Growing up with George – A Day in the Field at Ferry Farm

Excavation at Ferry Farm, George Washington's Boyhood Home

Excavation at Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Boyhood Home

 

By Ashley McCuistion, diganthro.wordpress.com

I spent my Day of Archaeology this year at Ferry Farm, George Washington’s boyhood home in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  I have been working at this site as an intern in the field since May, and have loved every minute of it!  We are currently excavating behind the site of the Washington home, seeking any evidence of outbuildings and trying to gain a better understanding of how the land was used during their occupation there.  George lived at Ferry Farm from age six to twenty-one, but the land was occupied by his family for 34 years, making it an incredibly significant part of his life’s story, and our history!

Though the majority of my summer has been spent excavating the site, I took on a considerably different role in late June when nine students from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) arrived, ready to begin a five week field school.  I was hired as their teaching assistant, a job that required me to instruct the students on how to excavate, keep records, and identify artifacts.  This was a very special opportunity for me, as I completed my field school at Ferry Farm just last summer and had an incredibly positive experience that lead me to pursue archaeology as a career.  I was very eager and excited to guide these new students through their experience here and share all I have learned with them, though I will admit that I was terribly nervous as well, as this was my first time teaching and I was not sure what to expect.  As the first week began, however, my nerves very quickly disappeared and I became quite comfortable in my new role – a development that was very much influenced by the enthusiasm and abilities of this great group of students.  I was constantly impressed by their positive attitudes and responsiveness to my instructions.  I truly could not have asked for a better bunch of students, which is what made this year’s Day of Archaeology so bittersweet.

Excavating with the VCU students on the 4th of July, 2013

Excavating with the VCU students on the 4th of July, 2013

Friday was the last day of the VCU field school, which began rather quietly as the students spent the morning inside taking a ceramics test.  I kept busy in the field by helping fellow interns Allen and Katie quickly fill a few wheelbarrows with soil in preparation for a kid’s archaeology camp that was coming out to help us screen.  Unfortunately, last week was our final week of excavation, so we only had one mostly excavated unit left to produce soil from, and what was left did not have much in the way of artifacts.  The kids arrived about an hour after we opened the site and went straight to work at the screens to see what they could find.  I was working with a particularly animated group, and I loved how excited they became every time they found something, despite the fact that all we had was a couple of nails and some lithic debitage!

After the kids left, the field school students returned and I joined them in scraping the base of the units they had excavated so that we could begin mapping them later in the day.  Once that was done, I dismissed those who needed to leave early and asked the others if they would mind helping us draw profiles of the southern wall of the site.  They very happily accepted the task and got to work, and before the day was done they had helped us complete every drawing, as well as begin the map for the block of the site that they had excavated.  Before I knew it, the time had come to close the site and head home.  I said goodbye to the students and thanked them for all of their hard work, and with that another wonderful chapter of my life at Ferry Farm came to a close.

VCU students Mariana Zechini (left) and Lauren Volkers (right), profile a unit

VCU students Mariana Zechini (left) and Lauren Volkers (right), profile a unit

This was my second Day of Archaeology at Ferry Farm.  Last year I wrote about my first day in the field after my last day of field school, and I could not have been more excited to continue my experience there!  I had no idea where my pursuit of this field would take me, but I knew that I had found something special at Ferry Farm, and I wanted to hold on to that for as long as I could.  I suppose it is somewhat poetic that I would spend this day in such a similar place as I did last year, this time as a teacher instead of a student…  I feel so incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn and grow at this site, and to work with such incredible supervisors, teachers, coworkers, and students.  It has been a wonderful summer at Ferry Farm, and though I will be sad to leave as this final week comes to a close, I look forward to my next adventure – and to next year’s Day of Archaeology!