The whole week was brutally hot – I think the heat index was over 100° every day. I actually ended up missing half a day because of the heat, which of course drove me nuts, I hate missing time on anything. It was a good week overall though. This was our field trip week, with visits to Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestowne, two places that I’d never been before.
The lab at Williamsburg is amazing – they have a whole room dedicated to a study collection of faunal remains. Basically it’s an exercise in comparison – all the bones are from known species of known age, so when you find a bit of bone out in the field you can use the collection to figure out what animal it’s from and how old that animal was. We also got to peek through drawers of artifacts that most people don’t get to see, including lots of pottery but also metal bits, children’s toys, and most amazingly soles from centuries old leather shoes. Organic bits such as leather or rope survive only under special conditions; they must be in anaerobic environments or continuously wet or dry. Bogs and very dry deserts are great places to find organic artifacts; in Williamsburg they pull things like that out of the bottoms of wells. We went out to where they’re digging this year and also to where they have a dig set up for young children to participate in. The kids’ area is really cool because it’s a legitimate dig, they’re not just pulling out fake things that get tossed back in for the next group. It’s located in a cellar that was dug in the 1940’s, with all the soil & artifacts tossed back in as a big jumble of stuff. There’s not a lot of information for an archaeologist to glean from a big jumble of stuff, so they can allow children to dig it up without losing anything. I guess every slot is full every single day, it’s a really popular activity. Outside of the lab & archaeological sites, I found the town itself to be a little on the kitschy & crowded side for my taste. It reminded me a lot of high season on Mackinac Island – really legit & awesome stuff alongside goofy gift shops & way too many bars with herds of sweating tourists wandering around. If I was to go back there it would be in fall or winter when it’s slower, cooler, & easier to understand. I did get to visit with 3 of my island friends who were around, so that was great!
Fife & drum corps.
Jamestowne is only a half-hour or so from Williamsburg and consists of two parts: the archaeological digs at Historic Jamestowne on the original site of the fort & Jamestowne Settlement, the museum & recreation a little away from the original site. On the site itself they’ve set up a frame & a half-wall of two of the buildings & a simple palisade to show how things were laid out. They’ve also got the cellar open where they found Jane – the 14-year-old English girl whose skull showed evidence that she had been murdered & cannibalized. On our lab tour we got to pass around a 3D print of her skull; later at the Archaearium museum we got to see her actual skull, which was a pretty surreal experience. Over at Jamestowne Settlement is an amazing museum where they seem to have spared no expense. Beginning in 1600, the galleries walk you through time comparing the lives of English settlers, the Powhatan people they met in Virginia, and the Africans they brought over as slaves. Full-blown recreations of rooms, houses, & a whole London street scene, all located inside the museum building, are just absolutely stunning. Outside the museum is a recreation of James Fort, a Powhatan village, & three tall ships, but there was a certain kitsch to all of that too & I didn’t stay very long before I went back into the museum. I guess I just wasn’t feeling the living history last week.
Original site of James Fort with the recreated pallidade in the background. Our guide is standing in fron of the cellar where the cannibalized remains of Jane were found.
Church & graveyard.
Tall ships at the pier.
Powhatan village recreation.
Recreation of James Fort.
I can’t think of any really fantastic finds from our field site this week, but here’s an NPR podcast about St. Mary’s City, including interviews with my teacher, his assistant, and the director of research, if anyone’s curious.