We put up our gear & covered our units for the last time yesterday. This morning we had our final exam, and were officially done with our field school. I spent most of the rest of my day packing & cleaning, then went on a long meandering walk to say goodbye to the campus. I remember way back at the beginning of the summer, when 10 weeks seemed like forever, thinking that I would get to this point & it would feel like it had flown by, & it does. It’s amazing how much we learned in so little time. We went from baby archaeologists who asked if every little weird-looking rock was something we should save to being able to pick a bucket of soil clean of artifacts, with pretty solid accuracy, in less than 20 minutes. We learned the history of our site & how to tell visitors about it, went sailing on a tall ship, visited some of the most important colonial sites in the Chesapeake region, assisted with the eventual reconstruction of the Calvert House, & found some pretty cool stuff while we were at it. Tomorrow afternoon I board my train & leave it all behind. Hopefully I’ll make it back for a visit someday.
This week contained our Tidewater Archaeology Weekend, during which the public is invited to come screen for artifacts with us. For a couple of days before that we had been saving up dirt so that we had ten large bins to screen from; we went through all of that & had to go dig up some more! Saturday was rainy so we didn’t have many people coming but Sunday was gorgeous so lots of people came out & everyone had a good time & found lots of neat stuff. I worked with several kids who were really into it & might even be future archaeologists themselves! In one screen we found a nice piece of blue-glazed ceramic that might be pearlware & a fragment of a Native American clay pipe with a little bit of a design on it. Of course we found lots of bits of pig bones, so I asked the kids if they would think it was weird for someone to dig up something they’d eaten & they all said they did.
It’s hard to believe that I have less than a week left here. We only have three field days, then our final exam, then I’m on the train back to Florida on Sunday afternoon. This has been a great experience but I’m excited to head home. Then I’ll have a couple weeks to decompress before the fall semester starts. I still can’t decide if I want to keep my class schedule as it is now – five classes & then graduate at the end of the semester – or split them over two semesters & graduate in the spring. Five classes & a part-time job sounds really difficult (how do people work full time while in school???), I don’t want to stress myself out too much or bring my GPA down. Plus, I’m not entirely sure that I’m ready to leave USF!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.