Field School 2017 – Week 1
Travis Parno — Chief Archaeologist
“The 2017 Field Season Begins!”
We were thrilled this week to welcome eleven undergraduate students from colleges and universities around the country to participate in Historic St. Mary’s City’s 2017 Historical Archaeology Field School. For the 2017 field season, our team will be back to work at the Calvert House site, revisiting some previously-studied features and discovering new stories in never-before-excavated areas around the perimeter of the house.
First, some background on the Calvert House site, borrowed from last year’s “Dispatches from the Field School” blog entry:
The Calvert House site is a fascinating property that includes the buried (and since partially reconstructed) remains of Leonard Calvert’s home. Construction of the building began in the mid-1630s. Originally, the home was a modest hall-and-parlor house with central fireplace, but soon it was expanded to become one of the largest wood-frame houses in Maryland.
The Calvert House was home to multiple residents following Leonard Calvert’s death in 1647, but by the early 1660s, it took on a new role as the Country’s House, so named because it was owned by the colony (or “Country”) and functioned as the first official statehouse of Maryland. Because it wasn’t needed as a governmental meeting space year-round, the building was leased as an “ordinary” or inn, and thus doubled as a place where visitors and travelers could rest and enjoy a warm meal.
After the construction of the new brick statehouse in 1676, the colony’s official use of the Calvert (or Country’s) House declined. Documentary records tell us that by the end of the 17th century, the structure was sorely in need of repairs and, following the move of Maryland’s capital to what would become Annapolis, it fell into disuse. In 1841, Dr. John Brome built a large plantation house over the buried foundations of the Calvert House and Dr. Brome, his family, and their servants and slaves lived on the property for many years. Dr. Brome’s house was moved down to Rosecroft Road in 1994 and now functions as an inn.
During the 2016 field season, the excavation team explored a curious rounded-rectangular fence trench in the north yard of the Calvert House that we suspected might be evidence of a 17th-century animal baiting ring or cockfighting pit. One of our research goals for this summer’s fieldwork is to return to portions of this feature that have previously been identified, but never excavated. We plan to excavate a segment of the trench’s southern side to provide another critical set of artifacts that will help us date the feature’s construction and use. This will, we hope, be the final step in confirming our suspicions about this strange feature’s role in the Calvert House’s narrative.
Our second goal for this summer is related to the museum’s long-term plans for the Calvert House site. We are planning to reconstruct the Calvert House, much as we have done at many of our sites, and fill it with exhibits that tell some of the many stories associated with the property. Before the reconstruction can begin, we need to answer any remaining archaeological questions we have about the house’s architecture. We also need to explore any areas that will be disturbed by the construction. This process will take a number of years, but our work this summer will be an important step towards preparing the site for the new exhibit. We will begin on the eastern end of the Calvert House, near a doorway that opened into the house’s central hallway.
The areas immediately outside of doors tend to be great places for finding interesting artifacts because these were the spaces where lost or broken objects were swept or tossed out of the house. We are hoping this common occurrence holds true for our excavation units! After we have examined the eastern side of the house, we will move counter-clockwise around the structure, excavating any units within 10 feet of the house’s foundations that have not been previously excavated. This will allow us to guide the planning and construction phases of the Calvert House reconstruction according to what we know about the archaeology within and immediately around the original structure.
Our group was eager to get their hands dirty, but before they could put shovels to ground, they needed to learn a bit about the history of St. Mary’s City, the fundamentals of archaeological methods, and the 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century artifacts they could expect to encounter while excavating within the St. Mary’s City National Historic Landmark. Our students spent three intensive days hearing lectures and participating in hands-on practicums in which they examined examples of a wide variety of colonial and post-colonial artifacts from HSMC’s collections. There is no way to learn about archaeological artifacts without handling them!
After their time in the classroom, it was time to head out into the field for the final two days of the week. The students learned about field equipment, how to use screens to find artifacts, and how to operate the total station to lay out new excavation units. We have just gotten beneath the topsoil layer in three 5’x5’ units; we can’t wait to see what the layers beneath will hold.
Follow our progress throughout the field season on this blog. Each week, starting next week, one or two of our field school students will write an entry for the blog so that you can experience our work through their eyes. You can also follow the work of HSMC’s Department of Research and Collections on Instagram at digHSMC.
There we post photos of our work in the field and the laboratory, provide updates on our research, and share stories from around the department. You will also see lots of photos of our field school in action! We hope to see you there…