Friday, August 15, 2008

Dig Diary Week 5: August 10-13

This week was our final week of the second Akin House Archaeology Project 2008 field season! Thanks go to Dartmouth Heritage Preservation Trust for hosting the project at the Akin House property; thanks to volunteers from near and far who carried this project forward with dedication and enthusiasm; and thanks to everyone who visited us during our five week project at the site, at our Results Day Open House, and here on our blog. The community that has grown up around this project makes it an exemplar of public archaeology.

Work at and on the Akin House property is ongoing. Check back here for updates about the Akin House archaeology project, structural preservation, and related news and events.

This unit, located in the far northeast corner of the cleared yard area, has proven to be one of our most interesting. It has thick topsoil accumulations with many artifacts, from coal to kitchen wares, shells to statues. We nearly finished digging through the B subsoil levels in this unit on Sunday. The upper subsoil, even under the topsoil/subsoil transition, had a few artifacts; in most units, there were no artifacts in these levels. The deeper subsoil was sterile (though we kept a close eye out for more prehistoric stone tools). Before the end of the day on Sunday, we hit the gray silty clay substratum ("C horizon") in a couple places in the unit, and found the sandy tannish, sandy B/C transitional soil in all but the southwest corner of the unit. Unfortunately, Monday morning brought a torrential rainstorm! We couldn't work on site until the afternoon, and we found that AH8 was full of water. The unit had to be bailed out. We let it dry for a while before taking out the rest of the orange-brown B subsoil, exposing the B/C transition across the whole unit. Unfortunately, the soil was too wet to see and expose the gray substratum. We hoped for better weather, but Dartmouth was hit by another torrential rain in the very early morning on Tuesday! Two such storms in less than 24 hours proved too much for the water table, even though our site is located near the top of a hill. After bailing out AH8 for a while on Tuesday, I noticed that the water level was actually rising! There was a small stream of water coming in from under a rock on the unit's floor! The rains had raised the water table so much, a small underground spring filled the unit with about 9 cm of groundwater. We now have a better understanding of how extreme weather affects the site. The high soil berm around the house foundation, which serves to protect the cellar from flooding, is a vital component of house construction. We will not be able to finish excavating and recording AH8 until the water recedes and the unit dries out. I will return to site after the field season is over to finish up in this unit.

The hard rains on Monday and Tuesday affected more than the water table: they washed away topsoil on site, exposing dozens of "surface finds." Surface finds are artifacts visible on the surface of the ground, without any digging. We try to leave as much of a site intact as possible, but when artifacts are exposed they sometimes need to be collected. At the Akin House, we collected artifacts to improve site safety (glass, rusty metal). We also collected artifacts to protect them (if they would be broken by trampling). Knowing the context of artifacts is as important for surface finds as for excavated finds. We recorded the place where all surface finds were found. I also took photos of several of the finds before they were removed, including a green plastic bead, cut ferrous nails, and galvanized wire nails found on the dirt floor inside the cellar entrance; a large ferrous pipe found near AH13 in the back yard; and a piece of a cooking stove once used inside the house.

We continued to wash artifacts this week and are almost finished cleaning all our new finds. Volunteers who attended our Results Day worked on washing in the afternoon, provided a live exhibit for site visitors.

Our Results Day Open house, the grand finale of our excavation season took place on Wednesday. We had beautiful weather and a great turn out! People came by all day long! They learned about some of our most intriguing artifacts, some of which were highlighted in earlier blog entries. AH17&18 were left open to show the thick black level that marks the 1760s land surface, which was cleared before house construction. Visitors also saw the high water in AH8. They were treated to tours of the house and heard about plans for its future. Most importantly, they ensured that the Akin House property is already a vital place of research, preservation, and education.