dirty enough. We began by expanding upon the geophysical data for a swathe of the site that is of interest. This entailed the use of two different tools—the GEM 2 and the magnetometer. Walking in a straight line while carrying an instrument the shape of an (expensive) two by four required concentration. We then switched over to excavation techniques, orienting ourselves to the grid boundaries for the site as well as the history of the land and some data from an excavation circa the ‘60s.
The first excavation team had cleared the grass plugs and defined two test pits by the time we arrived. We proceeded to work our way downwards with shovels and trowels, sifting the top soil as it was removed. The loose consistency of the soil made sifting easy, but the matrix of roots entailed some creative cutting and troweling to remove the dirt. This was especially true for test pit N0 W30.
Our group was overjoyed to find corroded nails in the N0 W30 pit. Since seven nails were eventually recovered, everyone was able to experience the excitement of a “find” on the first day. Sieving was stressful, as I was not always certain of what was just dirt and what was something more significant—such as mortar. The sieving station came with the potential to destroy or discard finds. The N0 W35 test pit struck tile only a few inches down. Hopefully this test pit can be expanded to see what else is happening in the area. It will also be interesting to see whether the nails are historic or merely recently rusted.
The weekend’s rain may make next week’s digging somewhat muddy. We’ll see!
In the field on 9/15/2008
Today was the JBH tour, which among other things helped to familiarize us with the different periods of the house. We were presented with a curator's dilemma of how to showcase the history of the house--what are you willing to destroy to reveal something else? If you want to maintain the house as the Browns would have had it, some Victorian structures have to be destroyed. If you want to maintain everything, it is more difficult (or impossible) to gain an understanding of the overall setting in context. The same issue is encountered in archaeology--are you willing to destroy one period to get at another?
Today I worked on N0 W35, cleaning up and defining the tile/brick feature. This took time, and entailed compromises between leaving the tile intact, revealing but not destroying the mortar, and removing dirt to search for any additional finds. We found some glass and what appears to be coal, as well as a tile rim. My troweling technique seems to be improving. After close to an hour, our team was satisfied with the appearance of the feature, and a photograph was taken. At this point, the tiles and mortar were removed and as we continued to excavate, more finds emerged. We had to close the pit for the day sooner than we would have liked.
One of the tile/mortar conglomerations appeared to be flipped upside down. This would support our theory that the root matrix has disrupted the context of the tile, helping to explain why tiles are appearing at different levels in the matrix. We are still uncertain as to how the bricks on either side of the test pit could relate to the tile.
In the field on 9/22/2008
I was eager to get away from the STP doldrums this week (though I hear they found some interesting things). The ‘ies of unit two—Evie, Kellie, Steffi, and Meggie—proceeded to sink shovel into the best pit so far. Ours had the biggest worms, the most metal, and a variety of finds new and old. My favorite find was a tiny square piece of white ceramic that one of us picked directly out of the dirt—great luck, as it probably would have fallen through the sieve’s ¼” mesh, illustrating the tradeoffs that have to be made between finer mesh and quicker sieving. It has blue glaze, a square design, and one rim edge. Krysta guessed it to be 19th century, which makes at least one old thing my group has found. The odd looking pipe-and-spigot feature was the highlight of the day’s digging, and it will be interesting to dig down along the pipe next week, as well as to clear out the inside of the pipe to reveal whatever material is around the spigot. There is a cavity between the two that will also receive further attention. Constant attention to levels resulted in what I consider to be a very uniform surface, which will make our next 10 cm much easier to gauge.
In the field on 9/29/2008
Unit two was anxious to get down to digging today. Recognizing paperwork’s mind dulling effects, we helped each other to complete the list of tasks that had to get done pre-digging. These included labelling new features and contexts, drawing new unit maps, taking Munsell readings, taking new levels, and thinking generally about how we were going to approach the unit. We started in on our sandy context, JBH 10, and (as hoped) the fill resolved back into the mottled soil seen in the rest of the unit. Some finds, including plastic pieces and a champagne topper, may be specific to the sandy fill, since we believe it to be a newer deposit. Hypothesizing about stratigraphy is interesting, but we were all glad to be able to continue excavating the majority of the unit as one piece. The exception remains the soil within the pipe feature, though this is naturally cordoned off from the rest of the area.
Asphalt, concrete, ceramic, metal, slate, and quartz were all unearthed today. Teal and red pigments were unearthed in the NW corner. My favorite find was the metal strip that seems to abut onto the exposed brick and concrete feature in the NE corner. The metal is deep enough so that it goes into the next context. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to reach 20cm from unit level, thus our next context has not been entirely exposed yet. Nor did we have time to excavate the soil from within the pipe, which will hopefully reveal some interesting finds and more information about our feature.
More people have stopped by to visit the site. Throughout the day, Kellie proved to be an excellent videographer and public relations expert, talking with team members and bystanders about the dig.
In the field on 10/6/2008
We continued with excavation of JBH 11 for the majority of our time on the site. Additionally, the context within the pipe was removed, but yielded few significant finds. The structure of the metal piece and its connections to the exposed brick and concrete feature are becoming apparent. This modern feature seems to keep yielding more components, as an outline of a cinder block emerged at the base of JBH 11 today. Kellie found a piece of brick with a maker’s mark along the southern border of the unit—my favorite find so far. Hopefully this can be dated. The team members are getting more comfortable being videotaped, and I’m excited to see how the footage can be integrated with other site data in our final report. Unit assignments will switch on the next day in the field, and I anticipate revisiting Unit 2 frequently, as it is by far the superior unit. Mosquito bites continue to be an issue.
Research into the ownership and lanscape changes at JBH began on Saturday when Steffi and I met with Dan Santos to review RIHS’s resources and some documents at the JBH itself. One document cataloged the passage of tenency on the property, and another was a rough sketch of who owned what portions of the original property from the 1700’s through the 1900’s. These two documents, while a useful starting point, are uncredited and need to be supplemented with primary materials. The RIHS library will be our next stop, but I believe Rhode Island’s deeds office will be most useful (and most difficult to navigate, as our reputation does not extend that far).
In the field on 10/20/2008
After clearing away a beer bottle—probably a remnant of the holiday weekend—digging began at context 22. It was slow going, but a crop of bricks was revealed at the southwest corner of the unit. It is not clear how many there are, and how they fit together, as the roots have tossed them about. One brick, that seems to sit above the others, is tan, while the others are red. There are some mortar deposits aroundd them. The angle iron feature is becoming better defined, and more asphalt chunks are emerging. More green pigment has been found around the cinder block, which still seems bottomless.
Saturday was Community Archaeology day. Evie and I continued to excavate context 22, and managed to finish it despite the swarms of people who stopped by. I talked a lot, but tried to stay productive. One little kid jumped on our side wall, and I pride myself on how well I maintained my composure. A parent from Connecticut offered some thoughts on the water main in the center of our unit, particularly in regard to how the frostline or the presence of a structure around it may have dictated how it was set up. He ballparked it between 1900-1930 due to the distinctive spigot handle, but stated that the handle may contain a unique marking or logo that should allow us to date it more precisely. It surprised me that the handle could be this old, but it does fit with the 100 year age the mason supplied for the angle iron. Lots of opinions, little hard data.
In the field on 10/27/2008
Today we started digging into JBH29, only to happen upon a new soil type—clayey, sandy, and possibly mortary. This fits in with the structural features we are unearthing—particularly the new bricks. We scraped with trowels to try and expose a good amount of the soil surface for a picture. This was deemed a new context, despite the lack of uniformity of the levels. As we continued down near the end of class time, I noted that one of the bricks exposed during JBH 22 and 29 sat atop a second brick. This offers the exciting possibility that we have happened upon a wall or some other sort of structure, especially given the new soil surrounding it. We still have not managed to find the bottom of the cinderblock. It was agreed that for our last class devoted entirely to digging, most of us would try to arrive an hour early.
The ever helpful Dan Santos made an appearance on Saturday and Monday, and I have passed along the data Steffi and I collected during our midterm project. Like everyone else we have spoken to, he was unaware of the barn we found mentioned in the 1831 deed we copied from the archives.
Unit 5, I believe, found an awesome piece of brick with writing that I decided said xFISHERxx, with another line of writing. The group, however, believes it to have belonged to the long lost 18th century Fish Company.
In the field on 11/3/2008
Today was our last full day of excavation. Most of the class, myself included, arrived early to get a head start on our final scramble to uncover features and document finds. I focused on teasing apart the spatial relationship between the various bricks, mortar depositions, and rocks that appear to be part of a feature in the southern half of the unit. While the bricks were indeed grouped together, the structure that we uncovered does not appear to go beyond what we have troweled as one piece. That is, I imagine that if given more time we would find bricks below the bricks we’ve uncovered, but we’ve reached the bottom of this particular clump. One brick in the SW corner deserves a little more attention at the beginning of the next class.
I decided to remove some of the uppermost bricks, as we have been excavating around them for at least two contexts now and they are loose pieces. There were no visible bricks behind them, and they were bagged and labeled for further analysis in the lab. Unit 1 is uncovering similar brick features.
We also uncovered an interesting piece of black ceramic. Unfortunately, Krysta wasn’t around to give us more information. Charcoal pieces were abundant in the yellowish sand/mortar of the middle section of the Western side. We’re not sure what to make of this yet—either something was burned at the site or charcoal was thrown into the mix when mortar for the structure was made.
There were a few passerby who stopped to ask about the site, but on the whole it was a bit of a dreary day to work. We finished before 5pm, as it was getting dark.
Next week, we will create a final, detailed drawing of the unit, do final photographs, remove some bricks we want, take some pieces from the water main for analysis, and backfill the whole thing.
In the field on 11/10/2008
It got dark far too quickly this week, and was quite chilly. Arriving early, we still had barely enough time to finish work on Unit 2. We had to clean up the unit, sift the fill we generated, take levels, photograph (a lot), and map out the stratigraphy. Little digging, and a lot of housekeeping and final loose ends to tie up. We covered the lowest context with a tarp and tucked it in underneath our backfill. Finally, closing celebrations took place with a few rounds of "parachute" using the largest blue tarp. Later that week, we began sorting and cleaning artifacts uncovered over the course of the semester.
In the lab on 11/17/2008
Today was our first full session in the lab. We began with a presentation of ceramic types. The lab has cabinets of type collections that might prove valuable in categorizing ceramic finds. There are additional online and print references for identifying and sorting material finds. As we continue to clean, dry, and sort our context bags, I am realizing just how little ceramic finds unit 2 had compared to the other units. I have tried to take non-unit 2 bags whenever possible so that I have a broader idea of the finds from the site. The task of collecting data for an overall assessment of unit 2 is daunting, and next week I will have to begin analyzing finds in earnest. However, I would also like to be able to situate unit 2 within the scope of the entire project, so I feel any time spent working on the finds from the other units is valuable. At this point, I am anxious to look back over our field notes and start drawing parallels between finds, contexts, reference materials, and the soil matrix/stratigraphy.
In the lab on 11/24/2008
We finally finished cleaning our finds. Half the group began labeling, the other half started cataloging. I fit into the latter, and cataloged some diagnostic glass and iron finds. We familiarized ourselves with the classification scheme, and began discussing, measuring, recording, and researching our finds. I still haven't honed in on unit 2 in particular yet, but we've finally compiled all the field notes, so I was able to obtain the complete written record of the unit 2 excavations. Now that everything is moving along, I hope we'll get a clearer picture of how everything fits together. Time is short!
In the lab on 12/01/2008
Good times with small artifacts. Cataloging is still not finished, but this week I was able to find more information on two objects, which I hereby stake claim to for the object biographies: a champagne cork topper and a chunk of brick with a maker's mark, both from Unit 2. The president of Scott Laboratories, out of California, was kindly able to fill me in on the details of the plastic champagne stopper, from which I located the original patent. As it stands, this is the newest item in the unit with a definitive TPQ. As for the brick, there is a wealth of information regarding when it may have been manufactured and where. The dates are later than the date of original construction of the Robert Hale Ives house that Steffi told me. Once we pool the information I found online with documents from the deeds archive, we may be able to make some more definitive statements about what the brick was doing there.
In the classroom on 12/08/2008
Today the team presented their findings to each other and the JBH staff. Unit summary presentations allowed for some cross connections to be made across the site. Most interesting to me were the exhibit pitches for RI Hall and the RIHS. It seems that we will continue to process and display our finds into the next semester. I hope these plans come to completion, as I would love to have our work displayed in addition to being collated into a final document. Hopefully the wiki will continue to grow and include video. My work on the unit 2 summary is still not complete, but I believe I am moving in the right direction and will be able to add in some new information in light of the other members' findings.