The Art of Mapping and Its Implications

Despite the recent increase of various types of new technology in the field of archaeology, including GIS, LiDAR, and more, archaeologists still like to stick to the old paper-and-pencil route for many tasks out in the field. With the discovery of a large collection of artifacts this past week, I had the opportunity to further develop my paper-and-pencil skills by mapping a unit, while also learning about the implications that such maps can have when it comes to the archaeological sites here at Wye House.

Exposed artifact arrangement under entryway to quarter

Units 79 and 80 facing what would have been the inside of the quarter. Source: Archaeology in Annapolis

As the June 20th post entitled, “Welcome to Wye,” states, Units 79 and 80 have been placed along the front door of a two-story brick quarter. For many days, these two units excavated through a variety of artifacts, including glass, ceramics, nails, and more brick and mortar than we knew what to do with. As interesting as these artifacts were, there was no discernible pattern that reflected a significance of the doorway equivalent to the spiritual bundles found in the greenhouse three summers ago. That all changed just a few days ago when both units seemed to simultaneously come down onto a potentially significant assortment of artifacts amidst even more brick and mortar. In Unit 79, we uncovered several flat pieces of iron, a large round piece of glass from the bottom of a jug, various pieces of glass bottles, an inkwell, and an unknown metal fixture and in Unit 80, we uncovered more pieces of iron and glass, as well as a large spoked wheel.

A look at the completed map for Units 79 and 80

A look at the completed map for Units 79 and 80. Source: Norma Oldfield

While we were all excited by what we discovered, we could not proceed with these units until they were both mapped. In archaeology, when a site is excavated or disturbed in any way, artifacts are removed from their original context and can never be put back exactly as they were found. By creating maps of the unit, archaeologists are still able to interpret a unit long after it has been disturbed. Although it is standard procedure to map a unit after excavating a new level, those maps typically plot only the larger characteristics and artifacts. But because Units 79 and 80 had come down on such an odd collection of artifacts, a more detailed map was needed. This time around, not only were the larger artifacts to be mapped, but also every piece of brick, stone, mortar, and small artifacts in the unit.

Student Katie Hutchinson measuring the location of various artifacts

Student Katie Hutchinson measuring the location of various artifacts. Source: Norma Oldfield

When mapping a unit, archaeologists generally lay out a folding ruler along one wall of the unit. With another folding ruler in their hand, they then measure how far down the wall and how far into the unit an artifact is located. The bigger an artifact or the more oddly-shaped it is, the more coordinates are required in order to get an accurate representation on the grid. Because the folding rulers have to be laid out on the surface of the unit, we soon learned that this process is made even more efficient and accurate by the use of a plum-bob, which allows us to locate precisely how far into the unit an artifact is even if we have dug several feet into the ground. Admittedly, the entire process of mapping ended up taking us much longer than anticipated, since every measurement had to be exactly precise no matter how large or small an artifact was. Along the way, we were shown several different ways to map a unit and eventually adapted what we believed to be the most efficient method for us.

Iron wheel in artifact assemblage

Iron wheel in artifact assemblage. Source: Archaeology in Annapolis

With this map completed, we will now (hopefully) be able to discern whether there is a pattern of artifact distribution that exists between these two units. At first glance, Units 79 and 80 seem to consist of a number of random artifacts that have been deposited into the ground. However, armed with a detailed map, it may become easier to see some of these patterns. For example, many of these artifacts, which are located largely along the same axis inside the doorway, are circular in shape. The spoked wheel in Unit 80 may be taken to represent a cosmogram, which is one of many manifestations of Kongo, or Bakongo, culture in the Americas, and is evidence of material culture for enslaved African-Americans. In addition, the abundance of iron materials that are also located along the same axis could be linked to Ogoun, the Yoruba Orisha warrior deity of iron, amongst other things. Despite the possibility that this collection of artifacts might be evidence of African spiritual worship that was carried on in the Americas, no conclusive interpretations can be drawn from these two units just yet.

Unfortunately, with the end of this year’s field season closing in, further excavations of these two units have been put on hold. However, be sure to check back the following year, when Archaeology in Annapolis revisits Wye House and the front door of this two-story quarter. It is almost a certain possibility that even more similar artifacts will be uncovered, allowing further mapping of this unique deposit to be made.

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