Monday, June 6, was the first day of this year’s field school! It consisted of orientation at both the Heidelberg University Archaeology lab and the prison site on Johnson’s Island. In the lab, we learned how to identify and wash artifacts, while keeping them all properly sorted by provenience (their precise location). After becoming familiar with the lab, we headed out to the site. There we learned how to sharpen our trowels, take proper care of our tools, in addition to learning how the site was laid out. We were also able to take a look at Fort Johnson, which is one of the earthen forts still intact in the North.
The first week we also learned how to excavate a two-meter square area of land. There are many steps you have to follow in order to properly “dig” the site. First, you must sharpen your trowel so that it is easier to dig. Then, it is important to set up the laser line-level that helps you establish a depth to dig to. Then you kneel on a kneeling pad and start scraping the soil away, remembering every few minutes it is essential to check with a meter stick to make sure you haven’t gone deeper than the established depth. The goal is to make a very flat level ground surface allowing subsurface features to reveal themselves. Well, that and also find neat and exciting artifacts! You then take the excess soil through the process of sifting.
The process of sifting is to separate the artifacts from the soil collected in excavation. To sift, you need a screen from which you pour the soil in. The tray itself is a mesh of metal overlapping to make tiny squares (1/4”) that allow only objects of certain sizes to fall through. When the collected soil is put in the screen, it is shaken by hand so that the loose dirt will fall through. After that, the artifacts are carefully selected from the soil and rocks and other objects. This is a process done by hand and slowly as to make sure that all artifacts are collected and none are dumped. Special artifacts or artifacts of significance are called FSs or Field Specimens.
To decide if something is a field specimen (FS), it needs to be an artifact that is diagnostic of the time, demonstrate a clear function, or be gold, silver, copper, or hard rubber. There is a difference between finding a plain piece of glass with no real details on it compared to finding a fragment of the base or rim which allows us to identify actual numbers of vessels. You can get so much more information from base and rim fragments. Once it is decided by Dr. Bush that it is an FS, the information on what it is, who found it, and where it was found is recorded. The FS is also photographed along with a scale for the archaeological record. The FS is then bagged and stored until taken to the lab. The excavation process then continues.