Monday, July 13, 2009

Dig Diary Weeks 4-5: June 21-July 1

The final two work weeks of the Akin House Archaeology Project 2009 season were a whirlwind leading up to our Class Results Day on July 1 and Public Open House on July 4!

Week 4 was out last week to dig. Students and volunteers finished excavation in each of the 11 test units we opened this season. Everyone reached a clear stopping point: some on top of potential rock features; some within sterile (artifact-free) B subsoil horizons. A few students even excavated through the subsoil to the top of the pre-occupation C horizon-a layer left by the retreat of the glaciers! The number of artifacts in the units tapered off with depth, as expected. There were no surprises except for unit AH29. That unit had the most 18th-century materials and least 20th-century materials of any unit excavated. In it, we were very excited to find a rectangular soil stain inside a circular one: remnants of a post and filled post hole! Was this a sign of an 18th-century structure?
We carefully dug out this fill only to find plastic artifacts in it! Not what we were hoping for, but informative nonetheless. We believe it is most likely part of the clothesline that was surely in this yard area (based on the number of clothespin springs we have found here).

Week 5 began with students carefully cleaning their sidewalls in preparation for final photographs and drawings. They also took detailed notes about every soil level they saw, artifact they found, and theory they formed. We only get one chance to dig a site, so record keeping is very important.

Photographs of the sidewalls of a unit show the soil levels in relationship to each other. Details are clearer when those profiles are measured down to the centimeter and drawn on graph paper.

A few students have shared their final thoughts:


This was our final week at the Akin property. I finished the east wall map of the well. I worked on the east side as it is the wall with flat faced dirt and loose rocks. The stone lining of the well on the west is a particular challenging drawing and the professor will be tackling that project on her own. We also decided on the 2 units to remain open for the open house. A volunteer unit and a student unit which shows the soil strata and use through the Akin generations were selected. We concluded by back filling the remaining units. The idea of using a layer of sand to coat the bottom of the unit to show an end of excavation proved to be an ingenious cost effective solution. Looking back on this class I am very grateful to have had this opportunity and I wish all of those involved the best of luck.


This is it. End of class. I had a great time this semester learning about the Akin property. In total I took my unit, Unit 26 (34.5N/28E) through four contexts . . . at 36.0cmbs there are too many rocks to continue. A soil sample from the NW corner reveals only 15 more cm before hitting rock. I think excavations are DONE. I want to believe that the rocks were put there, probably piled and/or buried. Maybe a wall or foundation? I believe my unit was in close proximity to a coal shed or midden area because of the large amount taken out of the site. Though it wasn't an interesting center point to any of these features I'm glad I chose it. And we now have a precise account of what was found there so we can make an accurate interpretation.


Back-filling my dig site gave me a great sense of accomplishment and discovery, as I thought about all of the things I learned over the course of the short semester. Digging at the Akin House has been a wonderful experience. Despite the dirty knees, lusterless fingernails, and fire ants at the bottom of the holes, the archaeology project has afforded me great insight and appreciation of the work, research, and patience necessary to this project. There seems a great deal of work to be done on the Akin House property, and I am excited to follow its development and growth in the years ahead. Everyone involved with Akin House who was able to make it to site - Dr. Hodge, us students, Diane and Peggi, and of course Jan Hodge - were a pleasure to work with and I'm glad to have had the opportunity to learn from everyone's hard work and theories. All the best!

At the end of the season, we "backfill" each unit by putting down a layer of clean sand and then shovelling our sifted dirt back into it. Students pitched in and worked together to get backfilling done efficiently and safely. They also spent some time polishing off their final field notebook entries. Wonderful job, guys!

So what did we learn?
  • The barn was not located on top of another structure. At least some of its floor was paved with thick, flat stones. There may have been some bricks as well, but they were salvaged (leaving nothing but mortar) when the barn came down.
  • The barn came down in the late 1930s or early 1940s, based on ceramics and glassware found on top of those flat stones. At least some of the architectural debris from the barn was burned, leaving many nails from different time periods mixed up with shells and other debris in a black charcoal layer. Some one's jeans or similar clothing items were burned as well - there were lots of snaps and buttons!
  • The small outbuilding seen near the barn in the 1922 movie Down to the Sea in Ships was used for coal. It was probably about as old as the barn, judging from the few 19th-century and 20th-century ceramics and glassware that were found mixed up with the coal fragments. The household also threw some animal bones into the stove and threw them out with the burned clinker.
  • The midden near the north edge of the property dates from around the time of the barn's destruction, maybe a bit earlier than a trash midden excavated in the back yard in 2007 and 2008. This year's midden contained different materials, including perfume and medicine bottles, jewelry parts, and several ladies hair clips.
  • While the early 19th-century household did not seem to have many expensive ceramics, the late 19th/early 20th century household had a least a few fancy pieces. Some had hand painted gilding and vibrant colors.
  • Children played in this yard from the early 19th century through the 1960s or 1970s!
  • Special finds, including a miniature smoking pipe and a Chinese-coin shaped token, deserve further research.
  • There is considerable artifactual evidence of mid the late 18th-century occupation at the site - ceramics, medicine bottles, and smoking pipes from households just before and after the Revolutionary War. We don't have any features from this period yet, but the potential is high in yard areas that have yet to be evaluated.

Check under our "slideshows" heading at right to see a selection of photographs from this years dig! thanks for visiting!