Friday Links

Happy Friday! Here are some preservation related links from around the web:

Neon signs in New York City.

An excellent article about the value of sense of place (and historic preservation) from the Urban Land Institute.

Take advice from Sabra and change the [preservation] world with kindness. Write a letter to someone, a business, or an organization that has acted in favor of preservation.

How to preserve Auschwitz? (Thanks for the link, Adam.)

A barn collapses in Saratoga County, New York. (Thanks for the link, Luke.)

Wondering about the biggest snowstorms in history?

Need a summer field school? How about San Gemini, Italy Program – a 12 week summer course. (Thanks for the heads up, Andrew.)

Save America’s Treasures Grant Winners announced for 2010.

A winter sky is much different from a summer sky.

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!

Adventures in the Field: Week 4

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 # 4.

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By Lauren McMillan

Week 4: 6/8/09 – 6/12/09

Week four was defined not by new archaeological discoveries on the site, but by new methodological and interpretive breakthroughs. We got down almost to the bottom of the stairs this week, which is very exciting.  Also, we have been informed that there are steps similar to ours in the Palmer-Marsh House, a 1750s house located on the other side of town.  The stairs leading down into the basement kitchen of the house have wide brick steps with short wooden risers, whereas, ours would have had a short brick part and a long wooden step.  The wood would have most likely been used to prevent slipping on wet brick.  The Palmer-Marsh House has one of the three known 18th century cellars in Bath, which includes ours and one that Stan South dug in the 1960s in the yard of the P-M House.  In fact, Dawn, the other TA, is comparing our cellar to South’s in an effort to determine socio-economic status of the citizens of Bath.  One of her goals is to see how connected Bath was to the rest of the world in the 18th century; if the town was on the end of the world, or was highly involved in the trade and consumerism of the colonial period.

Sue excavating the stairs. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Sue excavating the stairs. Courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Palmer-Marsh house. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Palmer-Marsh house. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Stan South's cellar excavated in the 1960s. Credit: Historic Bath (click to be redirected to site).

Stan South’s cellar excavated in the 1960s. Credit: Historic Bath (click to be redirected to site).

We are almost to the bottom of the cellar, and will most likely be done by next week. Now that we have a large portion of the cellar wall exposed, it appears that the foundation of the building was in Flemish bond; and as all you good preservationists know, that’s the fanciest bond.  So, one of the questions I am asking, is why would a communal warehouse be constructed in a way that would require the most bricks, or even with bricks at all?  Why not make a generic post-in ground or sill set building?  My initial thoughts on this are that because it is right on Front Street, right in front of the first port in North Carolina and that most of the visitors to Bath were merchants, this was a way of advertising to the rest of the world that Bath was a cool place to live.  Bath was a fairly new town when the building was constructed in the 1720s, and the community would have wanted to encourage immigration and one of the best ways to do that was to show that the town had the money to burn on bricks.  My second, and completely ludicrous idea, goes along with the story that Blackbeard’s men came and settled in Bath after his beheading in 1718 and brought all their money and loot with them.  They invested in the warehouse and put in a secret passage to their buried treasure in the cellar.  I hope we find it soon; my student loans are stacking up…

Our artifact density has started to pick up within the cellar, especially tobacco pipe stems and bowls.  This is particularly interesting to me, because my thesis is on pipe stem dating methods, and I’m hoping to include this site in my data.  I’ll give you a brief history and idea of how pipe stem dating works.  Basically, it all started in Colonial Williamsburg in the 1950s, as most things in historical archaeology do.  Archaeologist J. C. Harrington noted that imported English white clay tobacco pipe stem fragments change over time in a measurable manner, following the basic trend of decreasing bore (the hole where one would suck smoke through) diameter from the 17th century into the late 18th century.  He tested this idea by measuring fragments from the 17th and 18th century using drill bits in 1/64th inch steps, from 9/64th inch to 4/64th inch.  With the data he collected, Harrington came up with five time periods based on relative percentages of sizes (see Harrington Histogram).

Harrington's pipe stem periods. From Harrington 1954: “Dating Stem Fragments of Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Clay Tobacco Pipes.” Quarterly Bulletin of the Archeological Society of Virginia 9(1):10-14.

Harrington’s pipe stem periods. From Harrington 1954: “Dating Stem Fragments of Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Clay Tobacco Pipes.” Quarterly Bulletin of the Archeological Society of Virginia 9(1):10-14.

About ten years later in 1962 Lewis Binford expanded on Harrington’s histogram and applied a linear regression formula to the relative percentages.  The Binford regression formula, Y=1931.85-38.26X, is a fairly simple idea.  He calculated out the expected date at which the bore diameter would reach zero, 1931.85, and the interval between the means of the Harrington time periods, 38.26.  With these numbers, one would plug in X, the mean diameter for the sample being used, to calculate Y, the date trying to be determined, or the mean of the data sample.  This formula is used by all colonial archaeologists to help date their sites.  There are currently two other formula methods; Hanson’s ten linear formulas and the Heighton and Deagan curvilinear formula.  I won’t expand on these right now, other than to say that they are loosely based on Binford’s, are much more confusing and are rarely used.  The goal of my thesis is to determine which of these methods, if any, are the most accurate and reliable.  As a post-modern archaeologist, I hope to show that applying formulas and predictive models to people in different and wide geographic areas is ridiculous and useless.

Measuring pipe stems. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Measuring pipe stems. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Well, the last thing that happened this week was on Friday, when I was up at Stratford visiting UMW’s field school.  Robert, a field school and graduate student, is doing his thesis on geospatial technologies and their usefulness to archaeology.  One of the sites that he is using is the Palmer-Marsh cemetery, and he was out there most of the week setting up a grid and making a map, getting ready for his data collecting.  He is trying to locate unmarked graves in the cemetery using all sorts of fancy gadgets.  On Friday Robert brought out the laser scanner and scanned in all the grave markers and ground surface to create a 3D image of the site.  This will help in determining any subsurface remains by looking at the change in surface levels and will be combined with later surveys he will be performing, such as GPR and resistivity.

Palmer-Marsh cemetery. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Palmer-Marsh cemetery. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Well, that about wraps things up for this week. We should have the cellar completed next week and will hopefully start excavating the builder’s trench. Robert will also be bringing out other geospatial tools, so more on that later.

Me, Stan South, and Brad at South's poetry reading. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Me, Stan South, and Brad at South’s poetry reading. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

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.

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.

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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!

Adventures in the Field: Archaeology at Historic Bath, NC

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 #1.

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By Lauren McMillan

Week One: 5/20 – 5/22/2009

So, I was asked by Kaitlin, and bugged by Brad, to write a weekly entry on my experiences while excavating this summer, and just FYI, this will be a pretty long first post.  For those of you who don’t know, I’m a 2008  UMW Historic Preservation alumni and am currently working on my Masters in Anthropology with a concentration on Historical Archaeology at East Carolina University.  For the next five weeks I will be working as one of the two Teaching Assistants at ECU’s historical archaeology field school in Bath, NC under the direction of Dr. Charles Ewen.  I’d like to first give you a brief background on the town and the site before getting into the field work.

Bath Town, as it was once known, was settled by Europeans in the 1690s and later became North Carolina’s first town in 1705.  Bath was home to many important men and events in NC’s colonial history.  John Lawson, Bath’s founder and author of A New Voyage to Carolina (which is still in print), made his home in town.  Lawson became the first casualty in the Tuscarora Indian War (1711-1715), while on an exploration trip.  North Carolina’s most infamous figure, the pirate Blackbeard, made his home and married his fourteenth wife in Bath,  right before Virginia’s Spotswood chased him down and had him beheaded (one of many reasons NC still hates us – did you all know that North Carolina feels this great rivalry with Virginia?)  It is even said that Edward Teach (Blackbeard’s “real” name) was actually from Bath.  Bath was also home to the first port, shipyard and library in North Carolina, and can still claim the oldest church in the state, St. Thomas, built in 1734.

St. Thomas Church, the oldest church in North Carolina, constructed 1734. Photograph by Brad Hatch.

St. Thomas Church, the oldest church in North Carolina, constructed 1734. Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Overall, Bath is an interesting place for all you history buffs and pres dorks like myself; there are a few state owned historic houses to tour, in addition to a beautiful view of the water.  To me, the most exciting things about Bath is that all of the streets and most of the lots are almost exactly the same as they were in the 18th century, as seen on the 1769 Sauthier map.  The town literally has no stop lights, just two corner flashing lights.  And for you archaeology nerds out there, Stan South dug a cellar the size of the one we are currently excavating in just three short days in 1960.  This is one of the sites that helped him create his mean ceramic dating formula and his site pattern types.

1769 Sauthier Map - Beaufort Community College

1769 Sauthier Map – Beaufort Community College

As one of the few ports in North Carolina, Bath became an important site of commercial activity in the 18th century.  We are lucky that many of the town records have survived, and we knew before we started digging two years ago that a communal merchant warehouse was located on the lot we are currently investigating; in fact, there are court records showing that two merchants were constantly fighting one another over space and merchandise.  I can easily imagine arguments breaking out over space in this building, since we just found a third corner this week, and now know that the building was 15’x15’; not a very big space for all the merchants in one of the few ports of entry in the state to share.

Site with happy field school students and intern house in the background. Photograph courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Site with happy field school students and intern house in the background. Photograph courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

While ECU and Dr. Ewen have had a long and happy relationship with Bath, this is only the third year at this particular site, which is currently called the Intern House, because of the building standing right on part of our cellar.  The past two years, the ’07 field season with ECU students and the ’08 season with Summer Ventures (a high school governor school program which lasts for about two weeks), have revealed a good portion of the mid 18th century cellar.  The ceramics are dating the site from about the 1720s (white salt-glazed stoneware) to the 1770s (pearlware), which corresponds to the historical documentation.  Of course, the majority of what has been found are boring ol’ bricks and mortar, but as Noel Hume says, “While bricks are not the most collectible of artifacts, they are among the most common relics of early American domesticity.”

Now onto the ’09 season; we have a total of 14 people out on the site this summer, six Anthropology undergraduates, two recent anthro graduates, one Public History graduate student, two anthro grad students, two grad teaching assistants and the professor. Our first week out in the field was a short one, just three days, but we were able to accomplish quite a bit.  We got all the backfill from last summer out, which was a lot! The cellar goes down about six feet from the top surface, and there was a lot of dirt down there.  When we were finally able to pull all the tarp off the site and see it in its full glory; I was very joyous.

We uncovered most of the north cellar wall and some of the east wall (isn’t it nice when buildings line up with the cardinal directions?)  Halfway through Friday we were finally able to open up two units from last year.  It was in one of these units (60N40E) that we found one of the most important pieces of this puzzle we call archaeology; the southwest corner!  This is the third corner uncovered, telling us that the building was 15’x15’.  This is interesting, because there was a law in place in the 18th century that within one year of purchasing land in Bath, a building of at least 15’x15’ had to be built; this was to prevent land speculation and to encourage immigration.  This corner was found at the very end of the day, right as we were about to pack up, as is always the case, so I know all the students are excited about starting up next week to see what else the dirt will reveal.

Well, that was about it for this week.  We should get a lot more done next week, even though it too is a short one.  Stay tuned to find out more about Bath, NC!

Field School: Eastfield Village

Coursework of preservation field schools varies from program to program, though most of the hands-on preservation schools focus on the physical restoration of building structures, how to read a historic building, and how to identify problems. Many wonderful programs exist to teach students these practices – the more preservationists, the better!

At Eastfield Village in New York State, the workshops offer lessons in different facets of preservation, perhaps facets that many of us often overlook.  The summer courses here focus on historic trades and domestic arts, how to use the historic materials and repeat the methods in a modern era.  Class curriculum varies from how to read a building to more unique classes such as tinsmithing, slate roof repair, baking & cooking, historic painting methods, traditional woodcarving, and many others depending on the year. See the 2009 course offerings.

When taking these classes, students stay in Eastfield Village, sleep at the tavern with traditional beds, eat traditionally prepared meals, and spend evenings by the fireplace with other students.  Participants range from novices to professionals.

Eastfield is a village created by Don Carpentier in 1971 when he moved a blacksmith’s shop to his father’s “east field”. Since then he has moved many other buildings and recreates daily life between 1787 and 1840.  Carpentier and other professionals hold annual, internationally respected workshops at the village.

Understanding the methods of the past in addition to the tenets and practices of historic preservation would be an excellent contribution to all of our skill sets.  Life in and around the buildings and landscape that we preserve deserves just as much attention as the buildings and landscapes themselves.

Registration for the Eastfield Village courses is on a first come-first serve basis. If you go, have fun and let me know about your experience!

Field School

With spring looming, we’re all dreaming of warm weather days, road trips, outdoor field trips, warmer survey weather, spring break, internships, summer jobs, graduation…among other things. One idea you should consider is participating in a field school this spring or summer.  Whether you’re in preservation or considering preservation, a field school can give you the perfect opportunity to do hands-on work and participate in group projects. While some field schools last weeks and months and cost thousands of dollars, there are often local workshops that you can attend and shorter field schools. If you’re employed, perhaps you have professional development funds or at least a few vacation days for a field school. Your best resource is to peruse the academic programs’ websites or PreserveNet postings. If you have the time and the money, the field lengthy field schools sound fantastic! See the University of Oregon, the University of Virginia, John Cabot University, and Old Salem Museums and Gardens, to name just a few – but there are many more. If anyone is interested in a longer list, leave a comment here or send an email.

I would recommend Poplar Forest Restoration Field Schoolas the best preservation field school, for many reasons. First, if you are consider the financial aspect, you cannot beat the price.  For two weeks, the $350 tuition covers materials, field trips, and everything else at the school. And, for lodging, all field school students stay in nearby Lynchburg College dorms for about $30/day.  Food and transportation to Poplar Forest are your responsibility.  Right around $700 with the known costs so far, that is so much cheaper than any other field school.  Now, for the content. The days are action packed, long days divided between lectures, field work, and site visits. Travis McDonald, the Director of Restoration at Poplar Forest, has been teaching the field school for almost two decades. He is wonderful. He’ll address documentation, conservation, restoration, investigation, curation, and so much more. On the website you can see a typical field school schedule. Two weeks was the perfect length for an intensive field school. I cannot say enough about Poplar Forest. I attended last year and wrote about it in these posts. (Or just read the posts from May-June 2008 and one is September 2008).  To apply, you have to write a cover letter and submit one letter of recommendation by April 29, 2009. If you love preservation or are interested in the field, you will not regret it.  There is also a month-long Poplar Forest Archaeology Field School and I can only imagine that it’s as good as the Restoration Field School.  Apply by April 8, 2009.

Enjoy the upcoming spring season and get outside! Field schools are an excellent chance to out of the office and out of the classroom.