Field School 2017 – Week 10
Travis Parno — Chief Archaeologist
“The End of the 2017 Field School”
After a thoroughly successful Tidewater Archaeology Weekend, we entered the final week of the 2017 Field School in Historical Archaeology with the goal of wrapping up as many of our excavation units as possible. We also took some time to mark the end of a productive field season with an evening of food and relaxation at the Brome-Howard Inn. Watching the sun sink over the St. Mary’s River felt like the right way to conclude our summer. Of course, we also had quite a bit of work to do this week, as well as a final exam to take, so it wasn’t all R&R!
As we worked towards wrapping up our field season, our students spent a lot of time mapping archaeological features, drawing profiles of excavation units, and taking photographs of completed units. Feature maps allow us to begin the process of relating features across units (e.g., linking post holes that were once components of an outbuilding or fence line). Profile drawings capture the stratigraphy, or layers of soil, that were present in a given unit, affording us the opportunity to study the ways that soils were deposited across the site.
A brief aside: we are often asked why we always use a combination of drawings and photographs to record our work. The answer is a bit complicated. While both mediums capture what is visible in our excavation units, there is a subtle difference between the results. Drawings record our interpretations of the outlines of features or the borders between different stratigraphic layers. They represent what we think we see in the field while we’re in the field. Photographs are designed to capture the site as it existed, without our interpretations inserted into the image. Photos are messier and a harder to “read” than drawings, but they don’t require us to draw any distinct lines around features or between layers. In theory, photographs provide us with a record that we can return to when we’re away from the site to see what our excavated units looked like before we projected our interpretations onto them in the field.
Like I said, it’s a bit complicated!
The shorter answer to this common question is that when it comes to archaeological recording, more is always better. Once we’ve excavated a unit, we can never excavate it in precisely the same way again—there is no way to put the soil back in the unit the same way it came out. Thus, when we’re in the field, our mindset is always geared towards capturing data in as many ways as possible.
As we continued our work around the foundation of the Calvert House, we continued to wrestle with deposits dating to the Brome-Howard era of occupation as well as those containing 17th-century materials. Not surprisingly, the units closest to the Calvert House foundations showed the least evidence of agricultural plowing. This meant that these units tended to hold larger artifacts such as sherds of tin-glazed earthenware, colonial glass, and bones from cows and pigs that had not been broken up by years of plowing. We also found smaller artifacts of great interest, including glass trade beads, lead window cames (thin pieces of lead that held glass panes in place), and a small lead bale seal.
Further away from the Calvert House, we finalized our excavation of a segment of the rounded-rectangular trench that was identified in previous years (for more on the trench feature, see our Week One entry from the 2017 field season). This segment of the feature was much deeper than the segment excavated last year. The profiles of this portion of the feature were also a bit clearer than those we had previously seen, a fact that is forcing us to reconsider our suppositions about the feature’s construction. More on that in a future entry…
As our final week came to a close, we were able to backfill one of our excavation units, but many more will remain open until our staff is able to return to them (after a much-needed break!). We anticipate continuing our field season into the early fall. Be sure to follow us on Instagram at digHSMC to see what we’re working on in the field and in the lab!
We are so grateful to our entire field school team for all of their hard work this summer. We had a great time working with them and we can’t wait to see what they do next!