Adventures in the Field: Week 2

Adventures in the Field: Archaeology at Historic Bath, NC is a series of posts about Lauren’s experiences as a TA at East Carolina University’s summer 2009 archaeology field school in Bath, NC.  This is post #2.


By Lauren McMillan

Week 2: 5/25 – 5/29/2009

We had yet another short week because of Memorial Day, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t accomplish a lot and learn new and exciting things about our site.  As I have previously stated, we found the third corner to the mid 18th century merchant’s warehouse cellar last week telling us the building was 15’x15’.  We cleaned it up for photographs on Tuesday and when we did this, part of the builder’s trench was revealed along the west wall; and later that day, in another unit, more of the builder’s trench appeared beside the north wall.  A builder’s trench can help date the construction of a building, because it is where the builders stood to lay in the foundation, brick in this case, and would be immediately filled in once the foundation was complete; if the archaeology gods are on our side, maybe the builders left a temporally diagnostic artifact in there like a coin (yeah right), a ceramic sherd or a pipe stem.  We will be excavating the trench separately in the future.

Ash cleaning up the unit around the southwest corner. Photograph courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Ash cleaning up the unit around the southwest corner. Photograph courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

The most exciting discovery of the week peeked out at us late Tuesday afternoon.  Two students were flattening an old unit down 0.25’ as an arbitrary cleaning layer, because we thought this unit was almost done, and came upon an in situ brick on the outside of the western wall, near the northwest corner of the cellar.  I became overly excited, and kicked one of them out and started digging myself, (of course I said it was because this was a very delicate process, which, it was) and soon a corner revealed itself.  Now, we were down deep enough, on the 18th century ground level, and beneath the disturbance from the late 19th/early 20th century building that used to stand there, to know that this wasn’t an intrusive.  After I did my little happy dance, I hypothesized that this was the bulkhead entrance to the cellar (Thanks again to Ferry Farm for showing me what one looks like archaeologically).  While Dr. Ewen would not outright agree with me, he didn’t dismiss me either.  I told him the dirt was talking to us, telling us we had found the entrance, which would give us more confidence in our interpretation of a merchant’s warehouse, since this would mean the building was facing Main St. and would have easy access to the town’s port; he told me it was just murmuring right now.

Jen and Dee find the possible entrance on Tuesday. Photograph courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Jen and Dee find the possible entrance on Tuesday. Photograph courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Dawn, my fellow TA, and I actually got down and dirty this week. Photograph courtesy of Jennifer Taylor.

Dawn, my fellow TA, and I actually got down and dirty this week. Photograph courtesy of Jennifer Taylor.

Well, by the end of the week, the dirt was screaming at us.  We found both corners of the feature, which is about 6’ in length and about 4’ from the cellar’s west wall.  We cleaned the feature up, defined its upper most limits, and could see there are more bricks below into the next layer. On Friday, the whole feature, builder’s trench and all, was mapped in, and let me tell you, that is a very complicated map.  We also probed the interior of the feature (between the western limits of it and the wall), and it hit something a few inches below the surface on the western side of it, and it went down a few more inches in the middle and then even deeper near the wall, suggesting stairs going down!  We will be bisecting the feature next week, but I am very confident at this point it is an entrance into the cellar.

In other parts of the site, we opened up two new units, the first this season.  These two units will come down right inside the cellar, and should be chocked full of neat artifacts, but for now, we’re still in the upper layers.  We did find a feature associated with the late 19th/early 20th century house that once stood there.  We’re not sure what it is yet.  At first, we assumed it was a pier to the house, because it lined up with one found last season, but our brick feature is larger, not completely square, is “hollow” and has some charcoal in it, so another idea floating around is a chimney hearth, or a planter (to put plants in…).  That’s something that we will figure out later; for now, we recorded it and took it out.

ECU Field School - Lauren 6

19th/20th century brick feature and auger hole from ECU field school. Photograph courtesy of Jennifer Taylor.

On a side note, have any of you other archaeologists ever noticed that there is one person who is lucky in the field?  I ask because we have one student, Jen, who has found something within minutes to hours of being in there.  She was in the unit that found the third corner, we moved her to clean up an old unit, she found the entrance corner, we moved her to help excavate one of the new units, she found an intact bottle neck, moved her again, she found the 20th century feature in the other new unit.  And another side note, isn’t it an awesome feeling when you know someone has learned something from you?  I did a presentation last semester on stratigraphy and the Harris Matrix, and showed how an STP that cuts a layer postdates that layer.  Well, we came down on an old auger hole this week, and one of the people who was in that class with me, turns and says “hey, it’s just like in your presentation, so we know that hole is younger than this layer.”  At least I know one person listened to that boring lecture…

Anyway, that about wraps it up for this week, catch ya later!


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