Despite the off and on rain through the week, field school managed to get quite a bit done on the site. An important part of learning the techniques of archaeology, which is what field school is all about, is getting experience flattening and cleaning the floor of an excavation unit.
It is at this level that we begin to define features, that is evidence of past behavior. To observe the subtle soil color differences, it is imperative that all the loose dirt be cleaned up, all the roots cut and a clean surface be prepared. How does one clean dirt? When an archaeologist talks about cleaning the surface, he means the removal of any clay skins. Whenever anyone walks on a soil surface or shovels across it, the pressure forces a thin layer of water to the surface and this water carries clay with it, which is deposited as a shiny skin on the surface. We use a sharp trowel to scrape the surface, removing the clay skins. The difference between a cleaned surface and one that has not been cleaned is dramatic and obvious. This significantly aids in the definition of the underlying features.
We have been excavating in the current area in search of an outbuilding, possibly a barn. One of the squares we finished and cleaned this week had two interesting features.
In the upper right of the photo, there is part of a large, rectangular feature with a highly mottled fill. In the middle of this feature is a smaller circle. This is a post hole with its associated post mold. The small circle, called the post mold, is where the post stood. The size of the post hole indicates that it was not part of a fence but related to a building. In previous years, we excavated units east of this square and revealed a very similar post hole about 16 ft. away, which is a good size for the width of an outbuilding. What makes this even more interesting is that a line drawn through the post molds is at an angle parallel to the foundation of the Calvert House. Much of the architecture of the 17th century is based on the standard 5 ft. length of the clapboards used to cover the building, so our next step is to excavate units north and south of the post hole, hoping to find additional evidence.
The second feature, intruded by the post hole, is quite unusual. It was very straight-sided and had relatively sharp comers. The fill is a light sandy silt and the only artifact visible on the surface was a large piece of Dutch yellow brick. This is most likely an early feature but without excavating it, its function remains a mystery.
The area under excavation continues to be surprisingly rich in both the number and quality of the types of artifacts in the plow zone.
As mentioned last week, St. Mary’s City has an extensive Native American occupation. The projectile point shown here is made of a very clear type of quartz and is termed a LeCroy point. This type of point is generally associated with the early Archaic period and has been dated to c. 7600 – 6000 BC.
There seems to be a significant concentration of 17th-century table glass in this area. Last week, we found a number of small pieces. However, this week the pieces became larger and more interesting.
The photo shows a fragment of a complex vessel made of a beautiful emerald-colored glass. The upswept part of the glass had a pontil mark on the bottom indicating that the upper part was a bowl or cup shape. The lower part, of which only a small portion remains, was a hollow, ribbed column. Unfortunately, it is not possible to suggest what type of tableware this might have been.
Another important piece of table glass found this week is a piece of “ice glass” shown in the photo.
There were two types of ice glass made in the 17th century. The first was made by taking the molten, partially blow glass and dipping it in cold water. This would cause the surface to crack, giving the finished vessel the appearance of ice. In this method, the surface would be the same color as the rest of the glass. A second method, as represented by the fragment shown in the photo, involved rolling the molten glass over a bed of finely-ground, colored flakes of glass. In this case, the white glass was rolled over flakes of light blue and red glass. Before finding this fragment, St. Johns was the only site in St. Mary’s City where ice glass was recovered.
The most exciting discovery of the week was a small, brass figurine.
The photo shows both front and back views. On the front is a large X shape and the back shows hair and a stripped robe. While interesting in and of itself, I had no idea what this was until I showed it to Silas Hurry, our Archaeological Curator. He suggested that it was the end of an Apostle spoon. These spoons were made in sets of 13, with 12 spoons depicting the Apostles and the 13th spoon depicting either Jesus or Mary. The figure we found represents St. Andrew who was crucified on an X-shaped cross. Apostle spoons were popular in the 14th and 15th centuries and gradually disappeared in the 17th century, one source suggesting an end date of 1660. They were often given as baptismal presents from the godfather to the child.