In the Field with Visitors and Volunteers
A Busy Week for the Interns
by Gwyneth Maccubbin
This week we concentrated on historic artifacts. To kick off our review, we visited the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab, where Lee Priddy and Ed Chaney gave us a behind-the-scenes tour. We were amazed by the lab's capacity and its careful design--the multiple fume hoods and a grated floor for removing harmful substances. I was particularly interested in the Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland website, which details prehistoric and historic ceramics with distribution maps and physical descriptions. We left the lab jealous of their facility, but ready to get to work on our own artifacts.
Our busy week continued with a visit from archaeologists in town for the Fifth World Archaeological Congress. We treated them to tours of the distillery excavation and reconstructed gristmill, lunch at Mount Vernon, and a brief visit to George Washington's mansion. It was wonderful for us that professionals from such places as Australia, South Africa, Japan, China, and Great Britain were interested in our site!
We asked for sun, and we got it! Staff and volunteers worked in the oppressive heat to clean up the entire site and photograph it from a rented "boom" or cherry picker. The machine lifted us 60 feet in the air, allowing us to see the entire 90-by-50-foot site and its features more clearly.We could see different soil areas from above, plus the relationship of all features within the site. This was the first time we interns had seen the entire site like this, and it allowed us to put individual units into context.
We continued excavation on Friday until we were washed out by a thunderstorm. Jen led half the crew in digging a section of the feature we think is the millrace outflow, and they uncovered domestic artifacts rarely seen at the distillery. Lisa and Leigh continued work on the western foundation trench, removing 1930s deposits and robber's trench fill to uncover the original foundation trench (see Report 3). The rest of us excavated at the north end of the site, investigating what might be the cellar (see last week's post). We opened a layer of architectural rubble and soil and also a dark linear intrusion. We're still unsure how to interpret this area, but we did find several ceramic sherds--whiteware, pearlware, and brown stoneware--which could mean people lived in the building. We'll keep you posted as more evidence is unearthed.
Want to Get Dirty? Come Volunteer!
by Kim Christensen
If you've been reading our posts so far this summer, you know we have a sizeable crew. Beyond the staffers employed for the distillery project, we have a number of volunteers who join us regularly. Since 1988, a year after Mount Vernon's archaeology department was established, volunteers have helped in research, excavation, processing, and analysis of our archaeological sites here. Our volunteers come from all walks of life, but share a common interest in archaeology. Besides benefiting from the extra labor a volunteer program provides, it fits into our mission to educate the public about what it is we do as archaeologists, informing and exciting a broader audience (as we hope this website will do). The program has also given us the opportunity to make new friends with different backgrounds, experiences, and reasons for being interested in archaeology. As daily fixtures at the site or in the lab, our volunteers are an integral part of our work.
About a month into our summer season, we currently have a medley of volunteers working with us--a few full or half-time during the week to gain experience, our dedicated crew of Saturday dig-day volunteers, and some who come to dig for a few days. We had 17 people on our first Saturday dig-day, a record for us. Our best-laid plans for that day--a site orientation, tour, and cookout--were, of course, rained out, but everyone was able to tour the mansion, receive training in our laboratory methodology, and partake of our "picnic" in the lab.
We're now into the swing of things with our volunteers, on weekdays as well as Saturdays. Weekday volunteers get to experience what it's like to dig as part of a professional crew, as they work alongside the archaeology department staff and interns daily. Our Saturday crew is typically a mix of dedicated volunteers (some have been with us since 1988) and new folks who've just joined us this season.
The Saturday volunteers have excavating the robber's trench in units 588 and 589. In 588, the trench turned out to be fairly shallow and filled with a mix of mottled soil and rubble--sandstone, cobbles, schist, mortar, and brick. Beneath this rubble at the bottom of the trench, we discovered a patchy layer of grayish silt showing where the individual foundation stones were before they were removed. This silt washed in around the bottom course of the foundation stones when the building was initially constructed, and it provides us details about the foundation before the stones were removed.
The trench fill in unit 591 appears to be a bit different. Volunteers excavated a very dark brown layer and came down to a more mottled layer with little rubble beneath it. There're still more to remove before we get to the bottom of the trench, and more work will be done on these features on our next Saturday in the field.
If you're interested, we're still accepting some applications for new volunteers during the summer. We just require that you be at least 16 and willing to get dirty, we provide all the necessary equipment and training. To learn more or for an application, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay tuned for our weekly updates! You'll also soon hear directly from our volunteers on their experiences.