Welcome to Wye

Last Friday we finished back-filling our units and said goodbye two Annapolis for the summer. On Monday we made the trip out to rural Easton on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and began our excavations of the Wye House Plantation. Despite unfavorable weather in the afternoons of our first two days of working at this location we have settled in and picked up where former Archaeology in Annapolis students left off.

As my colleague Emily Bokelman explained in her blog post entitled “Wye House Plantation and Landscape Archaeology” the AiA program has visited this location for the past few summers and various units have already been excavated.  Coming to work at a site that had recent history of excavations was something new to us. In Annapolis, the first visit our program had made to that particular location was this summer. Therefore, our first step was to complete Phase I level archaeology at the site which means digging shovel test pits (STPs). The STPs, which were set up on a grid across the site, gave us insight as to where a concentration of artifacts existed and where we should complete further excavation with full units.  On the other hand, at Wye, the STPs had been dug long ago and our graduate students already have an idea of where the areas of interest at the site exist.

We have set up six total units that will build upon the excavations done in the summers of 2011 and 2012. Graduate student Benjamin Skolnik used GIS mapping to determine two areas on the site that were possible locations of slave quarters. He primarily used a historic aerial photograph of the plantation dating to the early 20th century and a tracing of a historic map drawn in the 1950s and 1960s derived from LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) survey as reference documents. The two locations are the Brick Row Quarter and the Two-Storey Brick Quarter which are separated by a narrow span of swamp-like terrain adjacent to the Lloyd Creek.

Unit 66 brick pier foundation

Unit 66 brick pier foundation from 2011 excavations. Source: Archaeology in Annapolis

I am working in Unit 80 which was positioned where the front door of the Two-Storey Brick Quarter was possibly located. In the past two years, brick pier foundations have been excavated giving reference points to the parameters of the quarters. The graduate students made the decision judging from where the piers have been uncovered to position Units 79 and 80 in such a way as to have the two units share a wall. The Quarter is thought to face west and so in order to increase the likelihood of finding evidence in the archaeological record of the front door the two units share what is the south wall in Unit 79 and the north wall in Unit 80. The result is essentially ten foot long walls on the west and east and the standard five foot walls on the north and south.

Units 80 and 79 facing west

Units 80 and 79 facing west. Source: Angie Barrall

So far we have excavated about three tenths of a foot off of our unit. In my unit, Unit 80, we have uncovered a considerable amount of brick both in large chunks and in a pulverized gravel mix with mortar and oyster shell. However, an area with inconsistent soil consistency existed near the center of the east wall. A possible explanation for this area void of the larger brick and mortar inclusions is that this is the location of another brick pier foundation that has been removed. The position of the piers that have been excavated in past years also supports the existence of another pier in this general location.

As the example of the brick piers shows, archaeology is a process that is constantly building upon itself. Unlike our site in Annapolis this summer, the Wye House Plantation is a site of recent ongoing archaeological excavations. Referencing past excavations and findings is tremendously important when making decisions about where to execute test units. The most fundamental example of this is the relationship between Phase I and Phase II archaeology. The knowledge we gain from STPs determines where we set up units for more in-depth excavation. I have found that it is important to remember that the work we are do now will become essential reference material to future archaeologists.

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