Having completed two weeks of excavation, now is a good point to reflect and see what I have learned so far during this years field school. I came into field school this year eager to put into practice what I had only been reading about for the past few years. So, I volunteered to dig at the James Holliday house after listening to what had been learned from last years field school and I was eager to participate in the new discoveries that would be learned this year.
I am a part of a group of three that is working in a 4’x5’ unit just off from the rear steps of the building. The rear steps are part of an addition that was added to the home in the early to mid 20th century. One of the beauties of excavation is that a unit will surprise, frustrate, and intrigue you all at the same time. Early in the excavation, last week, we uncovered what appeared to be the remnants from a brick pathway. Also, about six inches from the northern edge of our unit was a brick patio, that was atop a layer of hard packed sand, that was atop a concrete slab.
Under that layer was when things began to get interesting, a layer a heavy rubble and in the northwest corner, an arch of hard clay that extended about two feet into the unit. We then bisected the clay feature, meaning that we only removed half of the clay so that we could examine the profile as well as the bottom of this feature. The clay feature contained fewer artifacts than the surrounding rubble layer and was consistent all the way down, abut six inches. With that understanding we removed the remainder of the clay. We then focused our attention on the rubble layer.
The rubble is a layer which contains mostly architectural debris (bricks, mortar, nails, etc.) as well as some domestic debris (ceramics, glass, bones, etc.). This is the layer which can at times be frustrating, with regards to working around the bricks so as to not disturb the walls of the unit and go deeper into the ground that we are prepared to do at the time. The archaeological processes is deliberate because do not want any material from beyond our 4’x5’ unit, because that is beyond the scope of our study, and we do not want to dig too deep too fast because we want to maintain stratigraphic integrity, we want to only remove on layer of deposit at a time and be able to distinguish between those deposits.
Those moments of frustration have given way to exciting moments of discovery. Earlier this week we recovered a large amount of paper with blue floral print upon it. Further analysis will be needed to determine if the paper may have been part of the architectural debris, possibly wallpaper, or domestic debris, table cloth, or something else entirely. Yesterday an intact brown bottle with a plastic cap was discovered in the bottom of our unit. There was great excitement when we saw that there was liquid still in the bottle. We then saw that the cap was loose, so the liquid may just be ground water. The most exciting thing found so far has been the recovery of what appears to be a small caliber handgun. The object is heavily rusted but distinguishing thing such as the barrel, trigger guard, and hammer can be seen. Like most artifacts we find it will only be after further analysis in the lab that the true nature of the object can be discerned. The discovery of the gun did cause a great deal of excitement for all of us at the field school and was a reminder that the unexpected is always one trowel full of dirt away.
We still have one more week at the James Holliday house, and I am eager for what I will learn next as I’m chasing the rubble.