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.