Sunday, August 10, 2008

Week 4 Dig Diary: 3-6 August

We had a very productive week on site last week despite losing Wednesday to rain. We are in good shape going into our final few days on site. We finished excavating and recording several units and backfilled some of the units we've completed. We also made great progress on washing our excavated artifacts. We'll finish digging our final unit next week, finish backfilling, and work hard to complete artifact washing before we close our project.

Our end of season Open House is planned for Wednesday August 13th, 9:30 AM-4 PM. The public, volunteers, and friends are welcome to see the site, some of the materials we have recovered during the past several weeks, and the house. I'll be presenting a short talk on the Akin House Archaeology Project at 11 AM. Stay tuned here for additional event details in case of rain.

We opened up one final unit this week, AH8. It is placed at the northeastern extremity of the cleared yard areas. AH8 is out of numerical sequence because it was measured in last year, but it we did not have time to excavate it. Due to the great efforts of our volunteers this year, we were able to expand our knowledge of the rear yard and open up the unit! Excavation began on Sunday afternoon and continued through Tuesday. Artifacts and soils in AH8 reveal a history distinct from other areas of the yard, even those nearby. Clothespin springs, a glass marble, and a miniature hand painted porcelain teacup evoke the ways past families used this yard. Ceramics, several pipe stem fragments, and animal bones are kitchen and other domestic debris. Perhaps the most unusual find was several fragments from a porcelain figure of a saint, probably Saint Francis. We can add another feature to out list; AH8 clipped a dense 19th- or 20th-century shell midden in its southeast corner. The number of whole and partial quahog shells in this small area was astonishing. The many artifacts from the historic soil levels of this unit are of types and frequencies unlike other units we've excavated, and they suggest that the nearby overgrown yard areas will indeed provide new stories of this cultural landscape. We already reached the top of the B subsoil in this unit.

AH13 is located in the rear yard and, and its surface levels, sampled a mid 20th-century burned trash midden. We finished excavating AH13 last week, and I finished its final photographs and drawings on Sunday. The unit was among those backfilled this week. Important new information was discovered as artifacts from this locus were being washed, however; a reminder that artifacts are discovered not only during excavation, but also during soil screening and during washing! And a reminder that it is always better to save a questionable object than to discard it. During the excavation of context AH13.31, a lower level of accumulated topsoil, volunteers saved several interesting rocks along with the rusty nails, ceramics, coal, and glass. One of these rocks was a pointy fragment of milky quartz. Volunteers washing artifacts from AH13.31 came upon this quartz, cleaned it up, and were intrigued by its three-dimensional symmetry. It looked like a point – it was a point! A prehistoric small stemmed point, typical for this area and produced sometime between 6000 and 400 years ago (most likely around 3000 to 2000 years ago). This small point is unusually sharp and may have been lost before it was used. Unlike the retouched Pennsylvania jasper flake we recovered from AH12 a couple weeks ago, this quartz lithic was found among much later artifacts. It probably was disturbed from its original soil context during landscaping or other yard activities. More information about northeastern stone tool and other traditions can be found at the NativeTech website.

We finished excavating AH19, near the 20th-century shed. Sterile gray substratum was only about 55 cm below the surface, and both the brown topsoil A horizon and the orangey/sandy B subsoil horizon were unusually thin, as seen in this profile photograph. These characteristics suggest this area of the yard was flattened at some point, perhaps to build the present shed or the earlier, slightly larger shed that stood at the same site ca. 1905 (known from a historic photograph).

We continue to have regular visitors of all ages (and sorts) on site. Thanks for your interest!