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!

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.

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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!