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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The Infamous “Rat Hole”

Rodent burrows on the north of Unit 2.

Rodent burrows on the north side of Unit 2.

Unit 2, my beloved unit, has come across quite a feature in the past few weeks. Not just a rodent burrow, but the beginnings of a rodent condominium. In a site like the one we are digging in, rodent burrows are not unusual, but they are incredibly frustrating. After Dr. Jocelyn Knauf’s lecture, I found myself reviewing the information we have learned in the past several weeks regarding context, and the effect the rodent burrow has on the interpretation of our unit.

According to “Artifacts and Active Voices: Material Culture as Social Discourse” by Mary Beaudry, Lauren J. Cook and Stephen A. Mrozowksi, in an archaeological context, the deposits of an urban area often result from rapid depositional episodes. These episodes can include many stratigraphic sediment layers, which can be missed if one is not careful. These layers can correspond with changes in household-level events such as changing waste-deposit systems or water/sewer management facilities.

Stratigraphic layers or features can be identified through their texture and color. To the untrained eye, they are sometimes difficult to discern, but under the careful watch of our TA’s, we have been fairly successful at identifying each layer. With the emergence of the rodent burrow, which cut through a separate feature as well as the rest of the unit (and continues outside of the unit), it has become more difficult to identify the stratigraphic layers.

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Unit Five’s Unusual Find

This past week while excavating our Unit (a 5’ by 5’ measure of restriction), in Annapolis, my group partners and I came upon a very novel and exciting new discovery. The suspicion of an absence of a specific soil type was raised by the evidence of a borderline separating two apparent soil types within a small defined area of the unit. I immediately brought this unexpected find to the attention of others. After slowly and carefully scraping away the surface layers, we were able to conclude that indeed something different was going on here. However, we were not aware yet of the unique formation that was about to be re-brought into view.

By following this border between a very white mix of coal and ash soil and a very rich brown soil we came upon a very distinct horseshoe shaped deviation. The shape was clear yet unusual in appearance. However, its purpose and means of formation was very unclear. As instructed, we began to carefully remove some of the richer brown soil from the interior of the horseshoe to make sure this ash did not reappear inside indicating that the level of stratigraphy had a burrow in it in this location. In the search for this soil we came upon a notable amount of large bricks that were appearing within this portion of the unit. Large bricks were also observed within this same level on the exterior west side of the horseshoe but their occurrences were not so dense and possibly unrelated. In the continuation of the excavation past this ash layer we came upon even more bricks, all within this same limited area.

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Unit 5

Archaeology in Annapolis has been a blast this past week and a half. I’ve learned so much more about Archaeology and the process of Archaeology in the past week than AI thought I would ever know.

There have been many quick adventures and learning curves; such as immediately breaking a shovel. On the first day. But, it was a great experience to go through so that we know how to act and react when a situation arises, with a little bit of improvisation (we had to use a flat head shovel instead), and some modified filed notes (because we changed the type of shovel we were using, we had a slightly large STP); the Standard Test Pit (STP) we had been digging went on to be completed successfully. STPs are designed to do exactly that, test the area, or survey the area to determine whether or not a site is in fact present, usually determined by whether or not there are artifacts present- an artifact being any item that has been acted upon by a human (if a natural resource), or pieces of an object, if not a whole object, that belonged to a human such as discarded toys, ceramics, pipes, tools, etc.

After the tiny mishap on day one, I get assigned to Unit 5; which is a lovely little 5 X 5 (5 feet by 5 feet). The space that we are digging was selected for a unit because when we were digging STPs we found artifacts such as coal, brick, and other material items of interest in that particular area in the yard. I and my unit mates are told that we are digging in what was allegedly a garden at one time. Interestingly, some of the artifacts that we are finding, and some of the layers of dirt actually seem to verify the idea. Such as we dug down into a layer of ash, which may have been in the so called garden to promote healthier soil for plants to thrive in. We have also recovered seemingly obscene amounts of coal inclusions, and continue to find more coal as we dig through more layers.

In addition to things that support the theory that there was a garden in or near the spot we are digging in, we have also found other potentially random artifacts, including brick, glass, and fragments of ceramics, pennies, and old rusty nails. There have also been fragments of hard plastic in some of the levels.

I am very curious about what all the bricks, which appear to be random inclusions, got to where they did and why they are in that formation since they do appear  to be buried in a random pattern; and I look forward to digging more to see what else we can find.



The Construction of Urban Infrastructure and the Process of Governmentalization – Lecture by Prof. Matt Palus

Today, Prof. Matt Palus visited Annapolis and gave a lecture relating to his dissertation topic involving the use of infrastructure building by governments in order to organize the society to optimize its control and authority. Dr. Palus studied public utilities such as electrification, and enclosed sanitation within Annapolis and its surrounding suburb of Eastport.  Traditionally, archaeologists had not seen value in studying these modern conveniences as something that could answer questions about societal structure.

Dr. Palus contends that the government’s mandate for connection to public sanitation services, the discourse related to the improvement of public health, and the acceptance of the government directive by the citizenry constitutes ideology. According to Mancuse large systems such as these transform societies. The primary concern of the people becomes the maintenance of system. The apparatus becomes a form of control.

Additionally, Foucault’s theory of the creation of self-discipline by creating the sense being perpetually monitored is reinforced when the government becomes governmentalized is evident in the city where public services are controlled by the government and social statistics and the apparatus of security are applied.  The measures of the population, the functioning of the economy, and the maps of sewer lines are examples of such statistics. As for the apparatus of security, census takers, health officers, and those responsible for public works are seen as examples. The street lights and sewers themselves are seen as apparatuses of security and become the material culture of the government.

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Unit 3 Characteristics So Far

Marbles from Unit 3

Marbles from Unit 3. Source: Kate Deeley

A lot of exciting things have been happening in the Archaeology in Annapolis field school for the past several days. My group has been assigned Unit 3 and so far has made some interesting discoveries even though it is still too early to draw conclusions regarding the information we have uncovered. Despite finding an immeasurable amount of coal and brick fragments, Unit 3 has yielded some peculiar artifacts, particularly glass marbles, 3 clear ones, 1 blue and 1 green. What is interesting about these marbles is that they were all found in level B and roughly close to each other. Although it is too soon to get excited about something like that, screening soil from other levels would give us more information about the relevance of the marbles and whether there are more find.

Another interesting development with Unit 3 is the presence of a possible feature that is situated well below level B. Initially, digging through Unit 3 was somewhat of a challenge since it is elevated on its Eastern side, thus proving challenging to keep the levels aligned when excavating. It is important, however, that everything remains equal and flat if we are to appropriately draw any conclusions from our finds. While getting to the bottom of level B, the team noticed that there is a large amount of reddish clay that covers much of the layer B. There are several soft spots of soil that are situated in the middle of the Unit and are very close to each other. Although this is just a speculation, it is possible that the soft spots are a remnant of postholes that were used in the construction of some sort of a feature. Again, this is just speculation, however further excavations into these soft spots and the Unit 3 in general would give us a better understanding of what was situated in the area of Unit 3 and what was its purpose. It is truly exciting to have a hands-on experience when attempting to answer such questions.