Field School 2017 – Week 3
Stephanie Stevens — University of South Florida
“Architecture, Gravel, and a Summer Storm”
Now that we’re in the third week of our field school, we’re really starting to get into the work. For the first time this week two students were on their lab rotation, cleaning the artifacts that were backlogged from last year’s excavations as well as some from this year. We opened two new units week and worked through the first really hot days of the summer. We’re getting better at picking out artifacts from the screens, although they still frequently turn out to just be rocks!
We spent some time in the Study Collection looking at the ceramics in preparation for our midterm test next week, which I’m sure everyone will be studying diligently for this weekend! We also had two afternoon events this week – a lecture by Terry Brock from the Montpelier Foundation and an architecture tour with Dr. Henry Miller. Mr. Brock’s work in St. Mary’s City has focused on the Brome slave quarters and the African American community here both before and after the Civil War. We got to see those original slave quarters the next day on Dr. Miller’s tour and get a little taste of what it might have been like to live in one of those tiny buildings with 8 or 9 other people.
Dr. Miller also showed us the Spray Plantation and the Brome Howard Inn, the 1840 house that once stood on the property that we’re now excavating. It’s interesting to stop and consider how little of these buildings would survive once the wood rotted away. Some nails, a few ceramics – some of the barns would barely leave a trace of their existence!
My group was the one excavating all the gravel last week; this week we opened a new square a few feet away and found – more gravel! We learned the art of schnitting, a technique of removing soil little by little using a shovel to scrape away the top layers very quickly. We found a few small pieces of various types of artifacts mixed in with the pebbles, but we were really looking for a modern pipe trench that was mapped in adjacent squares and finally found it on Saturday.
Next week we’ll start excavating that trench, with the hope that we’ll be able to see the historic layers that it cuts through in the walls and get a better idea of what’s going on before we excavate the rest.
Another group exposed the original 1634 brick foundation of the Calvert House, the first time this section has been revealed in more than 30 years. It’s amazing to find pipes and plates and bricks – all these little things that people used in their everyday lives – that have been in the ground for nearly 400 years. We ended our week with a whirlwind tear-down as we raced to pack everything up ahead of a storm. We got it all covered up and put away just in time!
Sam Sisay — St. Mary’s College of Maryland
“Searching for Artifacts at the Calvert House”
Our goals for the week were to start digging a new unit much closer to the Calvert House and then slowly digging layer by layer to discover more artifacts! This was started by removing the top most soil, or topsoil as it called. Removing the topsoil was done by cutting the unit into a checkerboard, using spade shovels to cut small squares and popping the soil out. Then we got to the part of discovering artifacts by sifting the dirt on screens. Excess dirt falls away into a wheelbarrow and the artifacts are left behind.
Starting from the top most layer of soil means that we found a lot more 19th-century and 20th-century artifacts at first as that was the most recent layer. Artifacts from the 19th and 20th centuries included objects like cut or wire-drawn nails that are used today, modern glass, and modern brick. Artifacts from the 17th century and 18th century occupations vary from bits of bone such as deer teeth and other animal teeth, to pipe stems, ceramics, and a small glass bead.
The bones are important because they show the kinds of animals that lived there and what could have subsisted the diet of English colonists and American Indians who lived on the site back then.
Pipe stems are prevalent because tobacco was a money crop in the Maryland colonies and everyone smoked tobacco then, including women and children. Other ceramics, such as Rhenish blue-and-grey stoneware, porcelain, and whiteware, show what was used by the colonists for utility and domestic purposes. The bead is especially important because beads were used as trading currency among the English colonists and Native Americans. Despite its small size, it shows the larger picture of the colonial economy.
Digging deeper, we revealed the actual foundation of the Calvert House and I am excited to find out what we reveal next week!