Thursday, November 1, 2012

French’s Tavern - a pit and a round structure?

In 2011, our shovel test pits helped define a concentration of 18th- and 19th- century artifacts in a field west of the main house at French’s Tavern.  We dug a few larger units in plow zone in this area after one shovel test pit intruded into a feature which turned out to be a rectangular pit. Our shovel test pit revealed that the pit was quite shallow. Most of it had been cut away by later plowing, and many of the artifacts that were originally deposited in the pit were later mixed into the layer of plow zone above it. 
 We found British brown stoneware, colonoware, creamware, green bottle glass, window glass, nails (though most were too corroded to determine whether they were wrought or cut), as well as other, later, artifacts in plow zone above and adjacent to the pit.

 Their presence persuaded us to revisit this part of the site in 2012.  Our main objective was to explore the pit feature with these questions in mind: what artifacts did it contain? when was it filled it? what was it used for? We also hoped to find associated features that would help us understand why the pit and the concentration of artifacts above it in plow zone were there.  We laid in several 5’ x 5’ ft. units to expand on what we dug last summer and then unbackfilled the 2011 excavation units.

By the end of the summer, we had found eight post holes (with molds) and four smaller post molds beneath plow zone. Seven of the holes appear to be related in time and function as they are the same shape, the same depth, and contain similar fill. One is very different in size, shape, and fill and appears to be related to the pit. One of the group of seven postholes cut into the pit, which means that it was originally dug after the pit was filled in, ie. it is evidence of more recent activity. Once we excavated the intrusive posthole, the pit was ready for excavation. 

After mapping, recording soil colors with a Munsell soil color book, and photographing our pit, we were ready to excavate it.  We bisected it using an east-to-west line in order to preserve and map the profile.  Each deposit was given its own provenience in order to keep the soil and artifacts separated by context.  We collected soil samples and flotation samples from every layer. The lenses (very thin layers of sediment) filling in the feature consisted of mottled soil and ash. Back at the lab, we discovered that the pit also contained  small pieces of daub (clay used for chinking).  While there may be tiny artifacts in the flotation samples, the only artifact we saw while excavating the pit was a nearly perfectly preserved annealed, or burned, wrought nail. 

The pit was probably located underneath a building, so we laid in and dug a few additional 5’ x 5’ ft. units to try and find that building. One nearby posthole and mold seemed to be filled with the same ashy grey fill as our pit, but we haven’t yet found any other associated features.

Although the pit was shallow and did not contain any tightly datable artifacts, we can still make a few observations.  First, the pit is oriented along an east-west axis, the same orientation as the buildings on the French’s Tavern property and as Buckingham Road, the historic main road located 300 feet south of the pit.  This accommodates our modern sense of aesthetics but also says something about historic building orientation and order on the landscape when it was made.  Second, our one wrought nail suggests that the pit is old, although how old, we cannot say for certain.  Third, based on the pit’s fill and our annealed nail, we can say that some type of burning episode took place.  The ashy fill of one posthole and mold also suggests that this feature is related to the pit, though without finding additional features, it is hard to say this for certain. Fourth, the presence of the later postholes, and the mix of later-dating artifacts, indicate that the site continued to be used after the pit was filled and abandoned.

So what’s next? We’re now working on sorting the flotation samples in the lab to look for small artifacts. So far we’ve found tiny pieces of burned bone and some eggshell. The botanical remains recovered from the samples will be sent to Dr. Heather Trigg’s lab at UMass Boston to be analyzed. We’ll also catalogue the artifacts in plow zone and from the adjacent post holes to look at the time span represented at this portion of the site and to try to date the post holes (knowing that the pit is earlier than all but one of them). Finally, we’ll map the location of the earliest artifacts within our block of excavations to see if they concentrate around the pit, supporting the idea that they were originally deposited within it but were later moved by plowing. All of this work needs to be accomplished before we can write a site report.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

2012 field school at French’s Tavern

Site A overall with Crystal facing west

We just finished up the 2012 field school at French’s Tavern at the larger Indian Camp site. The purpose of the field work was to locate a quartering site dating from 1730-1777, the period of ownership of Francis Eppes, then John Wayles, and then Thomas Jefferson.

44PO158 covers an area of about 85 ft. x 125 ft. that is located at a field edge and extends into the adjacent forest. This field season, we laid out 10 5 ft. x 5 ft. units along the field edge in two rows in a checkerboard pattern in hopes of locating features associated with a possible slave quarter.

In the far southwest unit we found a large feature extending out of the northwest corner of the unit. We opened up another unit along the northern wall and the feature continued into that unit. It appeared to form to corner of a larger square or rectangle. We mapped the portion of the feature that was exposed and cored it with a small diameter coring tool. The soil contained within the core was uniformly silty from top to bottom, indicating that the feature contains a single layer of fill that probably represents sediment deposited from heavy rain. The core results suggest that the feature may be a tree-fall or other natural depression.

Katherine and Lauren mapping at Site A
In the other excavation units, we have found many artifacts that could relate to the target time period, but are not precisely dateable. For example, we’ve found many brick fragments, pieces of charcoal, fragments of dark green wine bottle glass, and hand wrought nails or fragments. We have also found sizeable pieces of iron that we have not yet identified.

The ceramics from the site are more dateable. Two types were made and used within our period of interest: English brown stoneware and creamware. The greatest concentration of these ceramics is on the eastern side of the northern line of units, closest to the forest edge. Fragments of Chinese porcelain may also date to this period, or may be later. Pearlware sherds, which date after 1780, have also been found at the site.

Large feature at 44PO158
A quick look at the spatial distribution of these artifacts may indicate that we are excavating at the edge of a site located slightly farther to the north, in the woods. Due to plowing, drainage and erosion, some of the artifacts may have moved down slope from the east, west, or south due to the sloping landscape of the site.
 Further work relating to the site will include analyzing artifacts and samples in the lab. 

Written by: Kathryn Gard 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Geophysics at Indian Camp

Gradiometry: Stephen and Crystal with gradiometer
In early June, Dr. Gerald Schroedl and Stephen Yerka came to explore the French’s Tavern subsite of Indian Camp with noninvasive surveying equipment.  Once the 20 meter grids had been shot in with the total station, I was able to assist during the process of surveying Site B with a gradiometer. Because the gradiometer functions by measuring changes in the earth’s magnetic field, Stephencould not wear any metal while operating it. We also had to remove the nails from the corners of the excavation units or the instrument would have registered them and the readings would have been essentially useless.

In order to take systematic readings across the grid, ropes were laid out and one had to be moved at intervals as a guideline for each transect—meaning that Dr. Schroedl moved one end of the rope and staked it into the ground, and I moved the other end the same distance. Then Stephen walked along the line (rope) at a pace of one meter per beep of the metronome on the gradiometer, and took a reading at each beep.

gradiometry: Stephen and Aaron with gradiometer
The readings taken by the gradiometer were then entered into a computer program by Stephen, where he could map the data. The magnetic anomalies were displayed on the map and could be clarified by “despiking,” which edits out high magnetic readings that would otherwise obscure the less obvious, but potentially meaningful, magnetic disturbances within the grid.

Rachel pulling ropes
Once the data are properly processed, gradiometry can provide useful information about a site and help direct decisions about where next to excavate.

Blog written by:

Rachel Guy

Monday, September 24, 2012

Wingos Field Work 2012

During May we returned to Wingos for a few weeks of additional excavations. Last winter, when we were working on the report, we found that we had several different lines of evidence suggesting that there was an enclosure southwest of the slave cabin that we’d discovered in 2009. First, we had mapped and excavated a number of small, circular features that we think were the remains of small posts. When we plotted them on a master map, they seemed to form two perpendicular lines, and part of a third line. The posts are quite small, and we think that they may have supported a woven wattle fence. Second, we found that there were concentrations of artifacts corresponding to these lines, indicating that the lines had formed boundaries between spaces that site residents kept intentionally clean, and spaces where they dumped trash. Third, we found that concentrations of soil chemicals associated with trash disposal generally mirrored the highs and lows of artifact counts. All of these lines of evidence point to our discovery of fence lines that enclosed a yard space. We hadn’t dug enough to determine the location of all the fences, the overall size of the yard, or what, if anything, may have been adjacent to it on the eastern side, so we set out to gather more information this year.

Our group from the University of Tennessee was expanded by volunteers from the Archeological Society of Virginia, Monticello, Poplar Forest, Roanoke College, and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources who spent one or more days working with us. We found three more features that are probably associated with the enclosure, collected more soil samples from within and outside of the enclosure, and excavated additional artifacts. Once these are placed on our master map along with the new chemical and artifact data, we will have a clearer picture of the way that people living at Wingos organized and used the space around their house.