Rediscovering Old Foundations

Unit 66 is located where aerial maps and geographic calculations estimated old slave quarters to have been built. During the week and a half of digging my unit has spent a lot of time pulling up bricks. Going through the layers of brick rubble was tough, but the result was worth it. After removing the top soil we encountered large brick deposits almost immediately. Digging through a level of soil exposed a layer of large brick rubble. The layer was full of half and whole bricks and mortar inclusions. The bricks were accumulated in the northern half of the unit so we initially assumed that this was a distinction that could have separated an inside space from an outside space. We were hoping to find a foundation that would indicate we had come upon the old slave quarters we were searching for. Alternatively, this could simply have been because the medium sized roots in our unit were holding them back. At the bottom of the layer we found two articulated bricks, bricks that are in a distinct pattern, that were presumed to be part of a building’s foundation wall. However, we found no more articulated bricks in the level.

Pier foundation in Unit 66. Source: Benjamin Skolnik

Pier foundation in Unit 66. Source: Benjamin Skolnik

Further excavation revealed a separate layer filled with smaller and more easily removed crumble debris. This rubble began to extend throughout the whole unit. Disappointment reared its head as the chances of uncovering two distinct spaces dropped. Then a new discovery. We found that the articulated bricks were on top of another articulated brick square. All the bricks were mostly whole and attached together by mortar. We had found not a foundation wall, but the remains of a pier foundation. Pier foundations are brick pillars that are used to support a structure like wood posts hold up a pier.

Currently the pier foundation, though exciting, is being pushed aside as we consider the mystery of our stratigraphy. The smaller rubble layer gave way to blue clay all along the north wall of the unit. The blue clay color is similar to that found in the subsoil common to the region. However, it has been found much too high and has signs of being re-deposited. Along the south wall, a layer of yellowish soil appeared fairly high up. This color implies that we have reached the sterile level where no more cultural artifacts should be found, but it still includes various brick rubble. In the middle, along with the pier foundation, is the remaining crumble layer. Speculation is that we have reached a new feature in our unit, a builder’s trench. A builder’s trench is the large trench that the constructors would have dug in order to place the foundation. The trench would then have been filled in with various soils or debris. The area is filled with smaller rubble and various artifacts such as buttons, glass, and large iron pieces which supports this hypothesis.

With consultation from our graduate instructors, the theory was that the rubble was a builder’s trench that rested on top of the blue clay. The blue clay was used for additional support of the foundation and would then give way to the yellow soil. The yellow soil would have sloped under the rubble layer and the entire unit would have hit sterile. As we have peeled back the yellow layer we have found not a downward slope as expected, but instead that the crumble layer underlies it in the south-eastern corner. In the south-western corner, the yellow layer is deeper and richer. Now that the yellow layer does not seem to undercut the crumble it is possible that it is the blue clay that is a separate feature.

During our excavation, we have found various pieces of bone, glass, iron, and ceramics that we will use to date the unit and hopefully gain a richer understanding of the previous inhabitants. I look forward to continued digging to see what we will find and to solving the secret of the soil stratigraphy.


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