This week, field school began the excavations in the area north of the Calvert House.
As stated last week, the area may contain evidence of a barn or farm structure dating to the last quarter of the 17th century. Such an interpretation was based on two lines of evidence. The first was the presence, in previous excavations, of a number of post holes which were big enough to be structural. The second was a dense concentration in the plow zone of North Devon Gravel Tempered earthenware, a type of pottery most often associated with dairying.
For the students, it was a week of learning the basics of archaeological excavation and recordkeeping. Learning to excavate carefully and to keep the loose dirt cleaned up is an important part of the first week. Also, making flat floors and straight walls is a skill that they needed to learn early. All of this is focused on maintaining archaeological context – meaning simply where the artifacts are found and their relation to features, strata, and other artifacts. All of the students need to master these skills and while some did so faster than others, by the end of the week, all of them had done so.
The area where we are looking for the barn is, unfortunately from the students’ viewpoint, located where the Brome-Howard House driveway curves through the site.
While we remove most of the gravel and driveway fill without screening it, the lowest part is a mixture of gravel, plow zone and significant artifacts. Because of this, the students spent a long time sorting artifacts from gravel, a very difficult task. The bright orange soil shown in the photo is part of the original driveway constructed in the 1840s.
While it was difficult to go through the gravel, we were rewarded with an interesting group of artifacts from the area. As expected, North Devon Gravel Tempered earthenware was very common. However, we were surprised to find a large number of other types of artifacts as well. One of these was a projectile point, known by archaeologists as a Piscataway Point.
This type of point is dated to the Late Archaic – Early Woodland period (c. 4000 – 100 BC) and reminds us that most of the St. Mary’s City area was inhabited by the native Americans for over 9,000 years before the Colonists arrived. This example is made of quartz, as the majority of these points are.
A wide range of 17th-century ceramics were recovered from these beginning excavations. Students found at least one example of every type they studied in the lab. Some were quite beautifully decorated.
The pictured sherd is a fragment of North Devon Sgraffito ware, a type of ceramic where the design is created by scratching though the upper layer of color to exposes the layer below. In this case, the ceramic has a red-pasted body, which the potter covers with a layer of white slip. Before glazing the piece, the potter scratches through the slip to expose the red body. This example seems to be more finely made than most such pieces.
Another unusual and interesting artifact was part of a brass or copper shoe buckle.
Wearing buckles on shoes was a fashion statement in the 17th century which began in the last half of the century. They remained popular until the end of the 18th century.
One of the units excavated this week yielded two blue and white striped glass beads.
These were made by laying thin rods of white glass on a tube of blue glass and then cutting the tube into beads. In the 17th century most glass beads were made in Venice and many were used for trade. In St. Mary’s City, most of the beads we find are from early 17th-century contexts and their discovery in the barn area was unexpected.
Finally, the most exciting find of the week was a piece of lead, printing type.
This rare artifact is associated with the press of William Nuthead, who came to Maryland in 1684. In previous excavations, several pieces of similar type have been found at the Calvert House. Last summer, we found a piece with an uppercase “A” on it. Unfortunately, the piece found this year is eroded and, while we can tell it represents a lowercase letter, we can not tell which one. It is unlikely that William Nuthead ever set up his press at this site so why should there be printing type here? The Calvert House was the largest Ordinary in town, functioning as both an Inn and a Tavern. I like to think that after a long day working the press, Nuthead, carrying a few pieces of type in his pockets, came over for a drink and a meal.