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April-November 2003InteractiveDig Mount Vernon
Pier in brick floor
Pier in cobble floor
Eleanor in the cellar area
Dan, Lisa, and Jen excavate the millrace outflow.
Leigh finishes up digging the robbers' trench fill.

Photos courtesy Historic Mount Vernon. Click on images for larger versions.
by Mandy Ranslow

Sunshine and a Productive Week

Weather was sunny all week and typical for a Virginia summer--hazy, hot, and humid. We continued excavation on the features mentioned last week. Kim made our most exciting discovery this week, excavating two mysterious voids in the brick and cobble floors in units 737 and 739. These holes are areas in the floors that soil has filled in where the brick or stone no longer exists. We weren't sure what we were going to find once the soil was removed. Were these postholes where wooden posts had rotted in the ground? Had the stone and brick been knocked out of place in the years after the distillery fell into disrepair? If this were the case, we'd expect to find intact mortar underneath. We instead uncovered two brick piers. A pier is a vertical column that supports an overlying structure. Only the bottom courses of these remain. The piers are ten feet apart and about five feet from the edge of the foundation, and they are in line with two other piers to the south. This pattern suggests these were structural supports for the ground floor, the loft floor, or the roof.

Units 691 and 641 received lots of attention from Laura Seifert, Lyndsay, Eleanor, and Megan. Our main goal in this area is to continue removing layers of the possible cellar fill and to determine the construction method of the distillery's northern extension. After taking off a linear layer in 691, we've exposed what appears to be a trench just north of the cellar fill. The discovery of this soil-filled trench implies that the extension was stone like the rest of the building, as opposed to being post-in-ground construction. Speaking of trenches, Leigh excavated more of the robbers' trench in the northwest area of the distillery. Most of this is schist, mortar, and sandstone rubble.

Jen, Dan, Lisa, and Lacey continued to excavate the millrace outflow south of the distillery in units 733 and 683. They found creamware, pearlware, window glass, and a lot of rubble. The artifacts decreased with depth. Laura Shick, Leigh, and Mandy water screened the layers as they were excavated. One of our main questions in dealing with this feature is when was it filled in? Because we think the outflow is associated with the millrace just upslope, it most likely pre-dates the distillery (see our previous post). But when did the outflow cease to be used? Was it when the rest of the distillery features were filled in? Or was the feature purposely backfilled when the distillery was built, possibly because it was too close to the new distillery or no longer needed? We do know that there was a drought in the late eighteenth century and that George Washington was constantly having problems drawing enough water to operate the gristmill and distillery. If the millrace wasn't flooding, then an outflow may no longer have been necessary. We hope to answer these questions by analyzing the ceramics and other artifacts excavated from the outflow fill. For instance, if we find whiteware (a refined earthenware ceramic that began to be produced ca. 1805), we know the millrace was filled in after the distillery came down.

Finally, Kim, Lisa, and Anne mapped unit 588 after removing the robber's trench fill. As Kim described in her post, a grayish silty layer underlay the robber's trench fill and appeared to have been deposited after the foundation stones were set.

On the public outreach front, a group of kids from a D.C. summer camp visited the site to learned about archaeology. Here a few future archaeologists help Lyndsay and Megan screen.

Thanks for reading our update, and we look forward to catching up again next week! In the meantime, visit the bulletin board for any questions you may have.

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