This has been a busy week for the field school. We have had multiple visits from other archaeological field schools. They usually come early in our field season because other classes are generally much shorter than ours: most are about five weeks while ours is still a full ten weeks. We believe you need this length of time to learn, then master, field methods.
Field schools come to St. Mary’s to see how we do archaeology and to see the reconstructed buildings. Historic St. Mary’s City is one of the very few places where one can see a number of buildings built in the style of the 17th-century Chesapeake. This week, we also took advantage of this unique resource and took a tour of the Spray Plantation exhibit here at HSMC. Showing the students how the buildings were built makes it so much easier to understand than simply telling them. The tour was a great success as we discussed not only why the colonists built the buildings like this but the details of posts studs, sills, and rafters. While archaeologists only find the post holes in the ground, you cannot understand those unless you know how they relate to the rest of the building.
We began our last unit in the Brome-Howard house driveway, much to the relief of the students.
Hopefully, one of the units we are currently excavating will have a large post hole at the bottom so that we can begin to define the outbuilding that we have been seeking. The pleasure and agony of archaeology is that you can never really know what you will find.
A surprising discovery in the gravel of the driveway was a 19th-century farm tool.
This is not the first tool to be found in the driveway. Earlier this summer, we found a pair of pliers and in previous seasons we discovered an axe head, a hoe, and several other tools. These tools all look like they were usable when they were deposited and makes one wonder if they were intentionally lost by the workers who made the driveway. As the workers were most likely Dr. Brome’s slaves, it might represent a form of passive resistance.
As students spend a day or two excavating a unit, they become invested in what they are doing and really hope there will be features visible in the subsoil.
Sometimes that does not happen and I have to convince them that negative evidence is just as important as positive evidence. The lack of features might indicate that we are in the middle of the building.
In other cases, we are overwhelmed with confusing features.
The square shown in the photo has a wealth of features, including a couple of fence trenches. At the top of the photo is a fence that runs straight across the unit. This fence dates to the 1650s. The dating is not based on any artifacts found in the trench but on several years of relating fences to the few known property descriptions. There are a number of other confusing features shown in the photo and, despite having spent much time this week troweling and re-troweling the unit, they do not make any more sense to me than to those of you who are seeing them for the first time. I think, and it is only a guess, that this area was heavily disturbed by rodent activity. An example of this is a long curving feature at the base of the photo. This is a rodent hole that began in the soft soil of a post hole, east of this unit. Rodent activity like this is not random but occurs in the area of a building where the rodents are attracted to food resources. Although confusing, even this evidence may help find the structure.
Last week, I mentioned that one of the features discovered had a large piece of Dutch, yellow brick lying on the surface.
As this artifact would be damaged during backfilling, we removed it after the unit was photographed and recorded. We find many fragments of yellow brick in the plow zone but the biggest are about the size of a quarter. To find a large piece like this is unusual. Dutch yellow brick was apparently imported to Maryland in large quantities as they occur on many sites. These bricks are fired to a higher temperature and are therefore harder than red bricks. While known to be used in fireplaces in Maryland, the Dutch also used them to decorate entrances and for pavements.
Another artifact discovered this week was a large, copper alloy, furniture tack.
These tacks were used to attach leather or cloth coverings to furniture in the 17th century. Modern Spanish furniture retains this tradition. Most often the tacks have a diameter between a quarter inch and a half inch. This example is exceptionally big measuring a full inch across.
Our final artifact for this week is part of a lead cloth seal.
Cloth was one of England’s largest exports and the Crown insisted on getting its tax money. To prove that the taxes had been paid, the assessor would attach a complex seal made of lead to each bolt of cloth. There were also seals for dyers and for specific cloth companies. These can provide a wealth of information on the type of the cloth, where it came from and the date it was made. Unfortunately, our seal seems to be the uninformative portion that the merchant used. Perhaps when it is cleaned in the lab, more information will be available.
Next week, we begin to look for the palisade along the north wall of Pope’s Fort. This will involve tracing out a number of fences and trying to make a connection with the palisade coming out of the northwest bastion.