Saturday, July 19, 2008

Week 1 Dig Diary: 11-16 July 2008

I will be posting weekly updates about the 2008 Akin House Archaeology Project, as well as news and event information, so check back regularly. If anyone is still interested in volunteering, please email me at the address provided on this blog.

Thanks to a group of very generous and hard-working volunteers, we have made great progress with only four days of excavation!

Open House/Volunteer Training Day
About 25 people showed up on Friday the 11th for our Open House/Training Day. Thanks to all for coming by! We discussed the history of the house, last year's archaeology project, plans for this year, and archaeological excavation methods.

This unit is located in the middle of the backyard, near AH7 form last year. While AH7 was inside a shallow rectangular area anomaly and a bounded deeper rectangular anomaly, AH12 is outside the shallow anomaly and inside the boundary. We completed excavation of this unit! The sequence of topsoil, subsoil, and substratum in AH12 was as expected from last year, although there were fewer artifacts in the topsoil levels than in nearby AH7. There was a deep, apparently natural concentration of fieldstones just above the substratum (glacial layer of compact silt laid down before any occupation). Close comparison of the stratigraphies in AH7 and AH12 will clarify the nature of the shallow anomaly. We may dig another unit on the edge of the deeper anomaly to determine whether it is a buried stone path or the result of other construction.

This unit is located immediately to the south of unit AH10 from 2007. AH10 sampled a very dense 20th-century burned trash midden. Artifacts included carbonized bone, burned glass and slag, coal and charcoal, iron and steel fasteners, and shell, alongside unusual finds such as eyeglasses lenses, a lipstick tube, and part of an electromagnetic engine. AH10 was excavated to a dense concentration of fieldstones embedded in what appeared to be marine clay - not the sterile substratum usual on the site. Because this may represent a structure feature, AH14 will expand on AH10 and, hopefully, better reveal what's going on with the rocks and clay. We have just begun excavation of unit AH13.

We began this unit near the rear property wall with high hopes of finding some trash accumulated back there, but this is actually one of the least disturbed areas of the yard! Aside from some superficial modern debris, the topsoil levels were uniformly rich, loose, and nearly artifact-free. These qualities suggest little utilization or even foot traffic in this area of the yard. Good information! The subsoil in this unit was a deep orange color that we believe results from heat transformation - site clearing through burning. The subsoil was excavated to over 60 cm below the surface of the ground, but only one iron nail was found in it - and this nail may have fallen in from a later soil layer. We stopped excavation at about 65 cm below ground surface and then took a "core sample": I pushed a metal tube down from about 65 to about 95 cm below the surface of the ground and examined the column of dirt that came out. There were no artifacts and the orange subsoil gradually changed to the gray soil layer left by the last glacier. Judging from the lack of artifacts and undisturbed nature of soils in this unit, it probably saw very little human activity (at least during the historic period). We have stopped excavation here but may return to it if there is time later this season or in a later field season.

This unit was placed over an arrangement of three dressed granite blocks that were visible on the surface of the site. Oral history identified the location as a privy, and we wanted to "ground truth" this idea through excavation. We have gone through the top level or rich topsoil here. There is evidence of near-modern burning and the discard of some painted wall plaster, which matches the plaster in the front room of the Akin House. The three stones were not part of a lined privy or a well. They were located in a buried topsoil level and may be from an as-yet unidentified structure; they are unlike anything known from the house or 19th-century barn. There were remnants of a large piece of burned wood extending from the stones to the southeast (a dark stain in the photo). The stones may have been the corner support for the post of an outbuilding, and the wood may be the burned sill. We are interested to see what the underlying artifacts and soil changes tell us about the history in this portion of the yard.

AH18 is located near the northern foundation of the Akin House. The original cellar entrance was located here, and we are hoping to learn when the cellar entrance was changed by dating the artifacts from the dirt used to fill in the entrance. Artifacts from the topsoil levels date from the late 19th and 20th centuries; our most appealing find is the little bisque porcelain elephant shown above (a nice emblem of remembering). The entrance fill is comprised of mixed brown topsoil, orange subsoil, and gray substratum soils; it appears very mottled and is gravelly. There are nearly no artifacts in this fill; the Akin family apparently had lots of "clean" dirt to use. Wherever they got this fill from, it was not an area of earlier trash disposal. We began this unit on Tuesday afternoon. We hope to find an earlier, buried land surface or the edges of the cellar entrance fill soon!