Field School 2017 – Week 5
Flannery Lawrence — The George Washington University
“A Trip to George Washington’s Mount Vernon”
Like every colonial to study at The George Washington University, I have a soft spot for Our Founding Father, The American Cincinnatus, George Washington. Which is why I was especially excited for our field trip on Wednesday to visit his home, Mount Vernon.
We began our journey to Virginia, as all good road trips begin, with a stop for Wawa coffee.
Our fully caffeinated crew enjoyed a fascinating lecture by Dr. Pecoraro, Director of Archaeology at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, who gave us an overview of the history of Mount Vernon and the archaeology that has been done there. We were then given a short tour and brought to see the live archaeologists in their natural habitat.
The Mount Vernon team is working outside of the kitchen and they have found evidence, in the way of post holes, of a building that predates the current kitchen. This is possibly the kitchen that Lawrence Washington had built before his death in 1752 and George Washington’s remodeling of the property, which began in 1775.
After lunch we finished our tour with a look at the 16-sided barn complex, George Washington’s own creation for grain processing and storage. There is still so much to see; after all they have preserved somewhere around 500 acres.
Luckily, Mount Vernon isn’t too far from The George Washington University campus in Foggy Bottom, D.C., so I will definitely be back.
Back at the site, Alexa and myself are the lucky ones in the southwest unit next to the Calvert House foundation.
No exaggeration, every bucket of soil we screen yields an insane amount of interesting artifacts: pipe stems, Rhenish blue and grey with purple pottery, a metal button, porcelain, bone, and enough nails to build a sizable structure. This is the unit where we found the bone die last week and we’re hoping to find four more dice to prove our theory that the colonists also enjoyed a good game of Yahtzee. On Thursday, we found an intact pipe bowl which was definitely on my wish list of things I wanted to find.
Ralph, Caitlin, Kat, and Sam all opened up new units. Eathan and Cormac worked to un-backfill a unit partially excavated last summer.
On Friday, Alexa, Cormac, Eathan and I went with Ruth to Chancellors Point to do some shovel test pits. The Calvert House is near and dear to my heart, but I will admit it was nice to get to see a cool new site. Then, as if spending 8 hours a day/5 days a week together isn’t enough, a couple of us went on an “Adults Only” tour of the Spray Plantation to learn about subjects of a more “adult” nature pertaining to colonial life in Maryland. It was pretty funny and the first person interpreters at HSMC are incredible. Later, we got together and watched the Fourth of July fireworks display.
Another exciting week of field school down and only five left until it’s all over. But let’s not talk about that…
Field School 2017 – Week 5
Cormac Morrish — St. Mary’s College of Maryland
“A Week of Travel and Backfill”
The fifth week of Field School has been a diverse and exciting one, to say the least. The visit to Mount Vernon on Wednesday was a fantastic look at how archaeologists outside of St. Mary’s City operate, the challenges they face as opposed to ours, as well as how public archaeology and a museum environment can blend and work together on a much larger scale than our humble little village. The “Lives Bound Together” exhibit was extremely informative and well done, and I would highly recommend a visit for it, to say nothing of the rest of the plantation!
After returning from our Virginia day trip, we returned quickly to our appointed tasks. The excavations around the Calvert House continue, and we are expanding our operations as well! Last year, a feature slightly to the northwest of the Calvert House was discovered, which we believe to be an animal baiting ring.
These units were backfilled last summer however, so this week we began the process of un-backfilling those units to explore the feature more thoroughly. After all of last year’s soil is removed from those units, we will excavate the actual trench itself, in the hopes of finding perhaps animal bones, drinking vessel fragments, and generally anything that would go along with drinking, gambling and watching one of these spectacles.
There was also an excursion out to Chancellors Point to engage in some survey work. Some soil testing is going to be done out there by the Maryland Department of the Environment, due to a minor oil tank leak. The area is known to have several archaeologically sensitive sites, so if any work is going to be done out there, it is imperative to ensure that these sites are disturbed as little as possible. Thus far, there have been thirteen sites that have been marked for shovel test pit survey, where we will dig out pits a foot in diameter and go down a ways, and basically see what we find!
As there will be soil boring involved, the pits need to be deep, but not particularly wide. If there is anything major found, such as a feature or a high concentration of artifacts, more archaeology will need to be done to ensure that site gives us as much data as we can get from it before any potential damage can occur from any work that is done there.
An extremely enlightening lecture was also given by Dr. Jean Russo, with the cheery and uplifting title of Disease, Death and Demography. The lecture centered around the risks newly arriving colonists had to take living in Maryland, such as the prevalence of diseases such as malaria, a ratio of men to women that was almost 5 males to 1 female, and the violence that so often followed these early colonies in North America. In an interesting tie-in, it was also mentioned that the U.S. may soon be facing a similar problem to that of early Maryland, this being the population not increasing through reproduction alone fast enough to support the aging population. Hopefully we can handle that problem better than when we believed that the cure to a fever was bloodletting.