Friday, August 10, 2007

July 30-August 3: WEEK 4 Dig Diary

Our Dig Diary postings are behind because the last two weeks of AHAP2007 have been a very productive, very busy time! Students and volunteers worked steadily through Week 4, our final week of excavation. They finished up excavations in several units in the front and one in the back. Our last new unit, AH7, was opened in the middle of the backyard, while new mysteries were uncovered beneath a 20th-century trash pit in the far back unit, AH10. We are in great shape for wrapping up our field season early next week.

AH1: front yard
AH1 was excavated to the sterile substratum this week and beautified for final photographs. As with every completed unit, we took "plan" photographs (bird's eye views of the unit floor) and "profile" photographs (straight-on views of each of the unit's four side walls). Scott notes that, because we finish excavations by digging into soils with no artifacts in them, "we didn't find any exciting artifacts this week because we had gone through the cultural layer." Justin explains how we will "close" units after excavating, drawing, and photographing are complete: "If the plan is to reopen them a plastic sheet and a layer of sand are placed on the bottom of the unit to tell excavators that they have reached the depth of the previous dig. If the unit is not planned to be reopened, then only a layer of sand is dropped on the bottom before fill is placed. The unit is filled... above the ground level to compensate for settling of the fill."
AH2: front yard, edge of the berm
Volunteers continued in AH2 and finished excavations. The levels found in this unit match those in other front yard units: brown topsoil/A horizon levels from the past 200 to 250 years; an orange/brown mottled B horizon that gets lighter and less mottled with depth, containing few artifacts but many large rocks; and the C horizon of compact grayish silt. Pat helped out by giving this unit a final cleaning for drawings and photographs.

AH3: front yard, on the berm & by the front door
AH3 is nearing the depth of safe excavation with no sign of the grayish substratum. We stopped excavations here at around 1 m deep because we're running our of time, but we plan to return in future seasons to complete the job. After finishing up AH5, Pat and Cassie gave Shane and Lisa a break by cleaning up the walls and floor of AH3 for photographs and drawing. Next week, we will use a soil probe to sample to soil below the depth of excavation. We hope we'll find our how much deeper the substratum is! We now know that the berm around the house is almost completely devoid of artifacts, suggesting there was little or no historic occupation of this property before the house was built.

: side yard

Erica and Gabe finished this unit last week and started a new unit, AH7 (see below), this week. Next week we will fill AH4, and the other completed units, with dirt.

: side yard, far corner

Pat can't believe that "we are at the end of Week 4. Time has gone by quickly... This week, Cassie and I finished cleaning up site AH5 and profiled it. No further artifacts found much to our dismay." Cassie's also a bit rueful about the lack of artifacts, "This week Pat and I did our profile. We cleaned up our units so we could see the layers better... This week, just like last week, was pretty uneventful. Unless you count the umbrella that hit me in the head." Not quite what we're going for, but an event nonetheless. Although it's more fun to find artifacts, finding no artifacts means that we are nearing completion of our excavations; exciting in its own way. Pat's got it right when she states that "next week we will be finishing off our sites and putting an end to our work, yet we will have established a beginning for further explorations happening at this property."

AH6: back yard, house foundation
Below the topsoil, the story of AH6 is very similar to that of AH2. This unit has been worked on largely by volunteers as well. We finished up excavations to the depth of the grayish substratum and will draw profiles here next week.

AH7: middle back yard
Gabe and Erica opening up our last unit, AH7, in the middle of the back yard. This unit is the last in a string of six units radiating out from the house and into the front and back yards. These units will give us a good idea of how soil layers are different as you get farther away from the house in the front and back of the property. The artifacts from the topsoil in AH7 are different than those in the front yard (see the Week 4 "Artifacts of the Week" posting). The artifacts date from later periods overall and the fragments are of a larger size. These facts suggest: 1) that trash was disposed of in different yard areas in different periods; and 2) that trash in the back yard was less broken up (by gardening, landscaping, walking, sweeping, and similar activities) than trash in the front. This 19th-century "TD" pipe is one of our favorite finds from AH7. Gabe writes, "We started a new context, AH7. It turns out that we found some great artifacts. I really liked the bowl from the pipe. it was in great condition and very identifiable. I also liked the glass jar, almost a whole jar; we did find the missing piece but it was still chipped. The unit was full of big pieces of ceramics. I don't think they were very old but they were definitely identifiable as cups and plates so it was still very interesting. It was a great week." Erica lists more of the finds: "Slag; hinges; wood; whiteware (with green edges); paper; screw; beer bottle fragment (modern); chestnut; unidentified alloy pipe fragment; shells; nails; brown glass; clear glass; metal ribbed fragment; red cloth; painted red rock?; jar (probably cosmetic); plastic wheels for toy?; bowl to a pipe (logo on it); large pieces of ceramics (plate? cup?)." She writes that "this unit has numerous artifacts, which contribute to exciting excavation! Our discoveries make excavating on ninety-degree weather days worth it!!! We will continue working on this unit next week, probably for two days, and then close the unit. Looking forward to new discoveries!"
AH10: far back yard
AH10 was our most prolific unit without a doubt, and informs us that the far areas of the Akin House yard will be different, and more complicated, than the front and side yards. Several students worked in AH10 these past couple weeks, including Scott, Justin, and Chelsea, but Lisa and Shane spent the most time here. Lisa does a great job summarizing our latest findings: "While we did not uncover many artifacts after we reached the yellowish soil, we did unearth many large rocks and one huge boulder that could possible be part of an architectural feature. This possibility was reinforced upon our uncovering of a tightly packed layer of greenish/gray clay. This type of clay apparently does not occur naturally in the earth and it was also not found in any of the other units. Unfortunately, we will not be able to dig into the clay layer because we have already concluded the excavation stage of the dig for this season. But the unit will be left in such a way that it can be easily seen where we stopped digging so it can be continued next time. We made a detailed drawing of the placement of each of the rocks and took elevations (some times more than one) for each of them. It was extremely hot this week and we were working right in the sun, but the uncovering of such an interesting find in unit 10 made it all worth it."
Shane's experiences in AH10 were similar: "The last week of class was uneventful as far as artifact finding goes. We have seemed to hit a lot of rocks and we are having trouble digging around them. Instead of digging, we are becoming more and more involved with the mapping of the bottom of and side walls of the site. We are using the same grid method as before, and we are taking elevations and locations of the rocks using a plumb bob. The mapping of the sidewalls is very similar to mapping the bottom because you have to be precise... Our particular site, AH10 had a lot of features that had to be mapped out." You can see why from these photographs of AH10.

Bettie-Anne and several of our most dedicated volunteers have been busy washing and re-bagging artifacts (photograph by Chelsea Mackler). They have almost caught up with our excavations, which is great news! It means that there will be little or no time spent washing artifacts after our season is over, and efforts can be put immediately into cataloguing and analyzing our finds. Excavation is just one step in the archaeological process.