The Last Day of Digging at University of Kentucky’s Archaeology Field School

I am a research assistant for the Kentucky Archaeology Survey. This means that I help out where I am needed. This week started by teaching groups of sixth graders about archaeology during a day camp (a post for another time). It ended with what I expect is a yearly tradition for most academic archaeologists: the final push during archaeology field school.

The directors of the field school will be preparing a post in the next week, so I won’t steal their thunder. Instead I’ll just talk about my relatively tiny role in the day.

My tent... REALLY early this morning

This year the University of Kentucky field school was held at a Fort Ancient (AD 1000 – AD 1750) site in Northern Kentucky. The site is massive and this year the excavations were focused on a concentration of posts and overlapping pit features. By concentration, I mean hundreds of features in the relatively small area of the site that is exposed. Next week the field school is concentrating on lab work, so for all intensive purposes this was the final full day of excavation, photographs, and documentation. As a result archaeologists from across the state came out help finish the excavations.

My assignment was to clean, photo, score, and draw the profiles of a completed unit.

Today my home away from a home was Unit 92, a cozy 1 x 2 m unit that was mostly 67-72 cm deep with the exception of a series of overlapping pits that extended to 123 cm deep. I found that the unit had a different volunteer working on it for every level of excavation meaning that the notes were mixed and the interpretation of the stratigraphy was based on a lengthy discussion between be and one of the principle investigators Dr. Gwynn Henderson.

The view from Unit 92

Photocleaning the walls required some archaeological yoga. Two bones were sticking out of the wall in such a way that they could collapse everything it I hit them. The basin that made up about half of the unit was steeply sloped with a slick yellowish clay bottom that absorbed every bit of dark soil that fell (requiring another trowel down). Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of the awkward poses I had to assume to finish the work, but the profile pictures got taken.

Interpreting the different deposits took a while. Gwynn and I finally concurred that this unit was at least two and possibly three pits that were intruded on by post holes and disturbed by different rodents.

Plowzone, Posts, Edge of Pit Feature

Then I drew the walls (only 31 soil zones… not too bad). Here is a link to a Panorama I tried to make while sitting in the scored unit, the stitching made it look a little weird in places. Sitting in Unit 92.


After closing out the unit I stayed a few extra hours past the end of the day to excavate a few post holes. We’ll be returning to site a few more times in the coming days to finish what wasn’t documented today. Look for updates from Gwynn and Dave in the next week!

Me, shoulder deep in a post hole


6. Roman and early Medieval Crickley: Matrices and contexts

This post will outline one of the most important tasks in post-excavation analysis – working out and showing how features relate to one another. I’ll discuss how records of data retrieved from the Crickley excavations might be used to establish stratigraphic relationships, and illustrate one common way of showing relationships – a type of diagram known as the Harris Matrix. I’m currently undertaking this task in I’m preparation to digitise plans of a building in a GIS programme (see 7. ‘ Digitising Crickley Plans and Using GIS‘). I’ll begin with an example of how a matrix might be used, in conjunction with context records.


More from Mount Vernon

Hello, I’m writing from our archaeology lab in Mount Vernon, Virginia along the lovely Potomac River just south of Washington, DC.  I’m a PhD student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in historical archaeology.  At Mount Vernon, George Washington’s plantation, I’m doing a pre-doctoral fellowship to digitize and put online artifacts excavated from a fantastic feature.  By the end of 2012, we will be offering a website devoted to the material culture of George Washington and the enslaved individuals who lived and worked near the mansion.  The archaeological record of this colonial household comes in the form of a large midden feature – chock full of 18th century ceramics, glass, beads, buttons, buckles, tobacco pipes, fish scales, I could go on and on!

Archaeologists excavated the midden feature from 1990 to 1994. George Washington's mansion is in the background.

Our vision for this project takes a material culture analytical approach that unites the archaeological record with probate inventories, a database of George Washington’s orders and invoices for goods from England, those items stocked in local stores, and even museum collections to better understand the developing consumer revolution on the part of colonial Virginians.

Want to dig deeper into George Washington’s trash?  We have a blog and a facebook group!

Here’s a sample of some of the highlights of the assemblage:

Imported 18th century white ball clay figurines, minus heads.

Stoneware mug made by the "Poor Potter" of Yorktown, Virginia, ca. 1725-1745.


Sword scabbard ornament engraved with partial "GW" monogram, ca. 1778.