Monthly Archives: June 2012

Archaeology is Anthropology

As a college student, the question of my major and future career ambition is one of those frequently asked questions that I contend with on a daily basis. Very few seemingly understand what it means to study cultural anthropology- that isn’t necessarily a value judgement, merely an assessment of my personal experiences. The FAQ takes various forms, but amounts to something like “What are you going to do with that?” or “Oh, so you’re going to be a teacher.”

One of the many docks that is part of the inventory of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

I must admit that I often ask myself the same question(s), which prompted me to participate in an internship rather than a field school this summer as part of my undergraduate degree requirements. I knew that I had to find something that interested me both as an anthropologist and as a historian.

I ended up working on a project that satisfies both of those requirements. So far this summer, I have participated in a NAS fieldschool that was held in Traverse City, Michigan and helped other underwater archaeology students with their individual projects. I have attended various organizational events as a representative of my site supervisor/mentor. But for me, one of the coolest things about this internship is my participation in a complete inventory of the historic docks and piers of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Last summer at this time, I was spending the day conducting research on a shipwreck that washed ashore in the same area in late 2010. This summer, I spent the day (once again) doing research. And while the area of historic research is not really in my scope of interest, the information that I found on one of the historic sites is rather fascinating (which for me was rather unexpected). The dock that I am researching is called Aral Dock and is one of many century old docks in the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore that has all but disintegrated into just pilings. The dock itself was rather homogeneous for the area in both build and use. Cargo such as lumber and agricultural items was loaded and unloaded at the dock and was sent on its way to various ports around the Great Lakes. Aral Dock is not interesting (for me) because of it’s construction, or materials, or rate of decay; Aral dock is interesting because of the scandal that surrounds it.

Research through local and regional newspapers as well as oral history from residents shows that there was a double homicide on this particular dock, earning it the nickname “Murder Dock”. The reason was money related- taxes, specifically- and the murder touched the small agricultural port town in a way that was unexpected for that community.  As a student of anthropology and history, this salacious history of an area that is currently considered to be quiet and relaxing for residents and tourists alike is an interesting study in local anthropology.

The area itself was a combination of industrial and agricultural, with the docks acting as a material reminder of how these people once lived and worked. What remains of the historic docks in the area is submerged in varying depths of water, ranging from shoreline depths to fifteen feet. Position fixing has been a chore, especially because of the wave action that is common in this specific bay on Lake Michigan. That is not to say that this experience hasn’t been enlightening or enjoyable. I can now say with confidence that I know what it is that I can do with my degree in Anthropology: I want to take what I have learned and apply it the field of historic archaeology, specifically sites that are underwater. Yes, I will likely spend more time in a library, museum, or historical society than I will in the field. I will likely be spending large amounts of time sifting through innumerable amounts of historic photos and oral histories as I did on the Day of Archaeology. But I have come to realize that there is no better way for me to combine my interests in history and human culture than by studying the physical material remains of the people that once occupied the most beautiful place in America.

Plus, my office will have one heck of a view. So, there’s that, too.

 

Survey, Shell Middens, and Ceramics: Pensacola’s Prehistory

Day of Archaeology 2012 falls in the middle of the University of West Florida’s (UWF) 10 week long field school season. The university offers four archaeological field schools—three terrestrial (Campus Survey, Colonial Frontiers, and Arcadia Mill) and one maritime—and I am fortunate to serve as a supervisor at Campus Survey. Under the direction of Dr. Ramie Gougeon and graduate student supervisors, university students transform classroom knowledge into real world experience. Campus Survey teaches students about archaeological methods and techniques related specifically to cultural resource management (CRM). Students learn how to use a compass, read maps, and develop other field techniques while also sharpening their digging skills. After completing the survey portion of the field school, students also excavate a prehistoric site—named Thompson’s Landing– on UWF’s campus.

Campus Survey begins with students learning about archaeological survey techniques by digging countless shovel tests.

To begin this summer, we surveyed a portion of campus near Thompson’s Landing. Campus growth and general improvements may place a road within the survey area. As the students learned how to dig shovel tests, take notes, complete paperwork, and successfully navigate the woods, they also encountered what most people consider the most interesting part of archaeology—the artifacts!

Within the first three weeks, the students discovered and defined the boundaries of four separate lithic scatters. Two shovel tests revealed interesting features—one of shell and the other a burnt pit—that led to the first units of the summer. Unfortunately, the shells appeared modern and the other feature is likely a burnt tree. Despite these faux features, the survey portion provided great information about larger research questions relating to Pensacola’s prehistory. The lithic scatters suggest information about prehistoric peoples’ behaviors and activities while also providing information about site formation processes.

A completed shovel test– proof that a round shovel can dig a square hole 1 meter deep!

Research questions and excavations at Thompson’s Landing, however, focus more specifically on shells and ceramics. Last year, field school students unearthed a substantial shell midden with complicated, ill-defined chronology. This year we hoped to identify discrete shell deposits to better outline periods of use, to understand subsistence patterns, and to improve our knowledge of ceramic differentiation through time within the region. With the aid of auger test results, the completion of five units, and the use of student manpower, the site began to provide answers.

We exposed the shell midden in its entirety before bisecting it and excavating in levels.

Of these five units (three of which included shell midden), one proved essential to answering some of our questions with ease. The shells present included rangia and polymesoda, two different types of clams. Between the two, rangia usually serves as the dominant species, yet the midden primarily yielded polymesoda shells. The dietary shift caused new questions to arise: Did food preferences change? Did environmental factors affect the shells availability? Perhaps changes in salinity or water temperature affected the shells and enabled polymesoda to dominate?

Volunteer, Lianne Bennett, sits next to the exposed shell midden.

As we contemplated the significance of the shells, ceramic sherds began to appear in the midden. The sherds recovered were shell-tempered, consistently dating the midden to the Mississippian period. Despite modern trash, such as glass and iron fragments, resting a few centimeters above the shell midden, no modern artifacts appeared within the feature. The first half of field school enabled students to learn, provided a feature comprised of an intact artifactual assemblage, and the beginning of a fantastic answer to one of our research questions!

The material culture associated with the shell midden– from one level of one half of the unit from one day.

A shell tempered sherd with the incised and punctated decorations suggesting a Moundville Incised variety Bottlecreek. The small handle likely enabled people to hang the vessels while preparing the food.

Shell-tempered ceramic sherds recovered from the shell midden consistently date the midden to the Mississippian period. The sherds pictured above are identified as Moundville Incised variety Bottlecreek.

The archaeological process often follows a pattern in which the discovery of new information leads to new questions. I hope the next year fuses the information we have (or have unearthed) with the data and knowledge that archaeology helps to uncover. If you’d like to know more about our field school, like the UWF Campus Field School Facebook page.

 

A Day of Archaeological Survey in Alberta’s Parkland

Hello!

Excited with my find… no, really.

Last year’s Day Of Archaeology saw me on a rather disappointing, but entirely typical urban project in York.  This year sees me on the other side of the Atlantic embarking on an entirely new venture.  In fact, the Day of Archaeology coincides (almost) with my first ever day working in commercial archaeology in Alberta in western Canada, and I’m both excited and nervous.  My Friday was taken up with a rather uneventful first aid course so I have taken the liberty of documenting Monday, which was my first day, and was much more interesting.

My day begins at 8am when I’m picked up from a friend’s place in Edmonton by Marg, who runs Circle Consulting.  We travel out to Stony Plain, where we meet Stephanie, an environmental consultant, who is accompanying us on our archaeological survey.  A further half hour drive takes us to the first of the mile long segments along the route of a water pipe that is to be surveyed.

Tailgate talk (done on the bonnet, but nevermind)

The first job is to do various health & safety paperwork; a standard risk-assessment, but here called a tailgate talk… or something.  Then we tool up.  I have been in archaeology a while, but I lack a lot of the PPE that is necessary here,  (thanks Marg for the loan).  It includes the boots, gloves, eye-protection, and sturdy long-sleeved clothes that I’m used to, as well as a sturdy red vest/equipment harness,  2litres of water, insect repellent (not enough as it turns out), hat (protection from the sun and ticks), gaiters (swampy ground and ticks again), bear horn & bear spray (funnily enough for bears), that I’m definitely not used to, as well as a lightweight spade.

 

An easy start to the job.

We set off on the first of the survey transects.  This part of Canada was originally surveyed in mile by mile “sections”, each divided into 4 “quarter sections” measuring half a mile square, and encompassing 160 acres.  Most of our survey transects were a mile long, and therefore a two mile round trip back to the truck.  This sounds easy, but as I was to discover, the terrain was extremely variable, and often very difficult.

 

 

 

Shovel testing

In places along the route that have a higher potential for human occupation, such as near watercourses, on south-facing slopes etc. we dig occasional shovel test-pits, each circa 30cm by 30cm, and only as deep as the sterile natural geology, and examine the upcast for artefacts.  The positions are marked with a hand-held GPS, notes are taken about the deposit depths and make-up, and if no artefacts have turned up we move on. On the second transect I find a bifacial tool fragment, which was the only stone of any sort in all of the shovel test pits I dug.  I find it hard to guage how common or uncommon this sort of find is during survey work, but I get the impression that it is towards the uncommon end of the scale.

 

This is the shovel test pit, so it really seems like needle-in-haystack stuff.  If an artefact is found in a test-pit, the next step is to dig a pattern of further test pits around the find-spot to determine if it is part of a larger scatter of artefacts and if so, how far it extends.  Video here.

Sadly, we don’t find anything in these test-pits, which I assume means that the bifacial tool was discarded or lost, and is not part of a occupation site.  Video here.

After our second mile long transect, 4 miles hiked so far, we have a welcome lunch in the truck. Video here. And we plan our next phase of work. Video here.

The third transect turns out to be where a road was started, the ditches were dug and the ground built up, but no surface was laid.  This therefore, is disturbed ground where there is little to no chance of finding an occupation site. This bit was not going to be productive, however the wildlife more than made up for it. Video here.

This transect was a long one, so we moved a vehicle to the far end so that we needn’t hike it twice.  Here is a video of the different type of terrain.  On this one we quite often lost the marked route of the pipeline. Video here.

At the end of the day we try to find a historic house that the pipeline passes.  We weren’t successful on this occasion, but here is a pic from the next day when we did find it.  It was built in the 1920’s by a skilled stonemason who used local stone (glacial erratic boulders I think), and is entirely unlike the other historic buildings out here.  I like it, but it looks a bit modern to my UK biased eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve had a great day, but I have no idea if it is typical of the work I’m going to be doing over the next 4 or 5 months.  Six miles, 33 shovel test-pits, some strange finds, left, and (video here), lots of insect bites, but no tick or bear encounters thankfully, and I’m knackered but pleased.

 

 

That’s my day, thanks for joining me on it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Analysing and Digging Amarna

A day late – but I was under particular time consraint both today and yesterday. My university requires every current PhD student to submit a “substantial piece of written work” by the end of today, and I can now say – it’s done! I submitted a chapter on the spatial analysis of artefacts relating to high-status industries found within the Main City North, a suburb of the ancient Egyptian city of Amarna. Using the awesome open source GIS package Quantum GIS have been able to establish where in this suburb industrial activity took place, where new, unknown working areas may be located, and, to a certain extent, how raw materials as well as finished goods have been distributed. My research aims and objectives can be found on my website.

The distribution of metal artefacts in the Main City North

The site, which is located in Middle Egypt, is currently being excavated by Barry Kemp and the Amarna Trust, this has been the case since the 1970s, but it has been subject to excavations since the 1890s, when Petrie undertook work at Amarna.   I was extremely lucky to participate in the Spring 2012 excavation season at Amarna. A preliminary report, written by Barry Kemp can be found here, and I have also published my own photos on Picasa.

The house of Pawah at Amarna

The famous bust of Nefertiti was discovered on December 6th 1911 by Ludwig Borchardt and his team within the house of the sculptor Thutmose (within the Main City North) and was subsequently brought to Berlin, which is why the 100th anniversary of its discovery will be marked with an exhibition on Amarna, which I am looking forward to visit.

A Day of Archaeology at Mission Escambe, part 2

Continuing from our previous post, after dirt is excavated into labeled wheelbarrows or buckets, it is transported to one of our screening stations in order to recover all artifacts and other natural materials larger than a designated mesh size, normally 1/8 inch, although we use finer mesh, 1/16″, for pit and post features, and 1/4″ mesh for large volumes of bulk clay that has already been demonstrated to contain little cultural material.  Below is an image of soil ready to be dry-screened on a tripod screen.

The next image shows the same screen after all the dirt has been sifted and pushed through the 1/8″ hardware cloth screen.

Sometimes, dry screening is either too slow or difficult to get soils with high clay content or extensive roots through, so we use a waterscreening station set up for this purpose.  Below is graduate site supervisor Danielle Dadiego waterscreening a sample from her unit.

Documentation and record-keeping are more than pivotal for archaeological fieldwork; they are the whole reason we are doing this in the first place.  In addition to a series of field forms, maps, and catalogs, all students take detailed notes each day in their field books, recording every detail from the weather conditions and their work partners to the excavation strategies they employed and their personal interpretations of what they are seeing in the field.  Below is undergraduate student Brooke Joseph taking a moment to write in her field book.

Photography is employed at every stage of excavation, from the beginning to the end of excavation in a unit, taking images of plan and profile views for each level and feature encountered.  The image below shows Michelle Pigott taking an opening image of a new unit laid in today.

In the heat and humidity of Florida summers, our crew is fortunate to be able to have lunch each day at a nearby pavilion overlooking the Escambia River, where breezes are more frequent and the mosquitoes less intense.

At the end of each week of excavation, we take all students around the excavation areas of the site to provide a guided tour and overview of the findings and ongoing work that week, as shown below.  We conduct similar tours for other visitors to the site, which gives our field director and graduate supervisors an opportunity to get familiar with summarizing information for lay audiences.

We hope you have enjoyed this photographic essay of a day of archaeology at Mission San Joseph de Escambe.  Not all days result in equally exciting discoveries, but the slow, cumulative process of conducting archaeological science is immensely rewarding, especially knowing that our daily and weekly fieldwork will contribute to our overall understanding of the Apalachee and Spanish community that existed here more than 250 years ago in the Florida panhandle.

For regular updates on our project, which lasts through the end of July, or to read about our previous three field seasons at the site, please visit our project blog.

 

An Archaeologist on Holiday

Street sign in Bath

This Day of Archaeology 2012 I was on holiday! My wife (not an archaeologist) and I had long promised to take a few days off at the end of what we knew was going to be an exceptionally busy June, so on this Friday June 29th we were taking the day off as part of a long weekend. What do archaeologists do on holiday, you ask? Well this archaeologist goes to the spa. Normally, I’m an archaeologist working jointly between local government and the university sector, and consequently I spend a lot of time cooped up in offices bent over a computer or in meetings about heritage policy and site management. As a result, a good way to rapidly unwind is for me to go to a spa, to move from pool to sauna and back again – and if the nearest/nicest spa to me happens to be in the historically rich and aesthetically pleasing city of Bath, then all the better for it. So, my wife and I got the train over from London and did *not* work on the train but actually read fun, non-work books (unusual in itself). We then pottered around the town pleasantly blending a bit of window shopping, real shopping and lunch, before spending the rest of the day in the wonderful ‘new’ spa complex in the middle of the city with its awesome rooftop pool from which we could laze around in the hot waters, gazing at the historic buildings and idly chatting about everything and anything under the sun. Drinks at a little bar we’d spied earlier followed (a martini being this diggers hit of choice), then dinner at a restaurant well recommended by the bar manager, before home to an early night in our hotel, full of food, snoozy and a hell of a lot more relaxed than the day before. It may not be every archaeologists dream day off, but it works for this one…

 

CSI: Sittingbourne Volunteers & Their Tools

Adapting ‘pin vices’:

Janine and I discussed her progress on investigative conservation of one of the Grave 111 shield studs She has brought in thorns from her garden to use for careful cleaning of the soil and corrosion around the shaft of the stud – this area has mineral preserved wood, reflecting the shield board itself. We got the idea of using thorns after watching conservation work on the Staffordshire Hoard.  Janine feels more comfortable with the softness of her thorn pin vice.

Janice was working in the afternoon on a spearhead from Grave 111, she prefers to use a very fine needle pin tool, that she made herself and brings with her for her sessions, when she is working on an object with fragile or intricate details (eg. mineral preserved textiles).

 

A volunteer’s tool and X-ray of spearhead from Grave 111

CSI conservation volunteer Janine working on a shield stud from Grave 111

 

 

A Day at the Shopping Mall CSI lab (Conservation Science Investigations)

A bit of an introduction and general update:

I am the conservation manager at “Anglo-Saxon CSI:Sittingbourne” [www.anglosaxoncsi.wordpress.com / facebook / @CSIsitt], we reported from the lab last year and are very pleased to be taking part in Day of Archaeology again…

Our project has had some periods of closure due to lack of funding over the past year, and we are in the midst of a fundraising campaign at the moment and seeking out new ways to fund conservation of the 2nd half of the Meads cemetery; as well as expand and take forward the CSI shopping mall lab concept. We are open 10-4 Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at the moment, and possibly might add Saturdays for July and August. Although we had to stop conservation work for a large part of last year, work on recording the large bead assembly, and reviewing the results of the conservation work took place, and the Assessment Report for Meads II is with the Canterbury Archaeological Trust editors and hopefully out soon. I shall be away for most of the next 2 months (family illness and then conserving on site for Rutgers University Dig in the Upper Sabina Tiberia Valley, Italy). So today we started to confirm plans to ‘down scalpels’ and carry out a further review of the conservation work and invite volunteers and visitors to attempt reconstructions of our grave groups while I am away. We also need to compile a list of research questions we may have about materials we might want to investigate further, with the portable Hitachi Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) that is coming to the lab soon – thanks to a generous scientific equipment grant that has recently been awarded to Oxford University (RLAHA) for the CSI project and general conservation use, by the Clothworkers’ Foundation.

Our partners, Sittingbourne Heritage Museum have counted well over 18,000 visitors to date; and last summer’s count of conservation volunteer hours topped 5,000 !!

The morning’s activities:

Heritage Studies MA student Vicky Price interviewing artist Rob Bloomfield about his work with CSI.

 

Volunteer Vicky Price (Heritage Studies [contemporary practice] Kingston University, MA student] and I discussed her work on shield studs from grave 111, and her main task for the day – her desire to interview me and our resident artist, Rob Bloomfield for our views on the relationship between art & science in our work, and processes of how we are working with the CSI project, for her dissertation (working title: “Narrative, craft and the investigative conservator”)

Vicky’s interview with Rob then turned into a larger discussion about authenticity vs. creativity in his drawings and also his observations that the work of the investigative conservator is a bit like that of a sculptor, but at opposite ends of the spectrum… and he came up with the term “intricate deconstruction”. It is great to have such a wide mix of people involved with this conservation project… and really great to have Rob’s fabulous range of illustrations – today he was sketching ideas for a poster to advertise summer workshops and this also resulted in a possible new T-shirt design, an Anglo-Saxon Warrior (We have an unusually high proportion of warrior graves at our site)… unfortunately, the sword ended up looking more Roman than Anglo-Saxon, so this is not the final copy – it is an interesting and sometimes tricky collaboration… Rob is an unemployed artist, and this is his first experience working with a professional archaeological project.

Rob’s sketches for designing a poster advertising summer workshops “Hands on the Past”

Rob’s Anglo-Saxon Warrior drawing (although sword and scabbard should be longer)


Mississippian Archaeology in the Midwest Heat

Since 2008, archaeologists have been excavating areas of a prehistoric Native American site that covers roughly 478 acres. The site is buried by a meter or more of historic gravel, slag, and trash in East St. Louis, IL and was present from about 900 to 1200 AD. During this time, archaeologists have dug thousands of storage pits and structures (storage, residential, and otherwise). Parts of this site are being mitigated prior to the construction of the new Mississippi River Bridge.

Notable artifacts recovered from this dig include a small flint clay figurine found early on in excavations. The importance of this figurine is two-fold; one for its importance to the pre-historic peoples that manufactured it, and second to demonstrate how historic development has impacted the site itself. The figurine was recovered within a burned structure adjacent to a historic drainage trench. Had the trench been shifted, even a few inches, the figurine could have been destroyed or lost entirely.

Currently, archaeologists are working in close proximity to construction crews. The bridge is scheduled to be opened by 2014, and our last few excavation areas are situated adjacent to the main construction of the bridge and surrounding roadways.

Once excavations are concluded, years of analysis will follow, yielding data that could change the way we interpret the prehistoric history of the region.

Today, I woke up before the sun was up; my turn to drive the work truck. After Memorial Day we implemented our early schedule so instead of starting at 8am we start at 7am.

At the lab I loaded up the necessary paperwork and equipment for the excavation block I worked in and made my way to the site.

Our supervisor (Patrick Durst) had already made the decision to stop field work at lunch today due to the heat. We did the same yesterday.

The block I’m currently in (EB14) is expansive, but most all of the features have been dug. All that’s left are a storage pit and a complex of structures. The pit only required a photograph of the profile to show the depth and the different fill episodes. The structure complex, however, required a bit more attention.

For me, this block is a bit of a breather. The block I was in previously (EB78) had about 50 people in it at its peak. Granted, there were other supervisors also working in that block. But, it was kind of nice to find out I’d only have to deal with two active feature areas and less than 10 people.

The crew in the structure complex continued taking down the basin fill. Within the fill we found an abundance of chert debitage (flakes of stone removed from larger cores or tools). Actually, that’s all we’ve found for the last two days: trays and trays of white (presumably Burlington) chert flakes.

They got to the floor surface of the structure and we began defining the architecture. Based on initial observances of the floor, this appears to be a pair of wall trench structures from the Stirling Phase (1100-1200AD).

By this time, it was getting close to 11am, so we started wrapping up for the day. Our block is dug down a few feet and foliage has started growing up around it. Add to that the backdirt piles created from the excavation, and the little breeze that is blowing on this hot summer day is greatly minimized. So, we were feeling the bright sunshine and humidity and were grateful for an afternoon in the lab.

At the lab I ate my field lunch (half a tomato, half an avocado, two slices of wheat bread, and a peach) and proceeded to the task of preparing for the expansion of the block I was previously working in (EB78).

First I had to go back through the paperwork left in the storage bin from that block to ensure it was all complete and ready to be filed away. Once that was done, I found the maps that would be impacted by the expansion of the eastern edge of the block. Studying the maps I found numerous structures that ran into the eastern wall. I set aside the maps and the notes for these features so that the crew expanding the block will know what to look for. We’ll be able to piece together the partial structures and will be able to assign the existing numbers to these known structures. This way, when the structures are dug we won’t have duplicate numbers and all the data will be in one place.

And that was my day. I wish I could say that something more exciting happened like I saw a wild dog scavenging a deer carcass on the side of the road on the way to the site or that I saw a building ablaze and billowing a thick black column of acrid smoke into the air… But that was Tuesday and Wednesday.

On a personal note, I was given permission by our project direct (Dr. Tom Emerson) to take pictures at the site to document the crewmembers working there. I’ve found that we painstakingly document every feature and every artifact, but when the reports come out the crew are (not intentionally) under represented. As well, I think the general public has a misconception as to what happens at an archaeological site.

What I’m attempting to do is to document people working in a “street photography” fashion. And I’m shooting it on black and white film that I’m developing at home in instant coffee and vitamin C. In the end, I envision some sort of an art-book/coffee table book containing the images in an attempt to mainstream the work we do in a positive fashion. Because yes, the archaeology is important, but equally important are the people that put in the hard work making reports on sites like this possible.

Making Archaeologists

Matt Hagar, Beth Pruitt, and Lauren Hicks on the East Cove screen.

Matt Hagar, Beth Pruitt, and Lauren Hicks on the East Cove screen. Source: Kate Deeley

The weather report says that today is hot and humid. High 101° F.  Heat index near 110° F. The students of the 2012 Archaeology in Annapolis field school from the University of Maryland know that it will be a sweltering and tiring day as they walk through their morning haze to collect their equipment from storage. They also can’t wait to see what they will find today.

Two weeks ago, we were in Annapolis. In view of the Maryland state capitol building, we excavated in three backyards, exploring the connections of past tenants to the Naval Academy and to nineteenth century immigration to the United States. For the second half of the field school, we moved to the Wye House plantation on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, home to a line of Edward Lloyds stretching back to the mid-seventeenth century. Here, the students chase the foundation walls of two slave quarters discovered last year.

South Long Green students.

South Long Green students. Source: Ben Skolnik

The site is separated into two parts. The South Long Green is located on the yard of the plantation, within sight of the Great House, and the home of the remains of a two-story brick slave quarter. The East Cove, where the students search for a building called the “Brick Row Quarter” on a historic map, is sheltered by a thicket of trees across the creek from the Long Green.

In running the field school, co-directors Kate Deeley, Ben Skolnik, and I recognize that we must perform a balancing act—prioritizing in turns the education of undergraduate students, our PhD dissertation research, and the communication of information to the public. It is a mixture of a classroom and training grounds. The instruction is as much somatic as it is intellectual, and the students have come a long way in their movements within the units, techniques with the trowel, and familiarity with the artifacts and their significance.

Richard Nyachiro with his measuring tape.

Richard Nyachiro with his measuring tape. Source: Ben Skolnik

The other element to add to the juggling show is motivation and good spirits, especially on a day like today.  The excitement grows as the brick rubble, glass, nails, and ceramic sherds coalesce into interpretations about where these buildings are situated on the landscape and in time. Despite this, the work is hard and the knowledge that Monday will be their last day to dig their units is beginning to settle in. Conversation is informal and playful—ranging from the childhood nostalgia of Pokémon to everyone’s top desert-island reading choices—and it helps the buckets of dirt go swiftly by.

Duncan Winterwyer with his root clippers.

Duncan Winterwyer with his root clippers. Source: Ben Skolnik

After lunch, the students are joined by Dr. Mark Leone and gather on the East Cove for the site seminars, which are held every Friday. The shade of dense trees is a relief.  One by one, the crew of each unit describes to the rest of the class the accomplishments and interpretations of that week. Using an extended folding ruler as a pointer, the crewmates take turns to indicate features, explain level changes, and point out soon-to-be-excavated artifacts.

It is a chance not only for the students to connect their unit to the others within the larger landscape, but also to proudly demonstrate their knowledge and achievements. They grow accustomed to fielding questions about the steps they took and the conclusions they continue to draw from their findings. After the students on the East Cove complete their tour, we move across the creek to the South Long Green.

Brittany Hutchinson with her shovel.

Brittany Hutchinson with her shovel. Source: Ben Skolnik

The students applaud their peers and create a rough circle in the shade of a tulip poplar tree. Though the environment is quite different, this is still a college class. There are weekly reading assignments, and each Friday afternoon the students discuss what they have read. The articles for today, focusing on race, class, gender, and identity in historical archaeology, are Barbara Little’s “She was… an Example to Her Sex” (1994), Maria Franklin’s “The Archaeological Dimensions of Soul Food: Interpreting Race, Culture, and Afro-Virginian Identity” (2001), and Theresa Singleton’s “Race, Class, and Identity among Free Blacks in the Antebellum South” (2001). The students direct the conversation, working through the topics of race, critical theory, politics, and the differences between an archaeology of gender and a feminist archaeology.

Like any other class, writing assignments provide a means for the students to individually articulate what they have learned. To balance this academic obligation with the project’s emphasis on  public outreach, the students contribute to the Archaeology in Annapolis blog. They demonstrate their comprehension of the work they complete in their units while also practicing their abilities to communicate this information to a general audience. Undergraduate Paige Diamond’s post, written today, highlights the discovery of the east wall of the two story quarter.

Julia Torres Vasquez and Molly Greenhouse create the American Plantation Gothic.

Julia Torres Vasquez and Molly Greenhouse create the American Plantation Gothic. Source: Ben Skolnik

Throughout the day, Ben pulls students aside to pose for “dirty archaeologist portraits.” He encourages them to take pride in their sweat-soaked, filthy appearance and take pictures with their field equipment. They take possession of this identity—archaeologists in the field. The portraits show the students as they are now at the end of the field school: trained archaeologists armed with the methods and knowledge that will allow them to contribute a unique perspective to this or any other field.

To see more archaeologist portraits from today, please visit our Flickr account. For more information about our excavations, please visit our blog.