2011 Week 1

2011 Week 1

After the usual first week of lectures, the students were eager this week to get out and do something. Nature and encountering the Brome-Howard House driveway may have tempered that enthusiasm somewhat. Field school is back at the Calvert House, exploring the backyard for the third season. This year we have 15 students, 8 men and 7 women, and it is a large class for us. Allison Conner is the field assistant for the summer and, with so many students, we have our hands full.

It was cool and pleasant during the week of lectures but during this first week of excavation, the weather turned. Temperatures in the 90s and high humidity were a rude introduction to field work. In addition, our first units were in the northern part of the yard, away from the house but formerly part of the Brome-Howard House driveway.

Students have had more early experience with a pickaxe than usual. Despite the difficulties, the class has done a great job and left Allison and I scrambling to keep up.

As in previous seasons, our main goal for the summer will be to trace out fences and better understand the changing layout of the yardscape. Last year we uncovered a feature we still believe to be a cockfighting pit. It has been suggested that it might also have been an animal baiting pit. If so, there should be a post hole in the center of the area. We will look for that in the current excavation. Our final goal is to explore the west side of the yard. During initial work in the 1980s, most of the west area was occupied by the Brome-Howard House, an 1840s plantation house. Because of this, our sample shows a large blank area. In 1994, the Brome House was moved off the site and the area covered with sterile fill. This summer we will excavate a number of squares in this area, learning more about the house and the features lying under it.

One of our first units was square 1047, which had a shallow plow zone preserved below the gravel driveway. This square was chosen for excavation because previous work had shown two fences running from the northeast corner of Calvert House in a northerly direction. We traced those fences almost 60 feet north. One or both of them should have been found in the bottom of unit 1047. Instead, we found evidence of a large, semi-rectangular feature which had a large quantity of mortar or plaster in the fill.

The photo shows a dark soil covering most of the floor and the white specks are the plaster/mortar. The lighter soil, on the left of the photo, is undisturbed subsoil. While the large feature would have removed all trace of the fences, they should have been evident in the subsoil. Because they are not, the fences either turn before they reach this area or they are stopped by something else.

That something else might be this feature, or a building surrounding it. The rectangular shape of the feature suggests that it is not just a hole dug in the ground and the presence of so much plaster/mortar this far from the Calvert House suggests the presence of a building. The plaster/mortar occurs in a narrow band away from the edge of the feature. This suggests that we have cut across the top of multiple fill layers in a deeper hole. Taken together, we could surmise that this feature is a cellar hole for an outbuilding in the yard. Only further testing will give us the information to decide if it is.

The Calvert House site is very rich in artifacts and the students have been finding significant things in every unit. Large numbers of pipe fragments have been found, both white clay and native made terra cotta pipes. A wide range of ceramics from the earliest occupation of the site up to the 1980s have been collected. There have been some special items as well. We have found three or four glass trade beads so far, a large number for so early in the season. The most spectacular find has been a piece of Accokeek pottery.

This is the largest piece of prehistoric pottery that I have seen recovered at St. Mary’s City and it was found in the plow zone! Accokeek pottery dates to the Early Woodland Period (ca. 900 – 300 BC) and shows a sand or gravel temper. This piece has elaborate cord marked decoration on the exterior.