Adventures in the Field: Week 3

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 # 3.

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By Lauren McMillan

Week 3: 6/1/09-6/5/09

This week started off as usual on Monday; we continued working inside the cellar and started bisecting the entrance.  The reason archaeologists bisect a feature like this, and in fact, all features, is so that we can get a good profile view of the fill.  This profile can help us understand deposition and how the feature was made.  For example, if the feature was filled in one episode, that tells us it was done quickly and most likely deliberately, whereas, if we can see multiple fill layers, this would tell us something very different; these multiple fill episodes could show that the hole was left open and used as a trash pit for years (and the artifacts that come out could tell us which layers date to what years), or if we can see mostly natural deposits, then the hole was abandoned and allowed to fill in by itself.

On Tuesday and Wednesday I took a group of students out on a satellite project to Edenton, NC. Edenton is another one of those beautiful small historic towns on the water I’ve come to love in North Carolina.  Founded in 1712, Edenton was the first colonial capital of North Carolina and hosted the first Tea Party in 1774 lead by fifty of the town ladies (the town’s symbol is a teapot).  This is definitely one place you want to visit if you love architecture and historic downtowns (I believe this will be the subject of a later “Preservacation” post).

Edenton site clearing with circle of trees and visitors. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Edenton site clearing with circle of trees and visitors. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

This was basically a Phase II investigation of an 18th century site located just outside of the town (for the protection of the site, I will not say exactly where).  A few months back the owner of the property contacted Dr. Ewen asking for more information on artifacts he had been finding (he’s actually been collecting, and doing a little digging, for about 20 years).  Dr. Ewen, Dawn and I went out and checked it out before field school and determined based on the artifacts, site location and documents that this was most likely a mid to late 18th century house site.  We decided then that more investigation was needed to determine integrity and the boundaries of the site and I would be heading the two day project during field school.  Dr. Ewen wanted to know these details so that it could become someone’s thesis project in the future.

Well, on Tuesday two field school students (Ash and Robert), another graduate student (Jonathan) and I took the hour and a half trip up in the morning.  The site is located in a clearing just inside a wooded area of the property.  The site had been plowed since the 19th century until 25 years ago when it was allowed to grow over.  In the middle of the clearing, there is a circle of trees, which immediately piqued my interest; if there was an intact cellar, that’s where it would be.  Trees love to grow in the soft soil of features.  We established a grid with the Total Station (a laser transit that can be hooked up to a data collector), which proved to more difficult than I had anticipated because the clearing wasn’t a perfect rectangle and didn’t line up with true North.  Luckily, the others are more tech savvy than I am; I prefer a shovel to technology any day.

Jonathan pushing the Ground Penetrating Radar. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Jonathan pushing the Ground Penetrating Radar. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Once we had a grid, we ran the Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) over the clearing and into parts of the woods.  The objective of this is to locate any anomalies that could indicate intact foundations of a building.  Our GPR is relatively new, and has a screen that shows a live feed, in addition to storing the information to make a map later.  While Jonathan and Ash did this, Robert and I worked on mapping in the circle of trees and exposed brick rubble and fragments with the Total Station.  That pretty much took up the rest of the day, and when we got back to school that afternoon we transferred all the data from the GRP and the TS into GIS and made a map of the site.  As you can see, there were quite a few anomalies present (as represented by the red lines), but a few stuck out.

Me holding the stadia rod (idiot stick). Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Me holding the stadia rod (idiot stick). Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

GPR map with trees and brick fragments. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

GPR map with trees and brick fragments. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

The GPR data suggest three possible intact foundations, so we decided to conduct a judgmental survey on Wednesday to look for any sub-surface remains.  We placed several shovel test pits (STPs) along the red lines, and had mostly positives.  In the STPs that did not have in situ brick and mortar, there was rubble, and one failed to reach subsoil, suggesting a deep feature, such as a cellar.  The information from the STPs supported most of what we saw from the GPR map, that there appears to be two buildings made of brick.  The artifact density was rather low, but the ceramics found, redwares, tin glazed and white salt glazed, and the hand wrought nails are good indicators of 18th century occupation.  The “coolest” artifact found was a bone utensil handle with iron in it.  I will be writing up the full report later and returning the artifacts to the owner, who hopes, with the addition of the stuff he has collected, to make a display for the Edenton Visitor’s Center.  This is a good example of public education and outreach by archaeologists.  Hopefully ECU will continue to have a working relationship with the folks in Edenton, and this site will make a very good Master’s thesis.  Overall, despite the over abundance of ticks and mosquitoes, this was a fun two day survey with interesting results.

Two in situ bricks. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Two in situ bricks. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Robert with his glory find: bone handle!

Robert with his glory find: bone handle! Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Well, back to Bath.  When I got back to the site on Thursday, I was greeted by a fully bisected entrance and much deeper units in the cellar.  If you look carefully at the steps of the entrance, you will see that the steps appear to be short, like one would have to tip toe down.  I do not think this was a way to keep thieves and pirates out, nor do I think it’s because people in the 18th century were shorter with smaller feet.  I’ve been thinking on these stairs a lot, and I think that there would have been wooden extenders, and there even appears to be slots in the wall every other step.  This is something that will have to be further explored.  The profile of the entrance fill seems to coincide with the cellar fill, with one filling episode, like they decided one day the building was no longer needed, and pushed it in on itself.

Bisected cellar entrance. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Bisected cellar entrance. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Slots for wooden stairs. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Slots for wooden stairs. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Well, other than the normal ceramics, animal bones, wine bottle glass and pipe stems, nothing new came out of the cellar this week.  Join us next week for more adventures from Bath.