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Week 1, Monday, September 14, 2009
I had only just returned from a field school in England two months before, but the paucity that 5 weeks experience makes up was apparent to me. I had assumed that we would mattock (pickaxe) to the bedrock and count our contexts (soil layers) after we had finished. On this dig, however, we were told to meticulously record the soil every ten centimeters as a new context, not only when there was an apparent change in the soil. Today, we (the three working on Unit 9, one of four grid squares being excavated on site) began formal excavations by taking ground levels of the four corners and center of our 1 m x 1 m square. We took pictures of the roped-off grid square and recorded a short video explanation of what we had done, for posterity. The groups working on Units 8 and 9 did not break ground on their first day, whereas 6 and 7 began to remove the backfill from their units before the class period was over. The only artifacts discussed today were the ones dug up in the year leading up to this class. Units 8 and 9 are rich with potential, since they are near the outbuildings of the John Brown House (a pottery shard even found in the ground cover of unit 9). There is also a good chance that structural features (or discoveries) will be found at the bottom of the hill, Units 6 and 7, and we hope to recover some of the archaeology on the site, before a geothermal well is dug into the area around Units 8 and 9.
Week 2, Monday, Semptember 21, 2009
Today excavations began in earnest on Unit 9, as we began to scrape the vegetation off the top of our plot, using the flat edge of our shovels. With the help of a set of hedge clippers, we soon made short work of the weeds and the mossy patch in the NE corner of the unit, and defined our edges by plunging our trowels straight down into the dirt, carefully withdrawing if we encountered rock or any hard surface. Without having moved practically any dirt (<1 cm below top level), we came upon our first find, a small shard of imperfect glass, with signs of embossment (both indications of age). We continued digging and began turning up large flat pieces of shale (very possibly fallen roof tiles, but without signs of mortar or nail holes, it is hard to say for sure). We soon began to notice a soil change, signalling the beginning of a new context (and thus a different time frame). There were now clayey clumps in the soil of a slightly lighter brown color. This could be because of the heavy rooting we encountered in the unit, but it could also be a sign of a coming feature. We switched to trowels so as to not dig too deeply into the emerging context while sections of the first context remained unexcavated, and I went to do a shift on the sieve. While sieving, I found several pieces of wood unfortunately inconclusive. We have yet to find our first context on a Munsell soil scale, but once we take a sample out of the unit wall we worked so hard in straightening, we can formally record our second context!
Week 3, Monday, September 28, 2009
Today I joined the group working on Unit 6, a section of the Hale-Ives house. They had begun to dig up a very gravelly layer and needed help cleaning it up and finding if it continued under the topsoil of the rest of the unit. The gravel was characterized by yellowy clay inclusions, probably due to the heavy rooting that pervades the unit. As we took down the east side which had not been excavated as far down, we began to see some clay inclusions, leading down to a layer of what looks like more plentiful clay deposits which may need to be called a new context (a different layer of soil signifying a new time frame). We found a couple of plastic beads, some glass, what looks like the hole from a tarp (but almost too worn to be from last year's dig which encompassed the northwest corner of Unit 6), a metal nail, a shell fragment, and what look to be two bricks along the edge of the gravelly layer, implying some sort of path or walkway! The bricks were left in situ (in the ground) to be recorded later when we begin to dig into the gravel. The reason that we save this for later is to keep the finds from one context (representing one time frame) away from the finds from another. That way we can more readily be able to date objects and features (structural discoveries). The unfolding feature of the gravel path is certainly exciting and the unit will probably prove to reveal even more in the upcoming weeks.
Week 4, Monday, October 5, 2009
I continued work on Unit 6 today, digging into the sandy, yellowish layer with extensive gravel inclusions, along with Alyssa. As we dug down, we found a large piece of a yellow brick in the center of the context, a kind of artifact which had not been found before in the area of Unit 5 last year. Before that, we uncovered a piece of lead-glazed ceramic drain pipe, which was actually almost identical to the one found in the previous season. Several metal fragments, including pieces recognizable as nails, were found when the cleared-off gravel (or loose) was sifted. In addition, a large number of red brick fragments were present in the soil. The area on the very edge of the unit, which surrounds the square of deeper-excavated Unit 5 in the NW corner of Unit 6, although originally thought to be part of the new context (the gravelly feature), is now being left unexcavated until it is determined whether it is itself a different context. At this point, it is hard to determine what exactly the developing feature (man-made structure, such as a foundation or a path) which we worked on today could be, but further excavation will get us closer to the truth.
Week 5, Monday, October 19, 2009
After a one week hiatus, we resumed digging and got through a lot today. We continued to find many brick fragments and several pieces of metal many of which looked like nails. There was a large slab of iron in the wall of the unit, similar to one found last year in Unit 5, but which we would have a hard time pulling out without compromising the structural integrity of the unit. One of the more interesting finds (though consistent with one from last year) was a piece of ceramic-insulated wiring, dug up with some of the wires still intact. It was found on the edge of the gravel feature (context number 48) which is as of yet still hard to identify. We have dug the whole unit down all the way almost to the level that Unit 5 was dug to last year. Let's hope to get even deeper and so further into the past!
Week 6, Monday October 26, 2009
We tried to pick up the pace today even more, as today and next Monday are our last days of excavation before we begin convening in the lab for post-excavation analysis. We began by shovel-shaving through JBH 48, the gravel feature (probably archetectural fill, judging by the objects found inside). We found another large piece of red brick in the center of the unit, but since it was loose, it did not appear to be part of the composition of the feature as the other two bricks delineating the side of the feature were. Once we began to uncover another context under JBH 48, we all began using trowels. The new context was wetter and sandier than JBH 48 which appeared to continue in the NW corner of the unit. I was assigned to a small strip on the western side of 48, which we believe is the same context as JBH 52, which runs parallel to 48 on the eastern side of the unit. I soon began to dig up pieces of ceramic, other than brick, including creamware (a kind of ceramic with a white glaze), redware (which looks deceptively like brick, but the piece I pulled up was almost T-shaped), and delftware (a ceramic with a bluish (in spots) tin glaze that looks fairly similar to creamware). These finds were consistent with items found on the other side of JBH 48. We continue to search for a larfer archetectural feature like the one found last year in Unit 5, at a level that we have not dug down to yet. Only one week left!
Week 7, Monday November 2, 2009
We dug through JBH 48 quickly today and got down to the level of Unit 5 of the previous year. We began unearthing large flat stones like the ones that could be seen at the bottom of Unit 5 and the soil went through an obvious change, so we declared a new context, JBH 61. The new context was still characterized by brick pieces, but there were fewer iron nails and more frequent bricks and stones with the mortar still on them. In fact the soil was sandy, and filled with ground-up and whole mortar inclusions which sometimes made digging difficult. It is still unclear what the new feature is (we officially declared the stone formation to be Feature 3), but hopefully, in sketching it next week and the laboratory analysis of its context's contents will help us to better define it.
Week 8, Monday, November 9, 2009
It was like the laying to rest of an old friend. We shoveled dirt onto the tarp covering the feature in Unit 6 until there was no sign that we had ever dug, except for the absence of grass there. Earlier that day, we had dug with the help of the TAs and the professor, slightly farther down into JBH 61 and defined its edges by levelling out JBH 52 on either side of it. We took pictures of the whole unit and then all four of its walls to capture its stratigraphy (the layers we have dug through show up vertically on the walls of the unit). The tarp, its burial shroud, flapped in the wind, now used to block out the sun's glare. We did a section drawing of the south wall, as it seemed to contain the most useful information. It included both sections of JBH 52 on either side of JBH 61 and the gravel fill above it, which produced an interesting stratigraphic section. There was topsoil across the whole wall, then JBH 52 all the way down on the two sides and gravel fill beginning in the center. The gravel was cut into by two sections of orangey soil and at the very bottom became JBH 61, the feature. To draw all this, first, we set up a levelled string line as our reference point and took levels, first of the top of the hole and then ending points of each layer, around every ten centimeters or so. That was all we had time for before we began to backfill the soil back over the units of the dig. Here's hoping the labwork for the rest of the semester is just as successful.