Adventures in the Field: Week 5

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 # 5.


By Lauren McMillan

Week 5: 6/15/09 – 6/19/09

This was our last full week in the field, and while we did run into a few hurdles, we did eventually jump them and got a lot accomplished.  We continued with the same old stuff in the cellar, and are almost there!  One more day, and it should be finished.  Some of our most interesting finds this week were two different porcelain tea cup bases.  These delicate pieces of ceramic would have been imported from China at quite some cost.  These artifacts will be important in the analysis and interpretation of the site, because they appear to be the only “high status” items that we have found, and represent costly signaling.  The fact that someone in Bath was able to engage in such conspicuous consumerism should be an interesting talking point in Dawn’s thesis.

Partially excavated builder's trench. Note the uneven shovel marks on the left. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Partially excavated builder’s trench. Note the uneven shovel marks on the left. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

We started and nearly completed my second favorite part of the site, behind the entrance stairs; the builder’s trench.  This feature should give us a good construction date of the building.  The reason I like it so much is that I can feel a personal connection to the people who once stood in it.  As it is being excavated, you can see that a straight line was not dug out nearly three hundred years ago, instead, you can see shovel divots.  I find it so fascinating that you can literally see where the men put their shovels into the dirt to dig that trench that they later stood in to lay the bricks.  What is even more exciting is that we have found a large concentration of pipe stems in the trench.  I can just imagine the bricklayers standing there, smoking their pipes, and as they break or get clogged, discarding the stems into the trench.  The stems are basically the 18th century cigarette butt.

Ohm Mapper in action. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Ohm Mapper in action. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Robert continued to work on his geospatial thesis work down at the Palmer-Marsh cemetery.  He ran the ground penetrating radar over the whole site early in the week, and then on Thursday, brought out a new piece of equipment, the Ohm Mapper.  This thing looks like whoever is using it has a long tail dragging behind them.  I will defer to a short paragraph Robert wrote explaining it.

Resistivity is not new to archaeology, but the system employed by the Ohm Mapper is. Instead of the usual method of systematically probing the surface to send a current through it, the Ohm Mapper uses what is essentially an electric induction method which means that all you need to do is walk along survey transects dragging it, no need to take few steps probe and repeat. This makes the process much more efficient and less destructive than a larger array (usually mounted on a truck) is. The only problem with this is that it is really designed for detecting inconsistencies in soil at a minimum the size of a grave shaft, and at depths far greater than we would ever conceive of looking. So we have to adjust the array and see how it works, we follow a set of guidelines that Geometrics makes (the manufacturer) but it’s still an effort of trial and error.

Well, it sounds cool, and I hope he finds something there. But I think I’ll stick with my shovel and trowel for now.

High heel shoe marks on the site! Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

High heel shoe marks on the site! Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Now, as for the few hurdles we had to jump; we were flooded in more ways than one.  It was a media circus all week.  We were visited by the Washington Daily News and the Greenville Daily Reflector.  The most “exciting” of the reporters was from the local ABC station.  She walked up our three hundred year old cellar stairs, and left high heel shoe holes in the site! (For those of you who don’t know, these are both very big no no’s.)  I can’t believe how right Noel Hume was.  The other fun thing happened on Thursday; we got poured on during lunch.  By the time that we got back, the cellar was a swimming pool and the builder’s trench was a moat.  It was not fun cleaning that out.  But, that’s part of being an archaeologist; being a jack-of-all trades (and master of some?) and rolling with the punches.

Dawn sucking up the water with shop vac. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Dawn sucking up the water with shop vac. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

The site moat. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

The site moat. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

We will be finishing up next week.  The rest of the cellar needs to be excavated (about half a foot in two units) and then we will be cleaning up and photographing.  Thanks for reading!

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