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Today was our first day of class. After going over the syllabus and class logistics, we headed over to the John Brown House, where we will be digging this semester. It was a nice day outside although it was just hot enough to be slightly sticky and the bugs were swarming all of us. We received a tour of the last seasons five units, and the proposed four for this semester. It seems like there is a lot of material left to be found and quite a bit left unknown about what each building was and where different things stood, which is exciting. The prospect of figuring out where the dig which had been done (but poorly documented) years ago is especially intriguing, although it seems like it would be a very challenging endeavor. Of the units for this year I'm not sure which I find most exciting. I was assigned to unit 9 for today, the unit about which the least is known at this time, since no digs or shovel test pits had been done at the site previously. Consequently it is only a 1 by 1 meter plot, compared to some of the others which are bigger (2 by 2 and 1 by 2). Units 8 and 9 were introduced to the tools, how to begin setting up a unit, and how to document different things by the professor. We demarcated the edge of the unit with string, and measured the height of the unit at various points from the datum. Then we took a picture of the unit, to document the beginning of the dig.
Our second day of class was much warmer than the first. Or at least it felt a lot warmer when we were actually doing the manual labor of digging and sifting. I left class today much hotter, dirtier and more tired than last week! Today I switched groups and started work on unit 6. Unit 6 is a 2 by 2 unit which is further away from the house- in fact it's in an area known as the Ives House. Unit 6 is being dug on top of unit 5 from last year, a 1 by 1 unit in which they had found what appears to be the remains of a wall. Last week the people working on unit 6 had removed the backfill that had been placed there last year, to expose the wall. It was pretty cool to already be able to see an architectural feature!
Today we measured off the edges of the unit and determined the datum point and the different levels, just as I had done for unit 9 last week. Then we started digging. Our goal was to get through the first context (which is arbitrarily determined as the first 10 cm or if the soil changes color then the top layer of soil). We did "shovel shaving", attempting to keep the top of the unit somewhat even as we dug a thin layer off the top. One particular challenge was working around the hole from unit 5, without collapsing too much dirt or rocks into it. Also, the large quantity of roots was troublesome and necessitated frequent use of the rather ineffective root-cutter. When our buckets were full we brought them over to the sieving station that we shared with unit 7, the other unit on the West side of the yard. Sieving was hard work, although the hardest part was probably either lifting the bucket to dump it out on the seive or not getting dirt all over your shoes, pants and everywhere else. Of course, the latter was a hopeless task and after class we had to take a ten minute stop in the bathroom to wash our hands, arms and faces before we felt clean enough to eat dinner.
We made several small finds during our digging today. Perhaps the most exciting was that I hit a color change in the dirt. Where the top layer had been "very dark grayish brown" (according to the Munsell book) the new layer we uncovered was yellowish and sandy. After hitting that layer we just tried to even off the top of the rest of the unit since we didn't have time to really start determining or working with the new layer. Additionally we found 3 pieces of glass, the a rim piece of the bowl of a clay pipe, a piece of a brick and a small piece of gray plastic. I had to keep track of all of this as I was today's official scribe for unit six.
Thankfully, today was much cooler than last week. In fact, the weather was nearly perfect. Warm but with cloudy moments and a fair amount of wind. We continued work on unit 6 by further cleaning up the edges of the unit then starting a new context for the differently colored soil patch we had found at the end of last week. The new color of soil is about a square foot, directly south of last year's unit 5. It is a lighter, sandier soil than the topsoil that had composed the first context. Additionally, there seems to be a fair amount of gravel associated with this soil. Someone, I think the other Elise, suggested that this was perhaps because this had at one point been some sort of gravelled walkway. From the look of the area I would say that this is entirely possible, which would be pretty cool. The gravel extends on the North and West edges of unit 5, in the small 3 or 4 inch area between unit 5 and the edge of unit 6, which seems to support the idea that this was some sort of pathway, or at least that the gravel is an extending pattern and not just a random occurence in the middle of the unit.
We then started a new context, which we spent the rest of the class working on. Mainly this involved clearing away the other areas besides the one with the lighter soil/gravel, to try to get the entire unit level, since the lighter area was deeper down than most of the rest of the unit had been dug. This was how we found the gravel on the North and West edges of the unit. On the east side of the unit the soil remained fairly gravel-less, but began to have a mottled color, part was a lighter more orange-y color and part was a darker color. Additionally, in the South-East corner, Alex found a brick, although this happened right at the end of class and we will get to explore this further next week.
Today we had a shorter dig, because we had our tour of the John Brown House. For digging, we divided into pairs. Alex and Alyssa continued to dig JBH48, the gravelly layer that was underneath the topsoil in the center region of the unit, in a diagonal stripe across the length of the unit (running approximately North-South). Today the two of them just worked on "aggressively trowelling" away at the gravel to try to get that context down to the level which we had dug JBH46 to. Breda and I worked on JBH46. We ended up finishing up the context, as we hit a new soil color- it was mottled with yellow and orange colored dirt, which was actually quite bright - it looked like some sort of pigment you would buy in an art store. We found a massive tree root which appeared in JBH46 but is still partially buried at the top of JBH52 (the new context). In finishing up JBH46, Breda and I found pieces of glass - two that are kind of contoured which might belong together and two which belong to an apparent measuring cup. Breda had found a piece which had right-angled markings, which she hypothesized to be a measuring cup, then I found a bigger piece which had the same markings and also numbers. We also found a piece of white-ware ceramic and several small pieces of brick.
Our tour of the John Brown House was fairly short, but pretty interesting. I wish we had had time for the entire long tour, but unfortunately I couldn't stick around after 5:30 for it. We did get to see the first floor though, and the carriage house. Being in really old houses like that, that have been restored is always a little surreal. It was cool to hear about Rhode Island history and the Brown family. It is strange to think of the neighborhoods in Providence that we know now as they were back during the time of John Brown or Marsden Perry.
Today was our first day of cold weather (although it was still beautiful for mid-October). Being in the sun definitely paid off, after all of those days of envying the groups in the cooler shade. In unit 6, Breda and I took the levels and started to dig out the new context, JBH52. The soil in this new context is mottled yellow-y orange, with few rocks and lots of roots. Alyssa and Alex continued work on JBH48, the gravelly context, to get it level with the rest of the unit. As we dug the ridge which had been dividing the two units, we made several discoveries. South of the hole from unit 5, several bricks (or what appear to be bricks) delineate the border between JBH52 and JBH48. Part of JBH48 runs along the East side of unit 5, and digging in the mound which had been left here last week, Breda discovered a ceramic electricity insulator (a large piece of white ceramic with wires coming out of it and a metal ring attached to it and the wires. It was a pretty exciting find, and for the rest of the day people from other units came over to take a look at it. I personally didn't find much of interest- just a small piece of broken glass. I think Alex and Alyssa found some bricks and other rock-like finds (I didn't really see them, only noted them while putting away the finds bags from today. It also seems like we are going to start a new context on the far West side of the unit, as the soil over there seems to be less gravelly and more yellow-like like the soil from JBH52 (although maybe we will just make this area part of JBH52 - we'll have to wait and see.
I can't believe that after today we only have two weeks left of digging. This semester has been going by so quickly! I'm sorry that I have a class at 2 and therefore won't be able to make the extended digging hours. As always this week, Breda and I continued work on the Eastern half of the unit while Alex and Alyssa (and this week Elise) continued work on the West side, where context JBH48, the gravelly context, is. Breda and I are still working on context JBH52 from last week. There are many many roots in this context, which makes trowelling very difficult. I feel like the majority of my time has been spent trying to get soil out from between and underneath roots. This week, Breda found a button, some pieces of iron and a few small pieces of ceramic, and I found a larger piece of white ceramic and several smaller ones. The other Elise found a piece of ceramic with a pink design (she said what it was called but I don't remember). At any rate it was pretty cool and I think the best find to come out of our unit this week. Towards the end of the day, Alyssa, Elise and Alex opened up a new context, as the gravel was changing consistency. Elise was saying that last year on unit 5 they had had a lot more distinct contexts, and that the fact that we only had a few may just be an issue in differences in discretion. We are almost to the level that unit 5 had gotten to last year. I think that next week we might actually get there. Of course, we've been helped along by the fact that the massive torrential downpours that are "weather" in Providence have caved in much of the walls of unit 5, filling quite a bit of it. Elise did work on cleaning up unit 5 though, in response to this. I hope that we do get down to the level that unit 5 is at, with the architectural feature.
Today was the last full day of digging, as next week we will primarily be concerned with closing activities such as drawing our features and backfilling. Because of Daylight Savings Time, class started at 2 and ended at 4:45. I got there at 3 because I have a class at 2. However, Elise and Alyssa were able to get an extra hour of work done. Unfortunately, today it was rainy and cold. Of course, we have been incredibly lucky that this was our first really unpleasant day. I think the worst consequence of the wetness was how much heavier the buckets became and how much harder it was to sift.
We esentially abandoned JBH52, which was a bit sad as that was the context that Breda and I have been digging for pretty much the entire semester. However, the new context that was opened on the West side of the unit, JBH56 (I think) did yield some pretty cool things. Most significantly was a large piece of marble which was built into the feature (which we believe to be a wall). We also found some interesting iron pieces. Other than that our finds were mostly pieces of bricks and pieces of mortar/cement with rocks in them, which stopped being even remotely exciting after a while. Towards the end of the digging we declared the wall and the surrounding mortary/sandy soil to the West of the rocks that compose the wall. As the rocks from the wall came loose we removed them and continued excavating underneath them. However, at the end of the day when we did our tours of the other Units, I saw that Unit 7 had left their feature/wall intact, which made me wonder if we should have as well. We did have a lot more large rocks in the whole western side of the unit, so it might have been hard to dig much further without removing the rocks which came loose. It is also possible that the rocks in Unit 7's feature were not loose as ours were, which were just resting on top of one another. The fact that our large rocks were not only in the one straight configuration (ie a clear wall) is curious. I am not sure what it means in terms of the nature of our feature.
I can't believe this semester is going by so fast. This was our last day of being on the site. We started off with an official picture while there was still enough sun to do so. We took a picture of the bottom layer (which had been significantly uncovered by Alex and Elise who had come out to the site at 12:30, which was awesome). Then we took a picture of each of the sides. Then we did a sketch of the South wall. Breda and Alex sketched the West half of the wall and Alyssa and I did the East half. Alyssa did the measuring and I made a to-scale sketch. Our sketch was significantly easier than Breda and Alex's in terms of the layers, but we had a large root in the middle of ours which blocked it quite a bit. Then we began the process of back-filling. It's been a long time since my back was as sore as it was this (Tuesday) morning! Shovelling and carrying heavy buckets for over a straight hour certainly was hard work. I had been planning on going to the gym after dinner but instead curled up with an ice pack and watched TV (which admittedly, would probably have happened anyway, minus the ice pack). I'm not sure whether or not I'm looking forward to getting into the lab next week. It's definitely an unknown - it seems like it has the potential to either be pretty boring or pretty cool, and only time will tell which.