Unit Five’s Unusual Find

This past week while excavating our Unit (a 5’ by 5’ measure of restriction), in Annapolis, my group partners and I came upon a very novel and exciting new discovery. The suspicion of an absence of a specific soil type was raised by the evidence of a borderline separating two apparent soil types within a small defined area of the unit. I immediately brought this unexpected find to the attention of others. After slowly and carefully scraping away the surface layers, we were able to conclude that indeed something different was going on here. However, we were not aware yet of the unique formation that was about to be re-brought into view.

By following this border between a very white mix of coal and ash soil and a very rich brown soil we came upon a very distinct horseshoe shaped deviation. The shape was clear yet unusual in appearance. However, its purpose and means of formation was very unclear. As instructed, we began to carefully remove some of the richer brown soil from the interior of the horseshoe to make sure this ash did not reappear inside indicating that the level of stratigraphy had a burrow in it in this location. In the search for this soil we came upon a notable amount of large bricks that were appearing within this portion of the unit. Large bricks were also observed within this same level on the exterior west side of the horseshoe but their occurrences were not so dense and possibly unrelated. In the continuation of the excavation past this ash layer we came upon even more bricks, all within this same limited area.

At the end of the day we had uncovered a concentration of large bricks, with a significant quantity of nails and glass shards mixed together all within a small oval-shaped area. Before excavating this area we tossed around ideas of what this could have been, our main two hypotheses being that is was a land fill or possibly a fallen wall.

Today we bisected this feature (the pile of bricks) going laterally West to East (left to right in the pictures). As we excavated we came upon a layer of ash and coal below the bricks and a thicker layer of clay below that. From this we came to the agreement that this was most likely a fill. At some point a hole was dug out of the ground for a reason we cannot conclude and then it was later filled first with the clay, then with ash and finally with the large bricks you see in the images.

This discovery illuminated the importance of having a keen eye to discern when passing from level to level (of stratigraphy) while excavating. Had we not noticed this small area of absence of a particular soil type, we may very well have excavated in such a way that could have ruined this feature. Also from this occurrence, we were able to detect a clearer definition between soil colors and types. It was like taking field school stratigraphy 101. We had all at once three completely different stratigraphic levels showing up and I do not believe that it could have been easier to distinguish between the three. We had a white silty (a very thin light soil that may stick to your hands) coal ash, a rich brown soil that was sandy (sand will feel very grainy) and areas of rusty-red clay (a more compact soil that will hold its form).

I am more excited about this discovery than any of our other finds this past week. Within this one unit we found a collection of artifacts including old nails, a porcelain doll’s leg, a ceramic marble and pipe stem segments. All of these articles were used by whoever resided in this home in the past and more than likely, they are all items that were purchased rather than made by the inhabitants of this residence. The landfill that we found was created by a person living approximately a century ago. Their own handiwork, effort and time were put into the making of this ditch.   While excavating, I was able to imagine this scene and feel a connection to a person who I don’t even know.  This coming week will be our last week at this site in Annapolis and I am extremely excited to excavate even further and hopefully become more aware of what this pile of bricks once was and what stories from the past it has to yield.

The following are artifacts pulled from the same unit at a higher level, indicating that they were deposited more recently then this brick fill was.


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