Tuesday, July 31, 2007

July 23-25: WEEK 3 Dig Diary

Students and volunteers have made a lot of progress during our third week of excavation. We have our first completed unit! It is excavated around 60 cm below the surface of the yard, through subsoil to the "substratum." In this area of Dartmouth, where we have "Paxton" type soils, the substratum is a grayish, firm sandy loam. We will finish at least two more units next week. Through hard work and careful observation, we have gained a clear idea of the depth and characteristics of soil levels at the Akin house site. When we dig a unit and the soil does not meet these expectations, as in AH3 by the front door or AH10 in the rear yard, we know we're looking at the remnants of distinctive events.

AH1: front yard
Justin and Scott started Week 3 in a very interesting new unit in the far rear yard, AH10 (see below). They are now nearly done with AH1. Scott describes how they "brought the unit down another 10-15 cmbs [cm below surface] to dig at least 20 cm through subsoil and hit the substratum. We were still in the process of that by the end of the week. No cultural artifacts were found."

AH2: front yard, edge of the berm
Volunteers continued their work in AH2, taking down the mottled deep orange redeposited subsoil that makes up the foundation berm. Artifacts are rare in this context, but small fragments of brick and ceramics are still appearing in our soil screens. This unit is a transitional space between the undisturbed front yard and the berm from the construction of the Akin House. We expect to come upon undisturbed subsoil soon.

AH3: front yard, on the berm & by the front door
Lisa and Shane are soldiering on, digging through redeposited subsoil in the berm adjacent to the house foundation. AH3 is the deepest unit by far. They are around 80 cm below surface and have not yet hit undisturbed soil levels! Lisa relates that "a coring was done in unit three and it showed that there were at least six inches of soil to dig out before we reached sterile sub-soil... The hole is so deep now that both of us cannot dig at the same time. I was thinking that we might not reach sterile sub-soil until the hole is level with the floor of the basement, which is still a ways away. There haven’t been any artifacts in this unit for a long time. I hope we will be able to finish this unit by the end of next week."

AH4: side yard
Congratulations to Erica and Gabe! They are the first to close out their unit. Gabe was happy with this achievement, writing that "this week in unit 4 was exciting not only because we are finished with it, but also because we learned what needs to be done when you finish a unit. It requires some time to take exact measurements and draw each layer by graphing it... I didn't think archaeologists worked as hard as we have been." He and Erica are looking forward to opening our last new unit in the middle of the back yard, unit AH7. We'll see what it holds next week!

: side yard, far corner

Pat and Cassie are feeling a little discouraged by the lack of artifacts in AH5 as they complete its excavation, and by the fact that we never found the suspected post hole feature. "Pat and I had wished for less slag," Cassie writes, "and that's exactly what we got, no slag. But unfortunately, we really didn't find anything this week, which made it a very uneventful week. Be careful what you wish for, aye?" On the positive side, when there are consistently no artifacts, we know we've finished our job. Pat recognizes the importance of recording soil stratigraphy: "As we dig and go further below the surface, I can see how the actual soil levels have changed in our unit as we clean up the walls." They ended the week by exposing the grayish substratum, and they will finish up their unit next week by cleaning it off for photographs and making measured profile drawings of the unit's sidewalls.

AH6: back yard, house foundation
Volunteers have been working consistently in AH6, by the rear foundation and cellar door. The topsoil levels had a plethora of 19th- and 20th-century artifacts, but, as in the front and side yards, once we were through the topsoil levels the artifact frequency dropped off. The orange mottled layer had several large angular rocks in it, probably strewn about the site when (or soon after) the cellar hole was dug. We'll continue taking this unit down until we hit consistently sterile levels.

: far rear yard

Justin and Scott opened up a new unit in the far rear yard of the Akin property. They cleared out some overgrowth and then measured in the four corners of the 1 m square unit ("this was a little more difficult then I expected," Justin admits). "The top level in this unit was filled with shells, ferrous metal, glass, charcoal, and we found a hand forged artifact that is believed to be an edger. That artifact is our artifact of the week." Chelsea, Lisa, and Shane also worked in this unit during Week 3 (we want everyone to experience the joys of the back yard!). Lisa was glad of the change: "It was nice to get a break from digging out the seemingly endless amount of yellowish soil in unit three and get to find artifacts in unit ten. The unit was full of slag – large bits and small bits. We also found many metal fragments and larger metal pieces that we were not quite sure what they were. It seems that unit ten must have been a dumping site for metalworking. While there were some fragments of ceramics and clear glass, the vast majority of artifacts were metal." Shane's interpretation is that "AH10 is in an area of 20th-century trash disposal and burning." Justin agrees, and adds that "the slag and many pieces of iron and metal debris found could indicate that there was a forge on site at one time or another." The slag in upper levels of AH10 suggests they are related to upper levels of AH5, in the side yard.