Week 1 Round-Up

The 2011 field school has successfully completed its first week. Students divided between two sites—the Pinkney House and the James Holliday House—in Annapolis and began their training as archaeologists, learning how to measure out an excavation unit, use a trowel, screen for artifacts, map, and record their process. Both sites are located on small private properties in the city, so we can’t allow the public to visit the sites while we dig. Through our pictures and descriptions, we’ll try to bring the sites to you instead.

The Pinkney House crew taking notes. Source: Benjamin Skolnik

Archaeologists don’t dig the entire area of a site, but rather choose particular locations on which to focus. They first measure out units, which at these sites measure 5×5 ft. or 5×4 ft., depending on space limitations. Next, they peel back the layers of earth, collecting artifacts and taking notes of changes and features as they go. Archaeologists know when they have reached a new level, because the soil texture or color is different, possibly indicating a new event or period of use. The excavated dirt is collected in a bucket, which the archaeologist then pours through a screener to catch any small artifacts that may have gone unnoticed. Taking careful notes is a crucial element of archaeology, since the artifacts that are taken out of the ground can never be placed back exactly as they were found.

Unit 21 excavations. The trowel indicates north. Source: AiA Staff

The field school opened three units at the James Holliday House, two in the backyard (Units 19 and 20) and one in the cellar (Unit 21). In Unit 19, our budding archaeologists were able to identify sherds of decorated whiteware ceramics—a white body with a colorless glaze. Nearby, in Unit 20, the students found a layer of older brick under the ground in situ, which means that the bricks are in their original positions, and may be the remains of an older brick path. They found artifacts from a mixture of time periods, such as ceramics, window glass, nails, plastic, and a ceramic sewer pipe, so we know this ground has been disturbed within the 20th century. Down the stairs and into the dark, Unit 21 (pictured left) yielded a brick pad that may have supported a kitchen stove in the 19th century. The proximity to a ceramic flue in the ceiling and a layer of coal ash atop the brick help to reinforce this idea. The excavators have found cut animal bones, glass bottles, pieces of tea sets, and children’s game pieces this week, demonstrating that this was an area of cooking and playing.

Over at the Pinkney House, there are two units in the backyard, Units 17 and 18. While the units are on one property now, at the time of the original occupation, they would have been in separate yards. This area was covered by a brick patio which had to be removed before excavation. Unit 18 encountered an L-shaped deposit of coal ash, under which there was a stoneware jar that is like those used for kitchen storage. Like Unit 20, Unit 17 found artifacts of different periods like glass and ceramic marbles, as well as cut and wire nails. The students learned that the ceramic marbles pre-date the glass, and the cut nails pre-date the wire. Also within this unit was a sheet of linoleum flooring, likely from the mid-20th century.

On Thursday of this week, Dr. Leone conducted a tour of the William Paca Garden and the Charles Carroll Estate, which you can read about in beautiful detail in Andrea’s post from yesterday.

  1. Can’t wait to hear what you guys found underneath the brick pad in the basement!

    • Hi, Mike! Under the brick pad we found a fill layer of yellow-brown sand. In and around the sand fill was extremely dense with artifacts. Underneath that was basically sterile, so we’ve been wrapping up the unit this week.

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