Field School: Week 6

You know what’s a really great workout?  Bailing water out of holes.  Two days of rain this week meant two mornings of scooping water out of units that looked like swimming pools, dragging buckets around to dump them, & I have pains in muscles that I didn’t even know existed.  But we had a day off from digging, so I guess that’s something?  I think it’s easy to forget how incredibly hard this work is until it’s the end of the week & all you want to do is eat dinner & go to bed at 8:30.

I re-watched all of the Cinema Sins videos of the Jurassic Park movies – & realized how many times they refer to paleontology/paleontologists as archaeology/archaeologists.    Archaeology is the study of human cultures through material remains.  Archaeologists do NOT study dinosaurs!  We also don’t like it when you touch our stuff.  We have to keep track of exactly where each pile of dirt & each item in it comes from.  If you visit an archaeological dig by all means ask questions – but please don’t touch things without permission & DEFINITELY don’t move them!

This knowledge of where each item comes from is called its provenience.  This concept is related to the term provenance, which has to do with tracking the ownership history of art pieces – something that comes up a lot in cases of Nazi-looted art & the like.  Archaeological digs are built on grid systems, with each square assigned a unique identifier.  The entire area of St. Mary’s City is divided into numbered 10-foot squares, & each of those is in turn divided into 4 5-foot units which are dug individually.  As we dig each unit, we keep track of the stratigraphy within it – the layers of dirt as they were laid down over each other in the past.  The earliest layer is at the bottom, with new layers deposited on it so that the most recent layer is at the top.  Within the stratigraphic system there might also be features – things like post holes that are now just a different color of dirt because the post rotted away or was removed & the hole filled back in.  Each layer & feature in each 5-foot square is given a letter designation.  So for example, in one 10-foot square you’d have letters for the topsoil layer in each of the 5-foot units – A, B, C, & D.  Under the topsoil, you’d have a new set of letters for each unit’s plowzone layer – E, F, G, & H.  If a feature shows up, it gets its own letter.  So, if you’re digging the northeast corner of square 4506, the topsoil layer might be layer C, the plowzone under it layer G, a ditch dug through it & since filled in layer K.  The same layers or features in the other three units of that square get their own letters.  Then, each item you dig up goes into a particular bag – things from the topsoil go into a bag labeled 4506 C, plowzone into 4506 G, & anything found in the ditch into 4506 K.  Provenience is so important because the context of an item – where it was found & what it was found with – is vital to understanding what it is & what it means to the site overall.  Without context, OK you’ve got a cool thing, but it doesn’t tell you much.  With context, you might be able to say when that ditch was filled in or what a certain room was used for – you can connect it to the objects in the same layer or the ones above or below, & to the site at large.  Basically, context is everything & provenience is how we maintain our knowledge of that context.

Four weeks from now I’ll be back in Florida!  This summer seems like it’s taking forever, but I’m sure when I leave it will feel like it flew by.

Field School: Week 2

In the second week of our field school, we had a couple more days of lectures and then continued working on our site.  It was an exciting week with several nice finds and a handful of visitors to talk to.  My group found lots of teeth & bone shards – we’re digging near a 19-century smokehouse so no surprise there – plus some nice bits of 17th- and 18-century ceramics & a couple pellets of lead shot.  On our last day of the week I found a pipe!  We find a lot of fragments, but so far this is the only one with bowl and stem together.  Because my find required a more delicate tool than a trowel, I go to be the first one to use the brushes, which is weirdly exciting.  Another member of my group found a couple of pipe stem pieces with a fleur-de-lis design stamped into it, and someone in another square found one with the maker’s whole name in it, instead of just his initials.  People smoked like chimneys 200 years ago.

 

On Saturday evening we had a real treat – sailing the Maryland Dove, a recreation 17th-century trading ship.  We were each put in charge of a couple of ropes and one of the crew members stayed near each group to translate the captain’s orders into actions and make sure we did them correctly.  It was really interesting because this is still a very rural, wooded area so seeing it through the rigging of a ship, with no engine sounds or vibration, gave a reasonably good sense of what the first English settlers would have experienced sailing up the river.  It reallllllyyyy gave me an appreciation for how much of a pain it must have been to actually travel that way, with a dozen people all having to work in synchrony to achieve every little change in course.  All we did was sail up and down the river for an hour and we all left exhausted!

 

Field School: Week 1

I survived my trip to Maryland!  It was about 18 hours from Orlando to Alexandria, Virginia, where the head archaeologist picked me up for the drive down to St. Mary’s City.  St. Mary’s College of Maryland is a small, rural school with pretty much nothing anywhere near it except the museum site where I’ll be working.  I like it though, the campus is beautiful and very wooded, it reminds me of Michigan.

We had three days of lectures on field methods, history, and some of the artifacts we’ll encounter, then two days in the field.  Yesterday my group learned to use the surveying equipment, plotted a new square & started taking off the topsoil, today we finished the topsoil & dug through a layer of pea gravel that nobody expected to be there.  We haven’t found anything really big but in sifting all of that dirt we came across lots of little bits of brick & coal, some nails, & a few pieces of ceramic & clay pipe stems.  Digging holes and picking through dirt really is the best thing ever.

So here I am for the next couple of months.  Should be interesting!

This Week in Awkwardness

Do you want to show off your obsession with Stranger Things AND help the National Endowment for the Arts?  David Harbour’s t-shirt does both!

I started working on my trip to Maryland.  I’m planning on taking Amtrak’s Silver Star from Tampa to Washington, D.C., so I FINALLY get to go on another train adventure.  Or the Silver Meteor, but that would require taking a bus from Tampa to Orlando – bleh.  It’ll be some silver celestial body anyway.  Then I was contemplating possibly getting to D.C. a day or two before I’m supposed to move into the dorm and seeing some things.  Hopefully they’ll send me a schedule of any field trips we’ll be taking over the summer, maybe the stuff I want to see is stuff they’ll be taking us to see anyway.  Probably not the International Spy Museum though.  That I’ll probably have to do on my own time.

Maryland will be the fifth state that I’ve lived in over as many years – that seems kind of insane, it feels like forever since I left Tennessee but that really was just in 2013.

Train trip, new state, digging stuff up – should be a good summer!

This is my 100th blog post!

Also I’ve been thinking about a graduation gift to get myself in December.  Maybe a GoPro.  They shoot time lapses and they’re waterproof, two things my Canon M isn’t capable of without modification.  Could be fun.

I’ve got my class schedule all planned out for MY LAST SEMESTER O_O.  Finally I’ll get to take some in-depth archaeology courses, up to now the offerings have just not worked out for me.


Added to the Travel Map:

Tangalooma Wrecks, Moreton Island, Australia – shipwrecks just off the beach.

Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, Madagascar – wild rock formations.

Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands National Park, Utah – tons of rock art.

Longyearbyen, Norway – northernmost city in the world.

International Spy Museum, Washington, D.C. – pretty much exactly what it sounds like.

Barron, Washington – ghost town.

Canyon Falls, Alberta, Michigan – waterfall in a canyon.

Bears Ears National Monument, Utah – 100,000 archaeological sites.

Bagan Archaeological Zone, Myanmar – the “Plain of Pagodas,” 2,000+ temples.

Ōkunoshima, Japan – this is the island with the zillion rabbits, but I’m more interested in the ruins of the poison gas factory.

This Week in Awkwardness

I was accepted into the field school in Maryland that I mentioned in my last post!  I’ll be spending 10 weeks in St. Mary’s City this summer digging and learning and probably sweating a whole bunch.  St. Mary’s City was the original capital of Maryland, and the 2017 field season will focus on the 1634 house of Leonard Calvert, the colony’s first governor.  The home later served as a rebel holdout, Maryland’s first statehouse, and an inn, so there’s a wide slice of Colonial American life happening on this one little patch of ground.  Should be an interesting summer!


Added to the Travel Map:

Belle Isle, Richmond Virginia – once a Civil War prison, ruins of various things, trails, etc.  (Incidentally, why are there so many parks called Belle Isle?)

Fairfield Hills Hospital, Newton, Connecticut – abandoned psychiatric hospital.

This Week in Awkwardness

I started using Google image search to find my stock photos all over the internet, which turned out to be REALLY FUN.  I’m selling everything from snazzy bottled water to real estate, and my images are included in goofy quizzes, horror stories, and travel articles.

I also posted a term paper I wrote for school as a 3-part article on the 1692 earthquake that destroyed Port Royal, Jamaica.  The interesting thing about it is that there are so many first-hand accounts of buildings collapsing and people being sucked right down into the sand.  Two thirds of the town just slid into the sea and was covered over by silt, creating one of the best 17th-century colonial sites anywhere in the world.

Lowry Park Zoo has evening hours around major holidays so I was able to be there when the giant fruit bats were getting dinner and watched them crawl around which was both creepy and awesome.  They also gave presents to the orangutans (one little girl thought the male was Chewbacca) which was pretty fun to watch.  The Christmas lights were pretty of course but being a retail worker I CAN’T WAIT until the Christmas music stops.  I always feel bad for the kid in “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”  I mean, from his perspective, he thinks his mom is cheating on his dad.  Should he tell him?  If he doesn’t, then he’s keeping a big secret from his dad, but if he does, they might break up and it would be his fault.  Poor kid.  Also, whoever wrote the Chipmunk Song, I’d like to give you a high five.  With my fist.  On your face.

Also, this 360° video of the Lascaux Cave replica in France:


Added to the Travel Map:

Reykjanes Geopark, Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland – spot where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge lies above sea level. Has a footbridge between North America & Europe.

Great Falls Park, Virginia, USA – waterfalls.

Bois Blanc, Amherstberg, Ontario, Canada – abandoned amusement park – TECHNICALLY, anyone who steps foot on it is trespassing, but….

Burgruine Gösting, Graz, Austria – castle ruins.

Nuclear Shelter 10-Z, Brno, Czech Republic – hotel in a bunker!

Fort des Dunes, Leffrinckoucke, France – abandoned fort, important in WWII.

Aran Islands, Ireland – lots of ruins.

Alaska SeaLife Center, Seward, Alaska – Alaska-specific aquarium & wildlife rescue.

Port Royal Earthquake, Part 3: The Archaeology of Port Royal

This post comes from a paper I wrote for my History of the Caribbean class at the University of South Florida.

Part 1 | Part 2

As the silt from the landslides drifted down the rivers and out into the bay, it settled in a fine layer over the ruins of Port Royal, sealing away a perfect snapshot of seventeenth-century Jamaican life.  The first real archaeological survey of any importance occurred in 1959, when Edwin and Marion Link led an expedition sponsored by National Geographic, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Institute of Jamaica.  This was the first mission with their new boat Sea Diver, the first in the world specifically designed for marine archaeology.  The precise time of the earthquake is known from x-rays of one of their finds: a brass pocket watch with hands stopped at 11:43.  They discovered the location of a shipbuilder when they uncovered a trove of ship parts with no fittings and unearthed a fifteenth-century Spanish swivel-gun that may well have been on a vessel belonging to Christopher Columbus.  They found that a man named James Littleton was likely running a tavern by the amount of kitchen equipment cemented together within the ruins of a building that property maps said was his house, including a copper pot still containing the bones of a turtle being cooked for lunch.  They even know what the building looked like because the muck preserved red roof tiles, blackened hearth bricks, and white plaster still imprinted with patterns of the wattle walls it had covered.  Numerous clay pipes and beer bottles gave them a good idea of what the inhabitants did with their spare time (Link, 1960).

In the mid-1960s a plan emerged to develop Port Royal into a tourist destination with hotels, condos, a marina, and a huge cruise ship pier that would require dredging of the sea floor.  A series of small earthquakes shifted the silt around enough to reveal walls and small artifacts, which were immediately picked over by treasure hunters and sold to tourists.  The Jamaican government realized that the only way to protect the site from looting was to excavate it themselves, and hired marine archaeologist Robert F. Marx to lead the project.  In just his first day of exploratory diving, he found shipwrecks, anchors, and numerous objects from the time of the earthquake.  He also discovered a clay pot that was the first evidence of an Arawak Indian settlement on the site.  Years of uncovering buildings and artifacts stymied private development by rich outsiders, despite arguments with the government and threats to Marx himself (Marx, 1973).  This is fortunate because Port Royal was by then considered one of the best late-seventeenth-century sites anywhere in the world.  The Link and Marx excavations proved that the area had the potential to be better than any other British colonial location of its time period (Mayes & Mayes, 1972).

Port Royal Project Archaeological Excavations, Building 4/5.

Throughout the 1980s Donny Hamilton led the Port Royal Project, a joint venture by the Nautical Archaeology Program of Texas A&M University, the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, and the Jamaica National Heritage Trust.  His team found that the oxygen-free mud had preserved a large amount of organic material for the last three hundred years, including the remains of the HMS Swan, which they were able to identify because it was still lying on top of a house.  Another building in their investigation was divided into three separate two-room shops.  Leather scraps, shoe soles, and a lathe revealed that one probably had a cobbler and wood turner in the front room, while animal bones suggest that a butcher occupied the rear.  Pipes, bottles, and kegs in the other two sections show that both were most likely taverns or wine shops (Hamilton, 2000a, 2001, 2006).  Historical documents such as wills and probate inventories kept in the Jamaican archives allowed the archaeologists to connect their finds directly to the people who had lived and worked in Port Royal around the time of the earthquake.  The combination of written records and recovered objects allowed them to find out exactly who owned particular houses, what sort of trades they practiced, and how their lives intersected with those of their neighbors (Hamilton, 2000b).

Today, Port Royal is a town of just two thousand inhabitants.  Little of its wild past remains on the surface: just two historic buildings, both of which date from after the earthquake.  The underwater ruins, however, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Pots remained in their hearths with bits of charred wood attached to them and one trash barrel still contained the remains of a 1692 haircut.  It is the only submerged city in the Western Hemisphere and the slice of life preserved there gives us a clear picture of how people lived in a time of colonial expansion and industrial transition.  Its artifacts and documents reveal how trade flowed across the world and what people wore, ate, and used in their everyday lives.  (“The Underwater City”).

Port Royal burned hot and bright but only for a moment.  Despite existing for just thirty-seven years, it was among the wealthiest and most important cities in the colonial Western Hemisphere.  It was populated by people from an unheard of variety of classes, nationalities, professions, and faiths.  Three hundred years after its demise, it has become one of the most important archaeological sites of its time period anywhere in the world.  The homes, belongings, and in some cases the bones of its residents provide an unparalleled view of what their lives were like at the very moment of destruction.  Not much has been excavated so far, and Port Royal undoubtedly has many more lessons to offer.

References:

Hamilton, Donny L. “Archaeological Excavations.” The Port Royal Project, 2000

Hamilton, Donny L. “Historical Research.” The Port Royal Project, 2000

Hamilton, Donny L. “Port Royal Archives – Building 1.” The Port Royal Project, 2001

Hamilton, Donny L. “Pirates and Merchants: Port Royal, Jamaica.” X Marks the Spot: The Archaeology of Piracy, 2006, pg. 2-30

Link, Marion Clayton. “Exploring the Drowned City of Port Royal.” National Geographic February 1960, pg. 151-83 (Online archive requires access.)

Marx, Robert F. Port Royal Rediscovered, 1973

Mayes, Philip, and P. A. Mayes. “Port Royal, Jamaica: The Archaeological Problems and Potential.” International Journal of Nautical Archaeology and Underwater Exploration, March 1972, pg. 97-112 (Online archive requires access.)

The Underwater City of Port Royal.” UNESCO World Heritage Centre

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