Field School 2016 – Week 10
Travis Parno — Chief Archaeologist
“An End to the 2016 Field School Season”
As we marked the final week of the 2016 Archaeological Field School, our work was somewhat bittersweet. We continued our excavations, found a number of fascinating artifacts, and celebrated our season with a gathering of food and relaxation at the Brome Howard House. We also said goodbye, for now, to our wonderful field school team.
This week’s fieldwork was focused on several units that we opened prior to Tidewater Archaeology Weekend.
Many of these units contained the dense concentrations of brick fragments discussed in last week’s blog post. As we dug through these deposits, we found a lot of artifacts, including many iron nails, ceramic pipe stem and pipe bowl fragments, and a section of a large iron key.
On Wednesday, after a productive day of excavation, we returned to the Archaeology Laboratory for a lecture delivered by Lisa Young, Objects Conservator for the National Air and Space Museum. Although Lisa currently spends most of her time conserving space suits and a wide variety of aircraft at the National Air and Space Museum, she also has many years of experience conserving archaeological materials from many sites, including HSMC. Lisa spoke about the factors that conservators consider when treating archaeological materials and she shared a number of case studies from her work. In addition to being informative and interesting, Lisa’s talk was a great reminder that archaeological conservation should be used to identify artifacts and save them from decay, not to make known objects look “pretty” for display purposes.
As the week progressed, we continued to find curious objects in the layers of plowzone. On Thursday, we discovered a faceted glass object that at first glance resembled a rosary bead (for an example, see page five in our Visitor Center Welcome Exhibit document). We soon realized that the artifact was not perforated and that it seemed to have an inset on one side, likely for mounting as an earring, brooch, button, or other type of personal adornment.
We also found a fragment of a ceramic pipe with an “EB” maker’s mark stamped on its heel. The “EB” mark is attributed to Edward Bird, an English pipe-maker who traveled to Amsterdam in the 1620s and began his own pipe-making business in 1638.
Although his descendants sold the mark and it continued to be used until 1700, our mark matches those typically attributed to mid-17th century. A similar pipe was found in a feature at the Calvert House site by field school students in 2013; read more about it here.
Of course, while we enjoy finding neat artifacts, the objects alone do not tell the story of life at our sites. We also must be observant of layers of soil and the features they contain. One unique discovery certainly has us scratching our heads. After opening a new unit near a portion of the brick path that once led to the 1840s Brome House, we uncovered another brick feature: a semi-circular line of dry-laid bricks.
The bricks are at the same stratigraphic level as the brick path, leading us to believe that the two features are at least somewhat contemporary. The semi-circular line of bricks is also roughly centered on the surface of a large clay pit (approximately six feet in diameter), which is partially filled with a darker silty loam.
One could be excused for interpreting this confluence of features as evidence of a well—to build a well, you dig a large hole, construct the circular well at the center, and then fill in the hole with whatever soil you have at hand. However, after probing the area around the bricks, it is clear that while the half-circle that is currently visible does continue to form a complete circle, there do not appear to be any additional courses of bricks under the surface of those we can currently see. Thus the bricks appear to be a relatively unsubstantial decorative feature, such as edging installed around a tree or other plant. If the bricks did edge a plant of some sort, why then was the massive hole dug for the planting? It is far too large to suggest a planting hole, even for a very tall tree. As our field season drew to close, we were forced to leave the questions that surround this intriguing feature for another day.
With the field school season now ended and the site closed, it is important to note that this is not the end of excavations at the Leonard Calvert House site. Over the next few months, Special Projects Archaeologist Ruth Mitchell and I, together with a team that will likely include some of our recent field school graduates, will return to our summer’s target areas to complete excavation of several units, document stratigraphic profiles, and examine some of the features we identified in greater detail. Stay tuned to our website and Facebook page in the coming months for more exciting discoveries from the field…
For now, though, I want to thank our field school students for all of their dedicated hard work. This was an incredibly productive and rewarding summer, and I look forward to seeing what our field school graduates do next.