Homo Faber

The proper study of Mankind is Man.

­­­                                                                                                —Alexander Pope

As a sub-field of anthropology, American archaeology is always concerned with the width and breadth of humanity and with the individual lives of its progenitors.  As detailed in other entries on this blog, this year’s field cohort have pursued this basal goal in line with the thrust of Archaeology in Annapolis and its research goals; having finished our work in the urban basements and backyards of Maryland’s capital, we will conclude the season on the Eastern Shore, investigating the dwellings of individuals enslaved in a rural setting.

Wye House excavations.

Wye House excavations. Source: Benjamin Skolnik

Archaeological digs have clear probative value in terms of addressing historical knowledge problems (and provide gristle for the dissertations of hard-bitten grad students), but they can be said to affect the people who carry them out in ways that might not be reflected in the discipline’s literature.  The fieldwork currently being done at Wye House is nothing if not manual, and it demands of its practitioners a certain modicum of physical vitality and mental stamina, especially when taking place during a Chesapeake summer.  In essence, the fieldworker’s task is to manage concrete materials (including artifacts and the earth and other debris that shroud them) in such a way as to produce data on their positions, dispositions, and relationships to each other and to the larger venue of the dig.  The diligent archaeologist selects her site on the landscape and circumscribes its boundaries, then peels back and sifts through its layers of silt, sand, and clay, then parcels out notable items, then weighs and discards less notable ones, then retains the excised soil so that it can be replaced when the unit’s anthropogenic materials have been exposed and collected.

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