Fredericksburg

George is Waiting: the 2013 VCU Field School @ George Washington’s Ferry Farm

by Dr. Bernard K. Means, Director of the Virtual Curation Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University

Excavating at Ferry Farm.

Excavating at Ferry Farm.

Just over a year ago, on the last Day of Archaeology, I found myself at George Washington’s Ferry Farm in Fredericksburg, Virginia, focused on using a laser scanner to create 3D digital models of artifacts recovered from this site.  Today, I find myself again at Ferry Farm, this time on the last day of the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) archaeological field school that I am teaching in cooperation with the George Washington Foundation (GWF). GWF archaeologist Laura Galke is director of the field effort, and her assistant field director is Eric Larsen.

Ferry Farm field director Laura Galke.

Ferry Farm field director Laura Galke holding a recent find.

Eric Larsen helps map the current excavations.

Eric Larsen helps map the current excavations.

 

My direct field assistant to the VCU field school for this effort is Ashley McCuistion, a GWF intern, current VCU student, and a legacy of the VCU field school.  Ashley was a field student here herself last year, and blogged about her time at Ferry Farm for the 2012 Day of Archaeology.

Ashley McCuistion is shovel ready.

Ashley McCuistion is shovel ready.

Ferry Farm is the location where George Washington grew from boy to man, and GWF archaeologists have been working for years to explore this archaeological landscape.  Nothing remains standing of the Washington-era structures, nor the extensive American Civil War encampment that was located here—directly overlapping the buried remains of the Washington house itself in some places. The history of human occupation in this area stretches back millennia, with evidence of American Indian use of the Ferry Farm landscape going back at least 10,000 years.

George Washington, third from left, stands with three of the field school students.

George Washington, third from left, stands with three of the field school students.

This year, VCU and GWF archaeologists are working to explore the backyard associated with the Washington-era home.  This was a working yard in part, with one of the activities reflected being the maintenance of wigs.  Ferry Farm has over 160 wig hair curlers—a large number from a domestic site—and these were associated with maintaining wigs for George Washington’s younger brothers.  The fashionable gentleman of the late 18th century wore a wig—the single most expensive part of the gentry-class man’s wardrobe.  Traces of a formal garden behind the house have been found as well.

The end of a wig hair curler found on July 4, 2013.

The end of a wig hair curler found on July 4, 2013.

Today is a bittersweet day for the VCU field school, as it is our last day.  The field school students will work on their unit profiles, fill out their unit summary forms, take a quiz on identifying ceramic types, and discuss readings about challenges in interpreting the past.  Most of the students I will see in a few short weeks, as they are either taking additional classes from me, and/or interning in the Virtual Curation Laboratory that I direct.  The archaeology bug has bitten these students, and soon they will be unleashed upon the world.  Rather than reflect on my experiences as their instructor for this field school, I’ll present here their impressions of their favorite thing about field school or what field school has meant to them, which they provided to me yesterday in written form:

Francesca Chesler : “My favorite thing about field school was finding a wig curler! This was my number one goal in field school, and finding one really boosted my confidence not only in myself, but in my abilities as an archaeologist.  In addition to this, I enjoyed the screening process because it gave me a chance to scrutinize the dirt excavated and look for additional artifacts which may have been missed while digging the dirt in the unit up originally.”

Francesca Chesler finds a wig hair curler.

Francesca Chesler finds a wig hair curler.

Aaron Ellrich: “My favorite thing is the camaraderie found in the field. Like the saying goes, “There is no ‘I’ in team.”—which is what I found out on the first day. . It is a team effort…. and communication is essential for not only understanding what is going on at the site, but, a time to get to know others interested in the field—you never know, you may be working with them (or they may even get you a job) in the future! Second to this, our field trips went hand-in-hand with this topic and enhanced my experience!”

Aaron Ellrich holding a 8,000 year-old American Indian stone tool.

Aaron Ellrich holding a 8,000 year-old American Indian stone tool.

Vivian Hite: “I think that with field school there wasn’t an exact moment or practice that I enjoyed most but what I got from the field school.  I took field school so that I could better determine if I wanted to pursue a career in archaeology.  The reason I love archaeology is because I’m constantly learning something new.  Whether it’s a new way to do something, a new technique or skill, a strange artifact, an unidentified feature, or just compiling the knowledge learned and applying to a more generalized question; it’s a constant cycle.  The flow of information from one person to another about artifacts, features, and sites is amazing to be a part of. That’s my favorite thing about field school. “

Vivian Hite, pointing, interacts with a visitor on July 4, 2013.

Vivian Hite, pointing, interacts with a visitor on July 4, 2013.

Stephanie King: “I consider field school to be the final step to becoming a legitimate archaeologist. The lessons learned here provide students with the necessary knowledge to execute archaeological processes on a basic level, and those who are flexible will adapt to the needs of related occupations. In short, I feel that field school is paramount to employment in any archaeological field.”

Stephanie King begins excavating a new test unit.

Stephanie King begins excavating a new test unit.

Ruth Martin: “The part of field school that means the most to me is all of the experience I am gaining.  Learning things outside the class room and applying things you learned in class has been a great experience for me.”

Ruth Martin works in the lab.

Ruth Martin works in the lab.

Olivia McCarty: “What I have enjoyed the most about field school is what a sense of accomplishment you feel throughout the day. It can stem from the fact that you just found a special artifact, someone in your group finding an interesting feature (this of course doesn’t include the 20th century trench), the fact that you and your partner have managed to keep your unit even as you’ve scrapped away at your layer, or when you finally begin to pick up the subtle changes in soil that at the start of the school you couldn’t see at all. All these things have validated to me that field school had been an amazing experience and made me hungry for more fieldwork opportunities.”

Olivia McCarty removes soil from her unit.

Olivia McCarty removes soil from her unit.

Linda Polk: “My favorite thing about field school had to be finding artifacts and trying to interpret what they were. To me, it was like a big game of Clue with ceramics, nails, glass, and all the other types of artifacts found at Ferry Farm.”

Linda Polk finds a wig hair curler.

Linda Polk finds a wig hair curler.

Lauren Volkers: “This whole field school experience is my favorite thing about field school, because it has helped me gained the skills and knowledge I need for future archaeological dig sites. I also enjoyed my entire time here at Ferry Farm and all of the people I met along the way. I had such a great time that choosing one aspect is just too hard of a task.”

Lauren Volkers compares a sleave button she found with a replica from a Civil War soldier reenactor on July 4, 2013.

Lauren Volkers compares a sleave button she found with a replica from a Civil War soldier reenactor on July 4, 2013.

Mariana: “I cannot express in words how much I value my experience at Ferry Farm. Field school was a chance to gain the knowledge and skills needed in order to become a successful archaeologist. More than that, it was a chance to connect with peers with similar interests and professionals from all over Virginia. Field school has been an amazing experience that has given me the confidence to move forward and one that has equipped me with an understanding of what it means to be an archaeologist.”

Mariana Zechini's finding of a wig hair curler attracts some attention.

Mariana Zechini’s finding of a wig hair curler attracts some attention.

Ashley McCuistion, far right, instructs the VCU field school students on their first day.

Ashley McCuistion, far right, instructs the VCU field school students on their first day.

I can add that I look forward to working with these burgeoning professionals in the future, and seeing what exciting research they are doing—and about which they will be posting in a future Day of Archaeology blog!!!!! And, you can learn more about our VCU field school from our own blog.

 

A Day at George Washington’s Ferry Farm

I spent my day today at Ferry Farm, the boyhood home of George Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  George lived in this home for most of his childhood, and it remained in his family for quite some time after he moved out.  Archaeology at Ferry Farm has been taking place for many years in an attempt to create a better understanding of the land and the life of the Washington’s during their occupation of it.  This year’s excavation is taking place behind the Washington home site (excavated in 2008), and our goal is to uncover the location of the outbuildings that supposedly stood there.  I just completed a five week field school at this site and had such an incredible experience that I elected to return as a volunteer for the rest of the summer.  Today was my first day back, and I was eager to start digging!

Upon my arrival I was immediately assigned a new unit to begin excavating with my good friend and digging partner, Victoria Garcia.  This unit is located in a particularly fascinating section of the site, as several odd soil anomalies and a myriad of strange artifacts have been discovered there.  Artifacts have included plastic toys, Civil War-era bullets, various historic ceramics and most of a porcelain teacup.  I have been very interested in all of the excitement that this particular area has stirred up over the past couple of weeks, so getting the opportunity to dig here was a real treat for me!  We began by chopping up the topsoil with our shovels and removing it in small squares, which took significantly less time than I thought it would!  Upon removing the layer of matted down grass and dirt, we came across a metal pipe that was sticking directly out of the ground.  No one was quite sure what it was, but I am eager to find out as we excavate further!  After removing the top layer, it was time to screen the matted down chunks of grass and dirt for artifacts.  We found a piece of a terracotta pot and some nicely decorated ceramics, but nothing more than that in this layer.

Our unit after removing the topsoil this morning.

While we were screening a group of children from a summer camp program came to visit the site and helped us go through our topsoil.  Ferry Farm is a public archaeology site where guests are encouraged to get their hands dirty at the screens as they learn about our work there, and I always enjoy being able to entertain and educate them.  The kids who joined us were very helpful and I appreciated their enthusiasm, despite the fact that our dirt was terribly difficult to pick through and had close to no artifacts in it!

By the time we were done screening it was time for lunch, and instead of returning to our unit after eating, Victoria and I headed to the lab with our classmates, Ian and Allison.  There, we joined our professor, Dr. Bernard Means, who was scanning Ferry Farm artifacts with his 3D scanner.  The four of us will be getting involved in his scanning project as interns this fall, so today was somewhat of a tutorial and demonstration for us.  The scanner makes 3-dimensional digital copies of artifacts, which can be studied and saved on the computer, and even replicated with a 3D printer!

The pewter spoon with the initials “BW” on it.

He first scanned a pewter spoon that is inscribed with the initials “BW”, which belonged to George’s sister, Betty Washington.  It was amazing to be able to see this piece in person, as I had only ever read about it or seen it in pictures prior to today.  Dr. Means also scanned a lead alloy cloth seal, a small metal hatchet toy, and finally, a Civil War Minie ball bullet that Ian found during our field school.

The Minie ball as it is being scanned.

The scan of the Minie ball as it appears on the monitor.

In all, it was a great day in the field and in the lab!  I love every minute of what I do here, and I feel so lucky to be a part of such a wonderful profession.  I’m glad I could share my experiences at Ferry Farm with everyone here today, and I can’t wait to read what others are up to on this Day of Archaeology!

VCU 3D at George Washington’s Boyhood Home

by Bernard K. Means, project director, Virtual Curation Laboratory

VCU students Alison Curran and Ian Salata participate in the Day of Archaeology by excavating at Ferry Farm.

I chose to spend my Day of Archaeology at George Washington’s Boyhood Home, located in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Archaeologists working here have uncovered traces of human occupation dating back thousands of years, but understandably have been focused on the period associated with George Washington’s tenancy.  George moved here at the age of 6 with his mother Mary, his father Augustine, and several family members.  A team of archaeologists is working this year–as they have in past years–seeking to broaden our understanding of George Washington’s childhood–a rather poorly documented time period.

VCU students Ashley McCuistion and Victoria Garcia look on as the “BW” spoon is being scanned.

My goal today is to use my NextEngine scanner and create digital models of archaeological objects recovered at Ferry Farm, including items recovered this year by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) students as part of their recently completed field school, as well as objects recovered in past years from  contexts definitely associated with the Washington family occupation.  These objects are categorized as “small finds” or unique objects that might be lost in traditional archaeological mass data analyses.  For a recent article on small finds at Ferry Farm, and how they can broaden our understanding of the Washington family’s personal and social worlds, I recommend Ferry Farm archaeologist Laura Galke’s (2009) article “The Mother of the Father of Our Country: Mary Ball Washington’s Genteel Domestic Habits” Northeast Historical Archaeology 38:29-48.  I began the day by scanning a pewter spoon handle with the initials “BW”–representing George Washington’s sister, Betty.  This spoon and its significance for socializing Betty in gentry-class society is discussed by Galke (2009).

“BW” spoon as it is being scanned.

The spoon actually proved more challenging than expected because it is thin, dark, and the design is shallow.  But, a little fine powder coating and a long scan seems to have resulted in a nice digital model.

The second artifact we scanned is a lead alloy cloth seal that resembles late 16th century AD examples from France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. We also scanned a Civil War Minie ball found by VCU student Ian Salata during this year’s field school.  An interesting artifact that we scanned was a toy hatchet made of lead dropped by a tourist visiting the place where some claim (erroneously) that George Washington chopped down the cherry tree!!!

 

Two Different Labs, Two Different Jobs, Two Different George Washington Sites

Hello, from the Commonwealth of Virginia!  My name is Tabitha Hilliard and I am beginning a graduate program at Monmouth University this September.  I am majoring in Anthropology, with a concentration in Archaeology.  I have the good fortune of telling you about two archaeology sites that I am associated with.  I know the purpose of this blog is to write about a “day” in archaeology, most specifically- the day that I’m writing this entry.  First, I am going to tell you about my work at the first site.  Afterwards, I will tell you what I’m currently working on at the second site.

Aerial Photo- pasted from www.ferryfarm.org

I began as a volunteer in May of 2009 at Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Boyhood Home Archaeology Lab.  George Washington moved to Ferry Farm in 1738 at six years of age. In 1754 he moved to Mount Vernon.  His mother, Mary Ball Washington, remained at Ferry Farm until she moved to the city of Fredericksburg in 1772.  As a volunteer, I was responsible for washing, sorting, and labeling artifacts. Beginning in May of 2010 I was accepted a position as the Archaeology Lab Assistant, my first full-time position in the field- woohoo!  I remained on staff until I fulfilled my X amount of hours in my contract.  I finished up my term last week, which gives me a few weeks to prepare for my move back to school.  While working as a Lab Assistant- I was responsible for cataloging artifacts, supervising and training new interns and volunteers, and cataloging new materials in the library and archives.  I also co-hosted VIP tours of the lab and I assisted with public events like our Deaf and Hard of Hearing Archaeology Day Tour (this happens once a year, during archaeology month- October for Virginia).  Ferry Farm is in the very early stages of development as far as public archaeology sites go, as a result I was able to assist with tasks associated with other departments- like putting together a new exhibit case in our Visitor’s Center.  I will be staying on as a volunteer at Ferry Farm to assist with researching several artifacts in our collection until I ship off for school in September.

TODAY, I am working as an Intern at Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens.  I began my internship with Mount

Surveying in the Upper Garden at Mount Vernon

Vernon in June and my term will conclude the second week of August.  I work here two days a week in the Archaeology Lab.  My primary task this summer has been to digitize features for a master map of Mount Vernon in a GIS program.  The department is taking all of the hand drawn maps of every excavation completed at Mount Vernon and digitizing them in GIS.  Some of these maps date to the 1930’s! The maps are scanned, uploaded into GIS, and adjusted to fit real-world-coordinates.  My job is to digitize each feature within each excavation project and insert the metadata associated with that feature.  The details of how I’ve been doing this can be found here: Mount Vernon Mystery Midden Blog. Other tasks this summer have included: mapping the Upper Garden, mapping the Lower (Kitchen) Garden and working on a bit of excavation in the Lower Garden.  It is trying to rain outside today, so I believe I will be finishing up the Laundry Yard project in GIS and moving on to the Dung Repository.

I love my field 🙂