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Field School 2016 – Week 3
Alaina Wall — St. Mary’s College


“Learning How Much Has Been Learned”



When I first arrived at the field school, I wasn’t sure what to expect; I was both excited and nervous. Within the first week we were taught different types of ceramics, tobacco pipes, glass vessels, and the like spanning from the 16th century to the 20th century. We were told we would have to remember these for the upcoming practicum. I was skeptical at first; how in the world were we going to remember all these different types of pottery and be able to tell Staffordshire slipware apart from North Devon sgraffito?


Field school team in action, screening for artifacts


As the days went by and we found some sherds in the field, with the help from Travis and Ruth, we quickly learned to apply the lectures to the real thing. By the third week, we noticed we were running to ask about what we found less and running to show off what we discovered more. We were listing off the glazes, the type of ware, and the classification all from one fragment we found in the field! Some of the pottery we found included fragments of North Devon, Staffordshire, and tin glazed earthenware.



Small pottery sherds: Staffordshire slipware (left) and Rhenish brown stoneware (right)



Then came the practicum. As a whole, we were rather nervous. We spent a few hours in the research lab after a day in the field to further study the different types of ceramics. Some of us quizzed each other while others were diligently taking further notes to help make flash cards. Many of us asked Curator of Collections/Archaeology Lab Director Silas Hurry a number of questions, both about the exam and about specific pieces that may have been giving us trouble. The morning of the practicum, we all descended into the lab to show just how much we had learned both in and out of the field. We were pleasantly surprised at how well we were able to recall dates, identify in which country a ceramic had been made, and determine whether a ceramic sherd had a tin glaze, lead glaze, or salt glaze.



Excavation units under plastic and a lot of water after a spate of rain



The third week also marked the first lab rotation, where two students spent time in the lab cleaning and properly caring for artifacts we had found in the second week. While in the lab, field school students Sam Besse and Sarah McCoy carefully washed bone fragments, sherds of ceramic, tobacco pipe pieces, and many other fascinating finds.


Due to the weather, there were a couple of days during which we spent some of our time learning more about the glass-making process and the complexity of making pieces such as façon de venise.



Field school student Alaina Wall examining an iron knife blade



We also were able to learn more from Dr. Henry Miller about the history of Historic St. Mary’s City and the development of the museum over the years. I was amazed by how much effort had gone into the ever-growing reconstruction of the lost city. Specifically, I was impressed how much information had been recovered over the course of the past couple decades (the lead coffins being the most remarkable discoveries).


As the weeks continue, I look forward to us coming across more useful data to contribute to this hidden gem of a city.