Wye House Plantation Environment: Culture and Perspective

View to the Wye River

View to the Wye River. Source: Katie Hutchinson

I tried my best to appreciate everything that the Wye House Plantation has to offer in the short amount of time I was given to do so. The perspective that I created moving through this space was fluid. The first impression was the beauty of the open spaces, trees and river. The second impression after reading Fredrick Douglass was that this space represented horrific deeds of the American past. And finally bringing the space to the present for archaeologists, this space does not accommodate our agenda to find African American culture.

I am always fascinated with being outdoors, especially when I have the honor of being immersed in the profound beauty of the space that is the Wye plantation. When I first came here, what I noticed and appreciated immediately was that it felt as though oxygen is widely available from the big beautiful trees. The trees are not invasive because there are wide-open spaces for one to embrace the vastness of the world. The scene is completed with the serene and calming river.

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Food for Thought

Subsistence will always be an integral part of the human condition. This underscores the importance of faunal, animal bone, remains in understanding the past. Historical archaeologists incorporate animal bones in order to understand what humans ate, their social identity, based on cuts of meats, religious affiliations, such as constraints on pig consumption, whether they domesticated animals, how they managed their resources, and so on and so forth.

Wye House bird bones

Wye House Unit 80 bird bones. Source: Ian Guillermo

After sifting screening through the dirt from countless of buckets ,your eye catches a glimpse of this yellowish, spongy artifact that when held is light. You then get excited because you found a bone!, seriously am I the only one? and for the prospect of analyzing what you found back in the lab. In Unit 80 Level F, I found several small bird vertebras while slowly screening the dirt, to the dismay of my fellow group members- I am looking at you Angie! So you may ask, what happens to the bone after it is bagged and checked in? The bones will go through a process of dry cleaning since at this point the bones are weathered and porous. Afterwards it will be placed in the drying rack along with other artifacts in this provenience and then subsequently re-bagged. It would then be sent to the lab!

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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.

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AIA: An Experience

 It is good to learn about archaeology and its principles in a classroom. On the other hand, it is better to use the learning when out in an archaeological field. This was what I have done in the Archaeology in Annapolis field school. During the last five weeks of the session, I have learned new practices in addition to understanding how archaeologists analyze their findings. It was a steady process in which it takes time and yet it was worth it. Of course there were a few troubling moments along the way, but they did not hinder me from comprehending the study. I will use this experience when I go into a professional field in the future.

As I have mentioned previously, the field school is a series of steps that takes time and patience. It does not take one day but rather weeks to collect significant data. It includes profiling a unit, taking measurements, analyzing the stratigraphy, and examining the artifacts. In general, it is all about recording the processes as they happen each day. This was the first thing I have learned when we arrived in Annapolis in the first week and were given field journals. The journals helped us in keeping track with was what happening in the units or lab. In addition with teaching us how to dig a unit, the staff first explained how to create a Shovel Test Pit, or STP. From my understanding, this step is a prerequisite to see if there is an abundance of artifacts within a certain location of interest.

What pleased me about the field school is that there are the instructors who were willing to assist the students such as answering their questions or aiding them in the units. It is understandable that we must do the work by ourselves as archaeologists, but it never hurts when there is extra assistance in scraping a soil level or identifying an object.They taught us various terms, practices, and methods throughout the seminar. For example, Ben, one of the staff, explained about surface collecting, in which we look on the ground for objects that were brought up from natural occasions like storms. Overall, it is good that there are people who would use their time to help others.

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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.

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The Beautiful, the Sublime and the Picturesque

On Monday, our first day at Wye House, we were given a tour of the property. I particularly enjoyed Beth’s discussion of the picturesque, the sublime and the beautiful.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a movement to reconnect with nature.  For a long time people had been scared of nature and believed that it should be viewed from afar.  Ideas about nature gradually began to change and people slowly introduced plants into their landscapes.  However, most people were still wary of the power of nature, so they devised a system to better control the pieces of nature they planted in their property.

The beautiful in the side garden. Source: M. Isobel Taylorch

The beautiful in the side garden. Source: M. Isobel Taylorch

Landowners divided their wildlife into two categories so as to maintain dominance over the natural world around them.  On one hand there was the beautiful, the carefully maintained plants, and on the other was the sublime, the property’s collection of wild and untamed vegetation.  According to Uvedale Price, a landscape architect of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the beautiful is light, playful, intricate and varied while the sublime elicits awe and terror caused by the appearance of infinity brought on by rows and rows of a single type of plant.  At Wye House, the rows and rows of overgrown grass at the front of the property represents the sublime, whereas the small garden to the side of the main house, the mowed lawn directly in front of the main house, and the ordered and controlled bushes and trees on the side of the front lawn demonstrates the beautiful (see pictures).

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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.

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Wye House Plantation and Landscape Archaeology

The Wye House mansion

The Wye House mansion. Source: Historic American Buildings Survey

This week, our field school has begun digging at Wye House Plantation in Easton, MD, where we will be working for the next three weeks. This is not the first year the AiA program has excavated at Wye House – for the past few summers, archaeology students have been digging units at various locations of interest around the plantation.

Wye House may be best known by its inclusion in Frederick Douglass’s autobiography, as he was enslaved there for a few years when he was a young child. The plantation has an extensive history, which begins when Edward Lloyd settled the land in the mid-17th century. Wye House Plantation has been run and owned by the descendants of the Lloyd family ever since, and was active as a plantation from the 18th-19th centuries. Throughout the Lloyd’s ownership of the Wye Plantation, its landscape has undergone numerous changes due to both physical damage to the property as well as societal changes in America at the time. The original main house on the plantation burned down in 1781 and was rebuilt by Edward Lloyd the IV shortly after. Although not entirely conclusive, there is evidence that when the house was rebuilt, Lloyd changed its orientation to face the extensive “wild” and open land, as opposed to facing the industrial working side of the plantation.

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The Art of Profile Drawing

Unit 4 north profile drawing.

Unit 4 north profile drawing. Source: Audrey Schaefer

Drawing a straight line between given dots on a plane is considered to be an easy task, but it is the importance of every line you draw and the dots you connect that really matter in the world of archaeology. As you may or may not know, archaeology is a destructive science. As an archaeologist excavates to deeper depths in their unit, they are destroying each level of soil they remove. Any evidence located in the layer being excavated is only known and understood by the archaeologist that is excavating it. Once removed from the context of both the soil layer and the unit, the information is then lost forever.  In order to prevent loss of information, archaeologists take precise, detailed notes of their excavations. These precise notes consist of pictures, forms and reports, profile drawings, and detailed field notes.

For a greater understanding of the different methods of archaeological note taking, one must first understand a few terms. The first, most used, piece of information is the provenience data. This data is repeated and copied on every piece of note-taking material. The provenience information consists of: the site number, unit number, level, date, initial of excavators, and bag number (if it’s a bag consisting of artifacts). A unit is the precisely measured off area where one will dig. In Annapolis, we have four units, each being a 5-foot by 5-foot square. The idea is to dig as wide as you would dig deep. It is known that we will not go deeper then 5-foot in Annapolis, therefore we dig 5-foot units. When digging down the unit, an archaeologist must have the keen eye for spotting changes in soil layers. These differences can be characterized by changes in soil color, soil texture, and presence or changes in amount of inclusions. These are then “translated” into a standardized description called a Munsell. Inclusions are any piece of material (gravel, brick, coal, oyster shell) that may appear in the soil. Once the archaeologist reaches a depth in their unit where no more artifacts or changes appear, they begin the units closing procedures. This area, with no more artifacts or changes in soil, is referred to as sterile. To ensure that they have reached sterile, the archaeologist will dig slightly deeper down.

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