Field School 2015 – Week 3
Kevin Clothier, St. Mary’s College of Maryland ‘16
“Reading the Soil”
I never really considered myself as a person who would really “dig” archaeology, despite my experiences as a historian. The whole idea of toiling away under the sun to sift through dirt in hopes of finding small shreds of evidence of human habitation seemed to be more confusing and labor intensive than necessary to learn the history of a place. After all, if it is worth learning about someone in the past, then it has been already written about, right? Luckily, I was dead wrong.
My time here has opened up an entire new world of history. I believe I speak for the majority of the Field School students when I say that with fieldwork comes an intense appreciation for getting dirty, an immensely important part of the archaeological process (as one learns quickly).
Nothing quite brings people together like kneeling shoulder to shoulder in knee deep holes, carefully troweling the surface in an attempt to expose century’s old soil features in the noonday sun.
This past week focused on the exploration of a section of stripped earth behind Farthings Ordinary. A large, approximately 40 x 40, trench was mechanically dug in the garden area and the students set to work troweling the surface so as to make it possible to discern whether or not features were present in the newly exposed subsoil.
While it is true that excavating this section of the Farthings site has yielded fewer artifacts than the previous week’s task, it just goes to show the variety of work that can be done under the label of “archaeology.” Even if the work we’re doing does not yield an abundance of artifacts, there are still things to be learned from a site. “Reading the soil” is a principle of archaeology that I am only beginning to grasp. Watching those with more experience tell a story, posit theories, and probe for more questions by looking at soil makes me want to learn all I can with the time I have at Historic St. Mary’s City.
We’ve all seen Indiana Jones (at least, hopefully). Entire generations of children were raised on the idea of running through abandoned temples, dodging traps, and “okee dokee Mr. Jones!” It is unlikely that any of us students will be traipsing through temples this summer, but the opportunity to learn from a highly experienced staff is just as satisfying. Certainly, after a long day of digging, screening, troweling, mapping, and running hither and thither I doubt even Harrison Ford would debate that what we are doing is just as physically demanding and as satisfying as Jones’ adventures.
Kevin Clothier is a History and Religious Studies major at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. He is currently in his senior year, and is considering a career in law.