Week Four Update
Week Four of the Poplar Forest Archaeological Field School focused on Landscapes and Landscape Archaeology, which is particularly important to the ongoing work at Poplar Forest. Not only has archaeology revealed the locations of Paper Mulberry trees between the house and mounds, but archaeologists are currently conducting excavations in the front of the house, hoping to reveal Jefferson's “clumps” of trees as evidenced in Jefferson's writings. For the purpose of our field school, an important aspect of landscape archaeology lies in the fact that all things visible within any given landscape becomes a part of that landscape; in the most broad sense, Landscape Archaeology is the study of all aspects of a property. By examining the placement of buildings, fields, people and animals found in the archaeological record, archaeologists can follow developments made through time at a particular site. The work done by our field school this year has been focused mainly on Site A, an antebellum-era slave cabin site, and the area between it and the ornamental plant nursery.
Our teams have continued finding key information in each of our three excavation sites: Caitlin and Claire's unit has revealed not only a trench feature dug for a late nineteenth or early twentieth - century water pipe (Illustration 1) but also revealed a post hole. Initially, we were hopeful that this post hole would solidify the location of a historic structure, but it seems that since the same post hole was apparent at different points in the stratigraphy of the unit, the post most likely belonged to a nineteenth or even twentieth- century fence line. The findings were exciting nonetheless because our students were afforded the opportunity to bisect an archaeological feature (Illustration 2); that is, we dug out first one half and then the other half of the former post hole so that we could analyze and describe the hole completely from top to bottom. The final digging day this week allowed Caitlin, paired with Brittney and Micheal, to nearly finish excavating the layer of red clay fill in this unit. Near the bottom of this red clay fill, we found several pieces of a creamware platter (1760 – 1820) that mended with other fragments found in earlier excavations nearby.
The unit excavated by Dina and Cheyenne has revealed a layer of large cobblestones (Illustration 3), which as evidenced by the units surrounding it, suggests that the layer goes beyond just Dina and Cheyenne's to create a large area of cobbles that were placed there by human effort. We are not entirely sure what this means, but we know that the consistency and placement of the stones may reveal a larger architectural effort.
Finally, Micheal and Brittney's unit has revealed very promising finds. This unit continues to produce burned artifacts as well as sections of burned earthen soil which suggests that there was a structure on or near this unit that may have been destroyed by a fire. Not only have we continued to find burned nails and earth, but late last week and continuing into this week, we found a feature in the soil that suggests we have found the remnants of the burned wall to this structure. In the soil we have found pieces of burned soil and brick fragments in a defined line, coming to an end in our unit. This could be the wall and corner of our burned structure (Illustration 4)! Jack, Eric, Lori and Ashley have decided that we will open up units surrounding our unit to see it this feature continues... It Does! (Illustration 5) This is great news but now the team must decide how many more units should be opened to reveal the rest of this wall feature. The work continues!!
In the lab this week, we were shown how to process flotation samples from the field in the floating tank (Carefulness is KEY!), and we worked with Lori to continue labeling artifacts (Illustration 6) and we were also introduced to the cataloging process. Working with Lori in the lab has taught us all that the work of an archaeologist in the lab is just as important as his or her work in the field. Cataloging is quite time- consuming, but once we “get the system down” inputting the artifact information into the computer goes quite smoothly (Illustration 7).
This week's field work was cut short by a field trip to Historic St. Mary's City (Illustrations 8 and 9), the Maryland Archaeological Conservation (MAC) Laboratory (Illustrations 10 and 11)and the St. John's Site Museum (Illustration 12). What a wonderful trip! Despite the horrible weather that awaited us when the field trip was over (most of the Eastern Seaboard is without power for at least one week) the trip was completely wonderful! We all had a wonderful time- thank you so much for the opportunity to visit each of these places!
Illustration 1: Fully excavated Post hole and pipe trench
Illustration 2: The pipe trench and bisected post hole
Illustration 3: Cheyenne and Claire carefully revealing the layer of cobblestones
Illustration 4: Brick Fragments and Charcoal fragments; see faint outline for possible wall location
Illustration 5: The opened units reveal a continuation of the possible wall feature
Illustration 6: The Poplar Forest Artifact Labeling Station
Illustration 7: The Poplar Forest Cataloging Labeling Stations
Illustration 8: Reconstruction of Jesuit cathedral at Historic St. Mary's City. Remnants of the foundation and documentary evidence support this reconstruction. Notice the wooden grave markers which were also revealed through archaeological surveys of the area.
Illustration 9: Archaeologists excavating the cellars of Calvert House, a key dig site at St. Mary's
Illustration 10: A portion of the conservation laboratory for large artifacts; the large machine that resembles a washing machine is actually a freeze dryer which helps with preserving artifacts
Illustration 11: Some of the larger artifacts in the preservation lab- cannons and propellers
Illustration 12: The interior of the St. John's Site Museum- a museum literally built around an archaeology site. It is genius!