Saturday, September 15, 2007

Fieldwork Break

The crew is taking a few days off from fieldwork, and we expect to return to Port Tobacco on Friday, September 21. But that doesn't mean that work has paused. Scott Lawrence has been washing artifacts that we recovered this past Friday. Among them he found a sherd of Rappahannock cord-marked pottery...that is archaeology-talk for a piece of Native American pottery that was made, used, and discarded sometime between AD 1000 and 1600. As we continue test pitting toward the Port Tobacco River, we expect to find more extensive evidence of the town's prehistoric predecessors.

There is lots of drafting and data entry to do as well and we will continue to report developments during the week.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Report from the Field

Today we excavated a series of shovel test pits (STPs) south of the courthouse. Most of the STPs contained a foot or more of plowzone just below the surface. The plowzone contains varying amounts of brick, coal, and oyster shell that has been broken by decades of field plowing. Below the plowzone we usually encounter what we call subsoil; a natural soil that has not been modified by human activity. Occasionally we encounter undisturbed deposits below the plowzone, such as building foundations, cellars, wells, or trash pits.

One of today's STPs contained an undisturbed deposit below the plowzone. Ceramics, glass, metal, and animal bone were quite abundant. The depth of the deposit and the high density of brick and nails suggest that this is a cellar that was filled in by trash and demolition debris.

Based on the Barbour map, we may have located the cellar of the Wade Store.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Cellars of Port Tobacco

One interesting architectural feature found in Port Tobacco is the brick cellar that is accessible by a doorway in the chimney foundation. Both the Burch and Chimney Houses, two of the remaining 18th century buildings, have this type of cellar. At this point in our research it is not clear if this feature was common throughout the town.

It is likely that these cellars, accessible from exterior of the buildings, served as warehouse space for the port. Currently, the Burch House cellar is filled in with sediment while the Chimney House cellar is used as living space by the occupants.

We are interested in understanding the history of these cellars and hope to determine the reason for which the Burch House cellar became in-filled. It is likely that the decline of the port decreased the value of the cellar storage space. However, this does not explain why it became filled in with sediment.

Our limited excavations around the Burch House included careful study of the soils in the rear yard of the property. Here the soil is several feet deep but with little obvious stratigraphy. The current working hypothesis is that the Burch House cellar may have fell victim to a soil slide, possibly a mudslide, that brought sediment down from the hill to the southeast. Upon this hill sits another historic property, Chandler's Hope. Large scale clearing of the land at Chandler's Hope could have lead to the soil erosion that buried the Burch House cellar.

Once we have completed our shovel test pit survey of the town, we plan to conduct additional excavations at the Burch House to test this hypothesis. Future work may even include excavation within the cellar to find evidence of what may have been stored there.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Finding the Blacksmith Shop

Several circa 1890 maps of Port Tobacco exist, most of which are based on the recollections of one resident, R.G. Barbour. The Barbour map is noticeably different from an 1892 survey of the town by H.C. Page. One of the goals of our initial archaeological survey of Port Tobacco is to ground truth these maps by locating the remains of landmarks such as roads and buildings.

One of the buildings that we had hoped to locate is the Coombs blacksmith shop which is depicted on the Barbour map as a small rectangular structure across from the Burch House. However, the Page map depicts what may be the blacksmith shop as a larger rectangular building and places it much closer to the old High Street road. This road has been widened to form Chapel Point Road; construction of which may have destroyed what remained of the blacksmith shop.

During our shovel test pit survey we paid particular attention to the density of slag and metal that was being recovered. The density of both seemed to increase north of the Burch House but it was not until we excavated test pit number 53 that we were sure we had located the blacksmith shop. Here the fragments of slag and metal were very large and numerous. We even recovered a partial horse shoe!

The blacksmith shop does sit relative directly across from the Burch House, just as Barbour remembered it.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tuesday, Sept 11

It was a rainy day in Annapolis. Peter and I spent the day cataloging artifacts from Port Tobacco. The first few days of cataloging a new project are always slow going.

An artifact catalog can consist of a variety of information about each object. Therefore it is important to think about what we want to record and how we want to record it. For now, we are using a simple Microsoft Excel workbook system for our catalog. This will likely be replaced with an Access database as the project grows. (We can easily import data into Access from Excel.)

In our catalog we describe each artifact begining with the material it is made of, such as ceramic, bone, or metal. We then describe the form and style for ceramic, the species and element for bone, and the form and function for metal. Most entries have a lot of additional information too.

Every artifact in the catalog is tied to the place where it was recovered at the site through a shovel test pit number or excavation unit number. Each place we dig at is carefully mapped in with the total station and assigned a unique number.

One shovel test pit in particular contained several bags worth of artifatcs. We are anxious to get that bag washed up and catalog its contents. Maybe we'll get to it tomorrow.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Monday, Sept 10

After working in the field for several weeks, artifacts start to pile up in bags around the office. This means that it’s time to spend a few days in the lab cleaning and cataloguing them, in order to understand better about what we have found and the site itself. A cleaning station is set up and it’s time to start cleaning off centuries old brick, glass, and ceramics. Old pipe stems, plates, and utensils seem to come back to life after the dirt and rust is cleaned from them. They each have a story to tell, not only of who used them, but when they were made and their importance to our research at Port Tobacco. It can be quite exciting to scrub off a piece of pottery to reveal the intricate details of the decoration!

Now that the artifacts have been cleaned, the next step is to catalog them according to their location on our field grid and the type of artifact. By cataloguing these artifacts and setting those into a computer program called Surfer, we can get a distribution pattern of the artifacts on the site. This distribution pattern gives us information such as possible building sites and areas where further more extensive excavations might be required on the site.

We will be spending the next few days in the lab both cleaning and cataloguing artifacts in order to not only learn more about Port Tobacco but also to give our aching muscles a break from the rigors of fieldwork.


Sunday, September 9, 2007

Sunday Sept 9th

It was another warm sunny day out at Port Tobacco. We finished up the shovel test pit survey of the field north of the Burch House (one of four surviving 18th century buildings in the town). Our survey in this field has identified at least four historic sites, including a blacksmith shop.

We then extended our reference grid system to the field just south of the courthouse. From here we took map points with a total station to help in the creation of our site map. The site map will show the locations of our excavations and any architectural remains we identify, as well as the locations of existing landmarks. A working draft of this map will be posted soon.

A highlight of my day was watching the Indian Head 100 cyclists come down Chapel Point Road. A few cyclists stopped to chat with us about the town, our work, and cycling.