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