Sunday, August 12, 2007

August 6-9: WEEK 5 Dig Diary

The final week of AHAP2007 was an intense period of excavation, drawing, backfilling, and celebration. Thanks to the consistent dedication of our students and volunteers, we finished our field season and met our project goals. This summer's work will provide an excellent platform for future research and heritage planning at the Akin House property. Congratulations! Our sincere thanks go out to those who have supported our project these past five weeks—from working on site, to making sure we had chairs, food, and drink for our events, to donating equipment or funds, to just visiting and letting us know you care!

Monday, 6 August

We completed the north and east profiles of AH2 today. Once drawings and photographs are finished, the "backfilling" begins.

As Justin explained last week, after we have completed excavating and recording a unit, we put the dirt back in it. First, we remove the string that marked the edges of the unit. Then we pound down the corner nails flush with the top of the ground (these will eventually be removed, but we need them for some final digital surveying tasks next week). We then put down a layer of sterile sand to mark the extent of our excavation. Then we put back as much dirt as we took out, tamping it down to make it as compact as possible. We leave a "crown" of a couple inches on the backfilled dirt, because it will undoubtedly settle in the months to come. We want the surface of the yard to look fairly close to its original appearance: no holes! Students and volunteers rallied together, backfilling units AH1, AH2, AH4, and AH5.

Excavations in AH6, against the back foundation of the house, were completed last Thursday by volunteers. Justin and Scott spent some of their time on Monday drawing the north profile in AH6. Chelsea and one of our volunteers began doing the same in AH10, in the far back yard

Gabe, Erica, Scott, Justin, and Pat all contributed to excavating AH7 this week. Even though we only opened this unit last week, we hoped to take AH7 down to the sterile substratum of compact grayish silt, or at least close to it, before ending our season. We excavated through the topsoil levels of AH7 last week and spent Monday digging down through the interface of topsoil and subsoil and, then, the nearly sterile subsoil.

Tuesday, 7 August

Our last day of work on site! Lisa came early and, with Shane's help in the afternoon, drew the north and east profiles in AH3. These are some of our deepest, and we have not hit the substratum at over 80 cm below the ground surface. We're still in what is probably redeposited subsoil levels from the excavation of the adjacent cellar. After the profiling was done, we gave students a chance to take "soil cores." A T-shaped metal tube with a slot cut into it - the corer - is pushed into the soil as far as it will go. When it is removed, it brings with it a column of soil. This tool allows archaeologists to see beyond the extent of excavation. Scott, Justin, Gabe, Shane, and Chelsea tried their luck in AH3. We cored in each corner and the center of the unit. The findings suggest that the redeposited orange/brown subsoil continues, undifferentiated, for at 50 to 60 more centimeters in the north half of the unit! That's a long way to go. In the center and southeast, it continues for 30 to 35 centimeters, and in the southwest only 25 centimeters, before lightening to the tannish silt that usually marks the B/C horizon transition. Because we were unable to complete excavation of this unit, we put down a layer of plastic before putting down the sand and backfilled dirt. This will make it easier to re-excavate in the future.

We finished excavations in AH7! The C horizon was 60 cm below the ground surface in this unit, under a B horizon with many rocks and few artifacts (as expected based on results in other units in the front, side, and back yards). All that remains is to draw the north and east profiles and to backfill this unit.

The eastern profiles of AH6 and AH10 were completed by Justin and Scott and Pat and Chelsea. AH6 was backfilled. AH10 was not excavated to the substratum, but to a compact, true clay that is not part of the natural stratigraphy here. The large rocks and clay in AH10 may represent an outbuilding or other feature; they definitely warrant further excavation in the future. So in AH10, we will put down a layer of plastic before backfilling. In the meanwhile, the unit is being left open for our Public Open House tomorrow.

At the beginning of class, we had a celebratory pizza party to thank our field crew, both students and volunteers. Pizza was donated through the generosity of Domino's Pizza and MediumStudio. Cupcakes and cookies and drinks were donated by the Dartmouth Heritage Preservation Trust and some of our most loyal volunteers. It was very enjoyable just to hang out on site, and a delicious, fun time was had by all. WHALE gave Akin House t-shirts to all our field crew, which made for an excellent student crew shot on the steps of the house (see above). Thanks and congratulations!

Wednesday, 8 August

Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with our Public Open House plans. It rained in the morning and threatened thunderstorms in the afternoon, so we rescheduled the on-site portion of the event for tomorrow and held the student presentations at UMass Dartmouth in the afternoon. We brought artifacts from the site and had a slide show of field photographs to share with students, volunteers, family, friends, and the interested public. A handout summarized our preliminary findings. We were very glad that so many people made it out to UMass.

Students presented on a range of topics related to the Akin House and the history of Dartmouth. Paper topics were as follows:

  • Scott reviewed the known and potential archaeology of Dartmouth, focusing on Padanaram Village and the area of the Akin House.
  • Shane researched the typology and chronology of nails, identifying and dating many of those found at the Akin House itself.
  • Gabe discussed the hand painted pearlwares from the Akin House and related them to the tastes and financial situation of the Akin family.
  • Erica discussed the transfer printed pearlwares from the Akin House, dating them using color and pattern. She also related them to the tastes of the Akin family.
  • Lisa analyzed and attempted to identify and date the few fragments of olive green bottle glass from the Akin House site.
  • Justin compared and contrasted the Georgian and Federal architecture styles and the two surviving Akin houses: our Elihu Akin House and his brother Ebenezer Akin's grand house, which still survives in nearby Padanaram Village.
  • Cassie discussed the history and archaeological significance of Mr. Potato Head and his nose.
  • Pat research slag, its composition, production, and implications at the Akin House site.
  • Bettie-Anne provided a narrative interpretation of the several baby shoes found in the Akin House in 2003.
  • Chelsea discussed the historical, demographic, and genealogical potential of cemetery research, focusing on the graves of the Ralph Earl family in Dartmouth.

Wednesday was our final day of class and the final official day of AHAP2007.

Thursday, 9 August

Today we had our Rain Date for the Public Open House. Several people dropped by, and they were treated to tours, artifacts, open units, the slide show, and archaeological demonstrations; they also received our preliminary findings handout. I drew the north and east profiles of AH7 in the late afternoon, after visits had tapered off. AH7 is now ready for backfilling, along with AH10.

The work on the Akin House 2007 excavation is far from over. I will complete the remnants of excavation (AH9 in the basement) and backfilling (AH7 and AH10) on site. The cataloguing, photographic, identification, analysis, and interpretation of the artifacts and contexts will continue for the next several months. A Final Report on AHAP2007 will be submitted to the Massachusetts Historic Commission within a year. The report will detail our work and our findings from this first, important field season. It will also make recommendations for the future of the Akin House archaeological site. AHAP2007 updates will continue to be posted here on our blog, so check back regularly.

The archaeological potential of the Akin House site is high, and several areas of the yard remain unexplored. We answered some questions, but many were raised and more remain. We look forward to the Akin House and AHAP as long-term parts of the Dartmouth heritage scene! I trust that we will carry the sense of community and purpose established during this first field season into the future.