Field School 2016 – Week 7, Part 1
Dr. Henry Miller — HSMC, Director of Research
“Williamsburg and Jamestown Field Trip”
This week saw the field school students take the annual trip to visit key archaeological sites in Virginia. Leaving early Wednesday morning, we first drove to Colonial Williamsburg to see their laboratory. This included a visit to the “bone lab” where we heard about research regarding colonial diet and the way domestic animals responded to the new environment of the Chesapeake. This presentation was given by Dr. Joanne Bowen, one of the most important zooarchaeologists working in North America. She was also a graduate of the St. Mary’s City Field School of 1972 and conducted some of the first St. John’s excavations.
After lunch we then proceeded to the current Colonial Williamsburg field school which is digging right along the main historic roadway in Williamsburg – Duke of Gloucester Street. They are working in front of Raleigh Tavern, trying to find evidence of an 18th-century porch.
He explained that Raleigh Tavern was one of the first restorations in Colonial Williamsburg, back in 1928, and methods then were not as refined as today. But that was not the problem. The tavern was inhabited since the mid-18th century and underwent a number of modifications. That complicated things. But since it was taken over by the museum, landscaping and modern utilities have made a real mess of things.
As Kostro said,”it is like digging a bowl of spaghetti.“ Old sewer lines cut across water lines that were in turn transected by electrical cables and newer water lines, and telephone wires . Adding more confusion were old boxwood planting holes from the 1930s. Here you can see their field school in action. With the July temperatures in the upper 90s, the hot sun reflecting off the white building and nearby pavement and brick sidewalk, it was one of the hottest, most difficult excavations this writer has witnessed. I suspect the students now have a new appreciation for the shade trees, cool river breezes, open spaces and tents at the Calvert House site.
The next morning we traveled to Jamestown island to visit the work of our good friends at Jamestown Rediscovery. After being welcomed by Dr. William Kelso, we were treated to a Powerpoint talk by David Givens, one of the chief archaeologists. He reviewed the history of Jamestown, the discoveries they had made and gave us a fascinating peek into the research around the four burials they excavated in the altar area of the 1608 church. Two of these were in rare anthropomorphic coffins, similar to the ones we found at the Chapel site in the mid-1990s.
Another has a most unique artifact, a silver reliquary believed to contain the bones of a saint. This Catholic artifacts in the grave of a presumed Protestant in an Anglican church was quite a surprise. David told us of all the high tech science used to examine the inside of the reliquary, since it cannot be opened without severe damage. We were all fascinated by this analysis.
We then went out to the excavation site to see the final stages of excavating a large cellar hole from the early years of settlement. This building was of interest because it had a well at the bottom of the cellar.
David took us into the brick church tower which has yielded some significant new insights during its stabilization. The Jamestown team now is thinking it may date to the 1630s and 1640s instead of the 1680s architectural historians have long assumed. In digging around the church, they are hoping to find evidence to prove that. Work is also underway inside the Chapel and the altar area or chancel has had its restoration flooring removed for the first time since the 1950s so archaeologists can begin exploring the original evidence, including several graves.
Our group was then joined by archaeologists Jamie May who took us to the Ludwell Statehouse site, over which is the amazing Archaearium, the exhibit building for Jamestown Rediscovery.
Jamie and conservator Michael Lavin then led a tour through the exhibits that tell the story of the many significant findings at Jamestown, including the skeletal remains of Jane, the young woman who was eaten by starving colonists in 1609. We finished our tour examining the just opened new exhibit about the reliquary and the religious artifacts found at Jamestown.
Our Virginia tour concluded with a visit to the very impressive Jamestown Settlement. The exhibits there hold a remarkable wealth of original artwork, furnishings, and objects, along with some amazing artifacts excavated from Virginia sites. It also offers a reconstructed fort and reproductions of the three ships that brought the original settlers to Virginia. This is the Virginia State museum about the colony’s first capital, and thus directly comparable to St. Mary’s City, except in terms of funding. Given the 99 degree temperatures of that day, all enjoyed the air conditioned comfort of the galleries, but some intrepid students braved the heat and visited both the fort and ships. In all, it was an interesting and educational time for the students, giving them a sense of other archaeological sites and some of the challenges of digging, especially in an urban place like Williamsburg.