Brick Excavation for Dummies

My experiences in field school these past weeks have allowed me to humbly consider myself somewhat of a brick expert. I have seen many different brick colors, sizes, formations, and techniques for excavating brick. Even though it is not an expertise that I ever thought I would achieve proficiency in, it is definitely an interesting one.

Unit 3 brick formation in Annapolis

Unit 3 brick formation in Annapolis. Source: Archaeology in Annapolis

My first exposure to brick was a very exciting and reasonable one. In our Annapolis field location, my group members and I excavated unit 3, where we found an accumulation of brick near our south wall. When we first uncovered the masses of bricks, it seemed like random rubble to us considering that there was no articulation in any way. In other words, the exposed bricks were not lying flat or in any discernable pattern. Had they been lying flat and next to each other, this might have indicated a path or flooring. Additionally, had there been some flat brick possibly stacked in front of our seemingly disarticulated brick formation, it could have been a fallen wall of some sort. Regrettably, it was neither of the two. However, we were eager to discover what it could be which required us to continue excavating. In order to be able to remove the bricks and preserve the context in which they appeared, we had to excavate the unit down until we saw the bottom. This is done so that we can see which layer of soil—and consequently the relative date—the bricks originated from.

As we continued to excavate our unit, we saw an increasing amount of brick appear in a relatively straight line. Though the bricks were not flat, they still seemed to be emerging in a formation. Also evident in our continued efforts was a concentration of soil against our south wall that was unique in texture and color compared to the rest of the soil in the current layer of our unit. As a result, we dubbed this particular boundary of softer soil a feature in our unit. What was interesting about this soil was that the brick we found seemed to provide the boundary that marked the ending of the soil change. This evidence allowed us some clue as to what the brick could have meant. It is our belief that the softer soil within the feature was a garden bed, while the brick around it was the boarder, which may have fallen or been disturbed in some way. This would account for the non-uniform position of the bricks when we found them.

Unit 3 proved to be an interesting introduction to the knowledge and complexities of brick. It allowed me to “get my feet wet,” so to speak, with this artifact. Little did I know that the next unit I would be excavating in Wye House would send me diving head first into the world of brick excavation.

Unit 84 bricks at Wye House

Unit 84 bricks at Wye House. Source: Archaeology in Annapolis

Unit 84 at Wye House has proved itself interesting from the start. The surface of our current unit had initially displayed a couple pieces of brick protruding from this ground. This was exciting to my group members and I because we were eager to discover any articulation to the brick and possible features or artifacts that surrounded it. However, we quickly realized that the brick was continuous throughout most of our layer. It seemed that the more we dug, the more brick we found. Likewise, it seemed to spread throughout the entire unit. By the time we reached our second level, we estimated that 75% of our unit was comprised of brick and 15% of mortar, with the other 10% being the little soil we had to dig through. It seemed frustrating to excavate, but that just made us more determined to make sense of our unit.

Our first step to understanding the brick was to look at the appearance of it. In contrast with unit 3 in Annapolis, unit 84 at Wye House had not displayed any articulation of brick at all in terms of position and formation. In unit 84, it seemed the bricks were more haphazardly tossed with varying sizes, spreading across a larger area. Looking down into the unit, we saw full bricks, chunks of brick, and brick rubble lying at various angles across the entirety of the unit. We saw no immediate pattern to the bricks, nor did one appear as we continued to excavate, as had happened in unit 3.

It seemed that the brick would never end, and we would have to excavate it forever. However, we were given constant encouragement and continuous assurance that all things must end. As it happened, today marked the final day of the excavation of this conglomeration. After the removal of more than 600 pounds of brick, we have finally reached a new layer, which is defined by a majority of soil rather than brick.

Though it was tough having to dig through all of that brick, I look back now with a sense of accomplishment and pride. Not only did we successfully dig through that much brick, but we also were able to hypothesize its presence there. Currently, it is our belief that the brick did not originate there, but rather was dumped. We are hopeful that unearthing this brick will reveal some exciting artifacts and features underneath which together will add to our understanding of Wye House as a whole.


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