Field work begins

Today was the first day of field work for the Caleb Rector House survey. We managed to get a good start in before the stormy weather chased us inside, but there's still a lot to get done. Before we get to today's findings, though, let's take a quick look back at last week's preparations.

One of the final things we had to do in preparation was to gather together all of the tools that we needed to get started. Of course we need shovels, but we also need a screen for sifting through the soil. Unlike most of our other tools we can't just go to Home Depot and buy one ready made. Thankfully I've put together a fair number of screens over the years - plus they're pretty simple. They're basically a wooden frame with 1/4 inch hardware cloth stretched over it. The 1/4 inch cloth is the size required by Virginia DHR archaeology guidelines and is pretty standard across the field. 

Attaching the hardware cloth to the screen

Attaching the hardware cloth to the screen

Shovels and screens are obvious tools, but there are a lot of other things that we needed before we could begin. A good measuring tape for recording soil depths. A compass for taking bearings and setting up our survey grid. Lots of forms for recording our shovel test data. One indispensable tool for any archaeologist is this little blue book -

Munsell Soil Color Charts

Munsell Soil Color Charts

A huge part of any archaeological work is recording what the soils look like as we excavate. This not only helps us determine the layering - or stratigraphy - of the soil, but it also enables us to look for man-made disturbances that give clues to how the site was used. Inside this little blue book are pages of color chips that we can compare to the soils we see. Each color has a number code so that anyone reading our report in the future can tell exactly what the soil looked like. We also describe the texture of the soil - is it silty, clayey, or sandy, etc.

A peek inside the Munsell. Most of the soils in this area fall into this range.

A peek inside the Munsell. Most of the soils in this area fall into this range.

Now that all of that is out of the way let's look at what we actually did today. The first thing was to establish a baseline for our grid. The easiest way to do this is to find a landmark that is nice and straight and work off of that. In this case there is a wooden fence marking the southern boundary of the property, so we took a bearing off of that fence line and started transects that run parallel to it. 

Looking out towards the corner where our survey starts. The fence line can be seen on the right.

Looking out towards the corner where our survey starts. The fence line can be seen on the right.

Our grid established (at 10 meter intervals) we finally began the process of digging. We began at the part of the yard furthest from the house, figuring that there would be fewer artifacts out there. What we started finding was interesting. Almost every single shovel test we excavated was positive, but the artifact concentrations were pretty small. Each test had a piece or two of glass, ceramics, or nail fragments. This is pretty typical for a 19th century house site, but I wasn't necessarily expecting to find stuff so far from the house. One other thing of note was that the soil in the vicinity of the modern raised bed garden showed signs of serious disturbance, and was full of small coal fragments, bits of plastic, and small stones. I believe that this is related to an earlier garden where the soil was tilled up at some point. Some of the more unusual artifacts to come out of this area of disturbance were two fragments of a vinyl record!

Intern Brant hard at work screening some soil. 

Intern Brant hard at work screening some soil. 

I'll continue to update as the week goes on and we begin to recover more artifacts. Hopefully things pick up as we get closer to the house itself. If we find anything really exciting you'll find out about it here first!