Field School 2016 – Week 2
Sam Besse – St. Mary’s College
“Hey, Travis! I think this is a rock?”
After the wonderfully in-depth lectures in the lab, the other field school students and I were eager to finally head out into the field to find examples of the items that we had be studying for the past week. Unfortunately, we soon learned that identifying artifacts in the field was very different than in the lab. While sifting through freshly-dug chunks of the 17th- and 18th-century plow zone, we students soon discovered that the clay-heavy soil liked to stick to everything it touched.
Fingers, artifacts, small stones, and even the soil itself were coated in the fudge-like plow zone, leaving everything looking like dirt-covered rocks. Artifact identification soon became a task of hunches and noticing the small details that could be seen though the dark plow zone. A flash of orange could be a rusted nail or soil that had until recently been in contact with one, the abnormally heavy weight of a dirty rock could mean that it is in fact a piece of lead, and a rock with a rough edge and an angular shape could be the only way to distinguish the difference between pre-colonial debitage (stone tool debris) and a regular, non-archaeologically-important stone.
In order to not accidently dump an artifact, we made frequent trips to Travis or Ruth to clarify that the “artifact” we found actually was one and not just a really cool rock.
In addition to the challenges of trying to identify artifacts in the field, we were also introduced to some, rather unique ways to excavate. For instance, on Friday Ruth noticed that I was having some trouble defining the edges of a feature with my trowel. She suggested that I go into the supply trailer and grab a spoon from one of the toolboxes.
I was a little skeptical at first, partly because my family had made jokes about how if I didn’t behave at the field school the instructors would force me to dig with the eating utensil. Still, after locating the spoon in the toolbox (which, by the way, also contained a few toothbrushes) I tried it out on the feature to discover it worked fantastically. The spoon was small enough to fit between the spaces in the feature, yet sturdy enough that it could easily move the clay and gravel from the spaces. While before going into the field I wouldn’t have believed that a spoon could be a useful archeological tool, looking back it makes perfect sense. I had a job that needed a spoon, and with that spoon I was able to complete my job.
Along with soil-covered artifacts and unexpected excavation techniques, the first week also uncovered a surprise. While digging near the machine-excavated section of the former driveway, fellow field student Sabrina Wandres discovered a set of bricks bordering the former Brome House’s gravel driveway.
Further excavations showed it continued, suggesting that the Brome House had a brick walkway leading to the driveway. To top it off, all of this was mere inches under the surface, in the area between the gravel layer and the top of the plow zone. With such exciting discoveries so early in the excavations, it makes me wonder: what other features and artifacts are hidden below, waiting to be discovered?