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!

Why They Don’t Let Me Outside

[An occasional series about my days at work. See links to other posts at the end of this one].____As an oral historian, my fieldwork usually involves traveling to interviewees’ homes for interviews, transcript deliveries, and other tasks.  Fieldwork to me does not usually translate trees and dirt as it might for others.  Once in a while, I get to tag along for an archaeological site visit, explore a historic building, participate on our public outreach projects, or visit Overhills.  However, it’s been a while since I’ve had to any of those, as most of the oral history project has recently been organizing content and editing the report – desk work. Needless to say, when presented with the opportunity to join a few coworkers on a field trip/site visit/investigation yesterday, I was thrilled.

We happily trekked into the woods in the sunny, 35 degree weather, bundled up and cameras in hand. We found what we were looking for: the former railway bridge abutments and bed. See pictures.

Railroad bridge abutment from the ground.

Railroad bridge abutment from the ground.

So you can see the scale.

So you can see the scale.

Over the river.

Over the river.

 

I love the cold, taking pictures, historic sites, and being outside during the day. I tend to feel like a little kid on such days. Because of this happy-go-lucky attitude, I nimbly climbed up the steep hill to railroad bed and snapped a few pictures. And then I jumped down about one foot, from part of the railroad bed to another, landing on a pile of dirt. However, as soon as I landed, I felt a shooting pain through my ankle and my leg. Ouch. Because I have resilient, strong ankles and this has happened to me before, I figured it would pass in a few minutes. I could still walk, stand, and within a few minutes the shooting pain was gone and the tingling was dull. I didn’t need to tell anyone, except one coworker.  We spent most of the day outside, walking, during which time my ankle wasn’t really a concern.  As we headed back to the office I could feel my ankle getting tighter. The pain continued to increase for the next hour of work and then on my drive home. I believe I spent my drive home biting my lip. I also realized how much I move my feet when I drive. This wasn’t something I had previously considered.

Upon arriving home, Vinny asked how my day was. I said, it was great, but I think I sprained my ankle. His response, “What were doing at work?”  After removing my boots and socks, I confirmed that my ankle was indeed swollen. And then pain continued to increase. I didn’t think an ankle could hurt so much! Ice was not helping.  I thought that maybe if I moved around like I had at work, it wouldn’t hurt so much. Not true. You probably wouldn’t believe how much this hurt.

Around dinner time, I sat in the kitchen with Vinny and one of our friends. I lost my appetite because somewhere along the way I turned nauseous.  Knowing this was somehow related to my ankle and wanting to get out of the kitchen, I went to the medicine cabinet to get some Tylenol.  I looked at the capsules, thought oh man, I have to swallow these. I need water. I put one in my mouth, leaned against the cabinet, and the next thing I knew Vinny was waking me up on the bathroom floor.  I fainted, apparently, in such a way that it looked like I had hit the toilet in the tiny bathroom and hurt my neck.  (Now that’s one way to scare my fiance and our dinner guest).

Vinny confirmed that I was okay and then I realized that I managed to somehow chew the Tylenol while fainting. That did not taste good, if you’re wondering. The guys got me situated on the couch and within 1 ½ hours or so, I felt much better, hungry again, and my ankle felt 100 times better. Today it’s sore and has a dull pain but nothing like yesterday. It turns out the sprain was more of a mild hyper-extension (so say the preservationist and English teacher).

After all of this, I figure this is why they keep me inside at work (just kidding). While working here I have driven down dirt roads only to be chased by dogs, been lost in rural Harnett County with the gas tank on E and no cell phone or gas station in sight, been stuck in a mud puddle, been trapped listening to crazy medical stories, flung dirt all over myself, and now this. I sound like a lot of trouble, but I’m really not! It’s just always an adventure.

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Other days on the job: Johnny, Break Out those Recorders, Those Unknown Photograph Subjects, Abstract Communities, Digital Work: Today’s Problem, Oral History & Me? It’s Complicated, Oral  History Musings, My Ode to Oral History, Another Day in the Field, Playing Archaeologist, 3 Hours in the Life of an Oral HistorianOr just click the “Working” tab under Categories on the sidebar.