Adventures in the Field: Week 6

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 # 6.

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By Lauren McMillan

Week 6: 6/22/09 – 6/26/09

The last week of field school is always bittersweet; you’re excited about what has been accomplished and about the experiences you have had, but also sad it’s over.  You’re sad you didn’t loose all that weight you thought you would digging and you’re not very happy with the strange tan lines that have appeared over the last six weeks, but happy about the friends you’ve made, the stories you’ll have to tell and the fact that you are now qualified to be a shovel bum.  Or, at least that’s how I felt as a student, but as a TA (and I’m sure Dawn feels this way a billion times more than I do) you’re a little nervous about what’s next: analysis, interpretations and general deep thought.  However, I’ll leave those particular deep thoughts to Dawn and her thesis and tell you about our last week in Bath.

All of Monday and half of Tuesday were devoted to finishing the last bit of the cellar and the builder’s trench.  We finally came down onto the sandy occupation layer in the cellar and were expecting all sorts of neat, possibly whole, artifacts from when the building was in use.  We were sorely disappointed; the artifact density almost completely dropped off under the fill layer.  We did find a few nicely dated pieces of ceramics, such as Staffordshire slip-wares, and thank the archaeology gods, no whiteware or even pearlware!  One of the biggest surprises was a half a cask, or barrel, hoop.  We weren’t exactly excited to find this on Tuesday, as we were trying to finish because Wednesday was our last day, and it was a half day at that.  But, Ash pulled through for us, and got the whole thing out pretty quickly.  The cask hoop was a nice way to finish up the season though, because it helps support the interpretation of a merchant’s storehouse.  It would be in this type of container that merchandise, such as lead shot or naval stores, would be shipped to and from England.

Half of a cask hoop on the cellar floor. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Half of a cask hoop on the cellar floor. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

At the end of Tuesday Robert brought out the laser scanner again (I mentioned in week 4 he scanned in the Palmer-Marsh cemetery to create a 3D image of it).  This time, he scanned in the excavated cellar.  It was quite funny at the time, because two students and I were making a section map of the stairs, the old fashion way, when the technology-mobile pulled up and somewhat one upped my line level and pencil. Again, I’ll defer to Robert in explaining how this works.

Laser scanner. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Laser scanner. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

You saw how long it took you to make just a profile of the stairs, well in roughly the same time I made a 3D map of the entire cellar with an error budget (average error) of 1mm. So I essentially collected all the data on the size of the cellar, bricks, mortar, etc. and it can all be verified, measured, manipulated, rastered, and rendered into a hard surface easily within a computer, and that data is much easier to store and preserve than even acid free paper (a damaged hard drive can still store data). So if Dawn or anyone at a later time wanted to import the cellar data into GIS they can and view any aspect of it they wish, and they can get measurements in any unit they want. Heck if you were bored you could change the unit to parsecs and see how infinitesimally small our site is.

Measuring and drawing the stairs the old fashioned way. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Measuring and drawing the stairs the old fashioned way. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

I have not seen the results of the scanner, but I’ll believe it when I see it.  I’m not sure how well it would have been able to pick up the depth differences of the slots for the wooden steps; when I asked the professor out there helping Robert, he told me that he didn’t think the scanner would get it. So, we still would have had to hand draw it.  It was a John Henry story, minus me dying in the end.

Cellar with laser scanner prisms and measuring the old way in the background.  I almost became a Luddite. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Cellar with laser scanner prisms and measuring the old way in the background. I almost became a Luddite. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Cellar from the roof of the Intern House. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Cellar from the roof of the Intern House. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

On Wednesday we did our final cleaning, drawing and took the site photos.  I must say, from the roof of the Intern House, the cellar looked pretty awesome.  Promptly after lunch, it was filled in by a backhoe, which, in itself, was cool to watch.  We backfill the site for a variety of reasons; people always ask why we don’t leave it open for the public to see.  To me, the most important is for the preservation and integrity of the cellar itself.  Secondly, it’s kind of dangerous to have a big hole in the ground on public property.  Lastly, for future research; we did not dig the whole cellar, because some of it is under the Intern House.  Also, what’s left there can be excavated and a restudy can be conducted when there are new techniques, technologies or simply fresh research questions to ask.

Cellar being filled in with a backhoe. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Cellar being filled in with a backhoe. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

ECU Bath Field School 2009. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

ECU Bath Field School 2009. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

This finished up the 2009 Bath field school.  It was a fun six weeks in which we all learned, not just about the past and dirt archaeology, but about what’s next in the field, the technologies, and of course, a little bit about ourselves.

Since this was a somewhat short post, I’ll go ahead and tell you all about what Dawn and I did the rest of the week.  We skipped out during the filling of the cellar and headed back to campus to put all the equipment away and as soon as this was done, we hit the road.  We went to Town Creek Indian Mound, near Charlotte, NC, to dig and camp for a few days.  Town Creek is a Mississippian influenced Pee Dee site, dating from around 1100-1500AD and is the eastern most Mississippian mound in the country.  Basically, it was an awesome experience, and my first prehistoric excavation.  We were part of a volunteer group under professors from UNC Chapel Hill, and one of our ECU professor’s, whose work has revolved around the village at Town Creek.  The purpose of this investigation was to find the outer palisade, and we did.  As far as artifacts, we found a Clovis point, the oldest artifact ever found there, and more lithics than I thought possible.

Town Creek archaeological site with the mound in the background. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Town Creek archaeological site with the mound in the background. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Dawn and me working?! I guess we’ll dig if we’re not being paid. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Dawn and me working?! I guess we’ll dig if we’re not being paid. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Palisade postholes. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Palisade postholes. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Well, this is my last Adventures in the Field post.  I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and possibly even learned something.  I know I’ve had fun writing these, and thinking critically about what I do and what I’ve learned.  Thanks for reading!

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