We’ve started our third and final week of excavation on the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) campus. We’ve opened three five-foot by five-foot units around the remnants of a late 19th century building.
Since we are trying to use material culture to answer questions about what the structure was used for and by whom, our units were strategically laid out in three places: what we believe could be a front yard, in between two brick piers of the foundation straddling the interior and exterior of the structure, and in back of the building.
My partner, Joe, and I are excavating the unit in the front of the building. We think this might be a “front yard” because the building was likely positioned toward the dirt road that connects with the main Homestead (Woodlawn).
While ceramics, glass and even nails can be good for dating a site or a specific layer within a unit, these diagnostic artifacts usually only narrow the timeline to a smaller date range. However, we found an Indian Head penny with 1893 on the front which gives us a very specific year to work with. While this may not be the earliest artifact from our unit, we will know more once the artifacts have been cleaned and cataloged in the lab.
In addition to the penny, we have screened bags full of nails and other hardware which might indicate that our unit is in an area where someone might have had a discard pile for used building materials. The presence of fence staples might indicate there was a fence implying that there was, in fact, a yard to fence off.
Among our most interesting artifacts are also two bases from glass jars and ceramic from what is likely a plate. These glass jars are interesting because the bases are intact and could have been used to store food or water. The ironstone ceramic plate tells us that people were eating in or near the building.
These artifacts in addition to the many oyster shells and some charcoal found in our unit indicate that this building was likely a house where people lived and cooked and worked. Its location, behind the Homestead and off the main road, tells us that it was probably inhabited by the servants who worked at the house and farm.
My interest in Historical Archaeology stems from its ability to enhance our understanding of marginalized groups of people by studying what they’ve left behind. This site could help us understand what the lives were like for the people who lived and worked on this property and how that has changed over time.
I’m looking forward to seeing how some of these artifacts clean-up in the lab and to see what all of these pieces can tell us about the house and who lived there.