Friday, October 17, 2014

Hurricane Gonzalo

I know I speak for all of the students who have dug in Bermuda over the past five years in saying that our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Bermuda as Hurricane Gonzalo approaches. Please stay safe and weather the storm well!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

3D Oven Site model video

Time has flown since July and Bermuda! When I returned to Rochester, I was asked to become director of the university's recently launched Digital Media Studies program, in addition to my "day job" teaching history and being Director of Undergraduate Studies. One great advantage of my new DMS post has been immersing myself in new digital technologies and 3D modelling. At the end of the season, I did an extensive overlapping photo survey of Oven Site to capture it in high detail for analysis after it was filled in. It turns out that processing 267 x 16 megapixel images and making a 3D point cloud and mesh of the site was beyond the ability of my 20GB desktop. UR, however, has Blue Hive, a clustered supercomputer, which was up to the task - 64 CPU cores and 120GB memory - but it still took a whole weekend!

The video below does not do justice to the fine detail of the model, but gives you an idea of the interactivity that is now possible. We just opened a new visualization lab (VISTA Collaboratory) with an 8 ft. by 20ft. video screen, which allowed me to blow up the model to full life size! The "Virtual Oven Site" will be especially useful in figuring out the original timber post construction sequence and later renovations, as well as perhaps getting other archaeologists to weigh in on the mysterious grotto-like feature on the north wall that we found in 2013.

video

On another note, Smiths Island alum Anima Ghimire and our dig was recently featured on the "college cheat sheet" website My4 - http://www.my4.org/archaeology-bermuda-history-89992/

Finally, applications for the 2015 field school will be accepted on a rolling basis. You can get the old-fashioned file at my department website or we should have a new Study Abroad portal going live soon.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Doctor's Rounds and Fill-in Friday

Final Group Photo at the End of Fill-in Friday
Apologies to all for the gap in blogging - it's been a very intense last week of digging to get all four of our sites finished while accommodating various visiting groups and then packing up the field equipment and putting the sites to bed for another year (i.e., filling in all the open excavations we made).

During this past week, I felt like a doctor making hospital rounds twice daily, checking in with our three sites. I was ostensibly based at Cave Site and even managed some digging when not leaving it in the capable hands of Sam M. and Andrew. After hitting a flat plane of bedrock fairly early at the mouth of the cave (wherein we found a deep round posthole, possibly for constructing a blind or front wall to this part of the cave), we extended a unit west to dig within the cave proper. This involved actually being inside the cave to dig, which posed a particular challenge for getting archival photos of the tops of each context.


This second square went down quite a ways, yielding lots of mammal and fish bone but few artifacts which we could date. The exception was three sherds of Astburyware, a glossy-slip thin-walled red refined earthenware produced between 1725 and 1750 - a ceramic more fitting for the tables of rich St. George's merchants across the harbour than for a rustic cave in the wilderness.

Completing this second unit gives us a good sense of the height of the cave when it was in use. The sharp slope also suggests that next year when we resume excavations we'll find a lot more material adjoining the back walls.







Mimi and Alice's artifact-rich square
My rounds at Cotton Hole Bight followed Jim's progress bisecting the front living area of the 18th c. Pitcher House strata we discovered in 2012 and the earlier quarrying that occurred here that disturbed any previously deposited material. His 4-meter trench hit successive floor layers at the western site, which yielded an abundance of 18th and 19th c. ceramics, glass, and pipestems. In the eastern half, he came down on a thick layer of small-sized quarrying rubble which we hoped would overlay intact and preserved 17th-century layers predating the Pitcher House.

Although we found a sharply sloping natural bedrock face that looked quite promising (as well as a deep vertical fissure that a visiting geologist told us was evidence of natural ancient cracking of the landscape surface), there was no underlying layer in this area, just quarry jumble atop bedrock (itself strange, since there should be a pre-quarry ground surface covered over). We did find a partly cut large square block here that resembles
a plinth with drainage cuts adjoining it, an apparent quarry feature that dates to a different period, since this was exposed to the elements for quite a while (which allowed the stone surface to harden) whereas the other quarrying evidence at the site was soft-faced, indicating it was buried very quickly after being cut.

So in the end the evidence does not support this particular site as being that of Christopher Carter's first homestead, but the area still has all the attributes of their likely house selection. The next places to look are where the valley meets Cotton Hole Bight (looking for shallop-building evidence) and at the top of the valley, near where we've found a well or limekiln feature and a level area with lots of protruding cut stones.

Smallpox Bay involved the longest walk, which gave me ample time to contemplate what is going on with what is emerging as a very complex multi-use site. Leigh laid out units both inside and outside the stone ruin in front of the door to better date the site and shed more light on its unknown occupants and uses. As previously reported, the "GR" on the wall and military buttons of the 20th Regiment and Royal Artillery  all point to the use of the site in the early to mid-19th century as either a sentry post (to monitor possible smuggling into St. David's or Smiths Island itself) or as a quarantine
medical site in 1843, when Yellow Fever hit the 20th Regiment very hard. But the story has become a bit more complex since we found clay marbles and a small cast toy cannon barrel, suggesting there were children living at the site. A report chronicling the 1853 Smallpox epidemic noted that it started in the household of a soldier living on Paget Island with his wife and provides evidence that married soldiers were apparently permitted to live off base in Bermuda, which may account for the toys. Alternatively, a non-military family may have lived here when the building was not being used for quarantine purposes. Clearly, the site was intensively used in the second quarter 19th century based on concentrations of Annularware and other ceramic types.

You may recall that last year we found a posthole in each of our three small test squares, which suggested there may have been a wooden structure predating the currently standing stone ruin. By opening up multiple squares, Leigh sought to confirm this theory and perhaps discern a pattern among postholes suggesting of building size and construction. Within the ruin and a bit out front, her team found at least a dozen more postholes of various sizes, including one that underlay the stone wall of the standing structure, thus predating it.
The same excavations also revealed the slots for floor joists set into the east and west walls, establishing that the building once had a wooden floor. This realization helps explain the relatively small size of artifacts found within (small enough to slip through the cracks of floorboards.

Kelsey at the Mitten
Given the wood floor, likely Georgian mindset of late-18th-century residents, and military regulations about trash disposal, Leigh reasoned that an artifact scatter right in front of the house was less likely than the use of middens, presumably located nearby. With only a day left to dig and enjoying a surplus of labour (due to having a few Bermudian volunteers), she sent Judd, Kelsey, and Ashley out to scout around with the vague order to "go find the midden."  And they did - within 20 minutes (except for a while they misheard Leigh and were looking for a mitten ;-). Halfway between the ruin and Smallpox Bay, a thick band of ceramics protrude from the sloping ground. A meter-square test pit put down on the final day of the season turned up an entire bucketful of artifacts, perhaps as many as the rest of Smallpox Bay combined.

 Besides working on the new sites, we also spent much of the last week sharing our discoveries with various visitors who came out to see them. An important component of archaeology and public history is to make broadly known the new knowledge that excavations generate; otherwise you might as well never had dug them in the first place. On Saturday we hosted Bermuda National Trust Director Jennifer Gray and members of the Archaeology Research Committee. The following day, the BNT ran a special tour boat out to visit us. It was so nice to see the students presenting their sites' findings and significance to visitors, demonstrating how much they had learned in the past month. One boy breathlessly asked if he could stand on the floor of Oven Site - carved out about 400 years ago, while others marveled at particular artifacts.

 For those who couldn't get out to Smiths Island, the St. George's Foundation hosted a well attended public presentation of our findings on Wednesday night at the World Heritage Center. It was cool giving a summary talk in which some of the photographs in my powerpoint presentation were only three hours old. Our final visitors were His Excellency Governor Fergusson and his wife, who came out Thursday afternoon just as the last strata came out in the remaining units at all three sites - perfect timing.

Ace shoveler Luke
But yesterday it all came to a close, even though we were still drawing profiles and finishing up the last couple of centimeters of the Cave Site as we began to fill the others. In past years, I had either filled in the sites myself (and promised never again to attempt such foolishness) or had others do it in order to leave it open for July tours. This year, we came full circle, with students ending their dig just as they had begun it five weeks ago - moving sifted backfill to protect all the work we've already done. While Jim led a small team to cover and rebury Cave Site, Cotton Hole Bight, and Smallpox Bay, I worked with the rest (and heroic volunteers Khari and Xander) to fill in Oven Site. This involved lining the sidewalls and bottoms of all the units with tarps, carefully banking dirt bucket by bucket along the bottom for the first few feet, and then forming bucket brigades and wheelbarrow teams to bring the levels up to close to the ground surface. It was hot, gruelling work especially because we had no shade (our roof tarp became the site's new trench liner), but we actually finished up an hour before our usual ending time of 3:30! Again, I'm amazed at what twelve highly motivated people can achieve when they sent their mind to it!  Mayor Rothwell hosted us right after at a post-fill barbeque at his house - a reward that certainly sustained me through the bucket dumpings in the hours that preceded it. Between the fresh fruit, swimming pool volleyball, kayak racing, wonderful dinner, cheesecake (!), and general relaxing/sunbathing, we all let the stresses of a very hard work day drain away.






Judd and Sam, post fill-in
We returned to St. George's unexpectedly by barge (Geoffrey swapped out our work boat) but this was great since we had a huge amount of equipment to return. (Most) students stayed awake through our final tally of points to win the last Gelato Cup which went to..

TEAM JIM by the closest margin yet! 1069.5 to 1065.6, or a win by 0.091%. Had Ashley not been a guest blogger, Team Leigh would be eating Gelato today.  In terms of individual achievement, every student is either an upper-level Digger or Shovel Jockey and all should comfortably achieve Archaeologist (250 pts) next week, when they finish up and submit their journals and research papers when back stateside.

We're all just back from a final feast at Portofino's in Hamilton, later than we'd hoped thanks to Bermuda's idiosyncratic (at best) bus schedule (there was apparently a phantom St. George's bus at 7:45 we weren't able to catch despite being at the terminal then...). The students all fly out tomorrow - a mix of being both eager to leave and reluctant to depart. Yes, Bermuda does that to you...


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Guest Blogger Leigh - The Tragic Backstory of Smallpox Bay?

A veteran of the 2012 and 2013 field schools, Leigh has stepped up to be the site supervisor of our Smallpox Bay excavations. Besides interpreting the challenging new finds coming out of the ground, she presents here complementary historical research that helps us better interpret this site.

Interpreting and Reinterpreting Smallpox Bay


Even though there is a ruined structure marking the Smallpox Bay site, what this building was used for and who used it continues to be an enigma.  We thought the site was likely used as a quarantine house for those arriving in Bermuda who presented symptoms of smallpox, due to the name of the nearby bay and the fact that Dr. Forbes (who was interested in smallpox inoculation) owned Smiths Island in the 1750s on. But in the 2013 season we found no medical artifacts, nor evidence of cooking which would have been present at any place of convalescence.  Recent feature and artifact finds made in the 2014 season, however, are beginning to reveal how this site was used.


In the previous blog post, Ashley debuted a 20th Regiment button – but what is even better than one of those buttons is a second one which was found the next day in an adjacent square!  The presence of just one button could constitute an odd occurrence, but the second button more strongly established that soldiers in the 20th Regiment were indeed on Smiths Island.


While these buttons aren't as definitive as, say, glass medicine bottles containing smallpox treatments, to support our original hypothesis that the site was a quarantine house, they did lead to some interesting research on the 20th Regiment (sometimes known as the “Two Tens” from the XX Roman numerals they used) and how they fared in Bermuda.


This regiment arrived in Bermuda in November 1841, but Bermuda was not particularly kind to them:  in 1843 a yellow fever epidemic afflicted nearly the whole garrison. In the article “Fatal Epidemic in the West Indies” which ran in the December 5, 1843, edition of The Royal Gazette, St. George's in particular was described as “one vast sick chamber” where “fresh victims were daily being sacrificed to this yet insatiable malady.”  The same article noted that 120 members of the 20th Regiment had already died at that point in the epidemic.

In “Bermuda – Great Mortality” written 22 days later, the Gazette author remarks that “the Troops are now dispersed under canvass on various Islands, and the disease is abating.”  Smiths Island lies right across from St. George's which was plagued with the Yellow Fever.  Perhaps our stone structure was one of the many places soldiers fled to in order to escape from the epidemic.


As we are coming down on bedrock at Smallpox Bay, we are also finding numerous postholes cut into bedrock -- two of which lay underneath the stone wall of the house.  The stone wall seals these post holes, firmly indicating that a wooden structure using these posts predates the stone ruin standing on the site today.  There are still stories of other people from the past to be uncovered at our small, isolated site; hopefully the last few days of digging this season will reveal even more of them.

Guest Blogger Ashley: Just Another Day In Paradise

Ashley, recording opening elevations


Ashley is the first student to step up and contribute a blog post, reflecting on her recent finds and partnering with Peter, our volunteer who flew all the way from Virginia to participate. She's a rising junior at the U of R from California and plays on the university's volleyball team

Tobacco Pipes & Buttons

Ashley and Peter in the foreground
By the time week three  came around we were all exhausted. We had just finished with the back- breaking shoveling of the quarry fill [the infamous context 005]  from the wide  trench. That’s when Peter came along and I am very happy to say he became one of the greatest digging partners I was fortunate enough to be paired with. His enthusiastic attitude was just the boost I needed:  He was always excited to dig and learn about archaeology. Not only was he in and out of that trench like it was nothing but he was always offering to sift our bucket of dirt. That consists of lifting a twenty-pound  bucket of dirt above your head then climbing out of the trench and dragging it over to the sifters, something all of us students complain about. 


 I remember one time Peter was digging in the trench and as I came to the edge he said he found something and in his hand was an 18th-century tobacco pipe. This was a big deal for us because we were digging in an all-quarry-fill layer (basically scrapping out limestone rocks) and we weren’t expecting to find anything. We went to the lab later that week and his wife Connie got the chance to see our big find and thankfully she took a picture of it. Peter and Connie left us with full stomachs and happy hearts as they treated us to a feast to celebrate finishing Oven site.
               

Since then I have moved to Smallpox Bay were I found a button from the 20th regiment. After researching it online I discovered that the 20th regiment was in Bermuda between 1841 and 1846. I admit that I enjoy Smallpox Bay much better than Oven Site. Not only does Smallpox Bay have cool buttons but it also has an old car from the 1970s hydroponic farming days which we definitely explored, maybe even a little more than Leigh would have liked. Every day on this island presents a series of new adventures and I am so blessed to have this opportunity. A bad day in Bermuda is usually better than a good day anywhere else.

 





<-- The last resting place of an old Bedford truck

More to come as we enter our last week of work - only two digging days left and then Friday we fill in the units to preserve them for future seasons...






Saturday, June 21, 2014

Transitions, Luck, and the Third Gelato Cup

The surreal blue of the walls comes from our tarp. Diggers look like Smurfs
After finding the eastern corners of Oven Site and satisfying this season's principal goals there, our team has now fanned out to the other Eastern Smiths Island sites - Leigh is leading excavations of the Small Pox Bay ruin with Ashley, Kelsey, and Judd.


 Jim is seeing if Cotton Hole Bight can yield evidence of the first three Bermudians (c. 1610) with Alice, Mimi, Sam O. and Luke. Andrew and Sam M. are taking on the new cave site with me.
Taking out a pesky Spice tree with a borrowed
chainsaw (thanks, Danny!)


Our incredible run of luck has continued, with no rain days at all this year. Our boat commute on Wednesday morning was on a calm day at dead low tide, and as we rounded the nasty shoal halfway across, I saw through the clear water that it wasn't a shoal at all, but rather a pretty big shipwreck! We later snorkeled around it, circled its ballast pile and followed its lengthy keel, marveling at the history literally right under our noses unnoticed every day. Copper sheathing, iron pins, wooden hull and capstan all suggest a 19th century date.










A few hours later, another stroke of good fortune occurred when I ran into two W&E guys on the island, one of whom had a GPS transponder in his hand - accurate to about 1cm!  Chris Doe was kind enough to take time out to shoot in points at each of our four sites, allowing us now to precisely locate our local site maps into ArcGIS and other data platforms. Jim laid out four units in a new east-west trench to test the hypothesis that the 18th-century quarrying we discovered in 2012 that had occurred in the heart of Cotton Hole Bight site would first have necessitated shoveling off any earlier floor and architectural remains downhill to the east, which would then have been buried by the quarrying waste rubble: we may have lost the earlier floor in situ, but still could potentially recover it redeposited and perhaps under that a surface refuge scatter.

Leigh laid out two new units inside Smallpox Bay site and another four outside in front, working on the theory that, given the lack of a fireplace in the ruin, food preparation likely took place in the open outside and nearby. A close look at the interior north wall of the ruin also provided evidence that this structure was government or imperially related, rather than a private domestic site: we could make out very large initials "GR" with a broad arrow underneath: Georgius Rex and the mark of the Royal Navy.



And at the Cave Site, we cleared away the area and established a unit across the southern opening. Lots of metal detector hits and an initial examination of the interior of the cave suggest a fairly thick layer of fill.

Chisel marks in the cave's roof, revealing
that it was formerly worked to enlarge it
or smooth out its interior


More about our day-off tours of Orange Valley, Sherlock, and the tall ship Virginia tomorrow, but I can report that the Third Gelato cup was the closest one yet: Team Jim: 823, Team Leigh: 825!

The gelato was deferred until tomorrow, when we will have a Solstice Party on St. Catherine's Beach after work.

For all loyal Bermudian followers, the Bermuda National Trust is running tour boats out to our sites on Sunday from 2-5pm: http://www.bnt.bm/images/SmithIsland.jpg.

And on Wednesday, we will be giving a public lecture presenting our findings and conclusions at the end of the 2014 season at the St. George's Foundation's World Heritage Center between 7pm and 8pm: https://www.facebook.com/stgeorgesfoundation/photos/gm.291853557653600/833620193317743/?type=1&theater



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What do Archaeologists Do On Their Days Off...?

...They swim with barracuda!

Sam, Judd, Matt and I snorkeled the entire northern shore of St. George's Island - two and a half miles. These critters were hanging out under the oil tanker dock near Ferry Reach.

By popular request, here are the intrepid snorkelers:


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Father's Day Presents

It is a truth universally acknowledged that in the last week of digging any site, really strange things happen...

There seems to be some cosmic connection between the Smiths Island Archaeology Project and Father's Day. Momentous things happen. Back in 2012, for instance, a freak near-tropical storm materialized right over St. George's. This year, Father's Day was more fantastic than fractious. Indeed, we figured out most of our main questions about Oven Site in a series of startling breakthroughs.

The discoveries started after we removed the 2- to 2-foot thick layer quarried limestone blocks and rubble (Master Context 005) and approached the bedrock floor. Our working hypothesis thus far (based on staircase and the eastern wall cut, which we interpreted as a porch room) is that the Oven Site house was T- or cross-shaped, with the kitchen/hearth room in the back - something I realize now is a rather Georgian mindset assumption that work/private rooms are hidden behind front "public rooms." The placement of this year's 4-meter by 2-meter trench was done to find the "front" (eastern) and southern walls of the house. Instead, as we got into the layers sealed by 005, we discovered a clear corner (or at least the corner during first construction phase) of the house.
The fill of this corner was equivalent to that which we excavated in the lowest layers of the 2013 trench, comprised of more charcoal than soil, broken bricks and the mortar that once held these bricks to line an oven - almost certainly the one right next to this unit. Luke and Sam O. dug meticulously, exposing the outlines of these bricks as they brought the layer down.
Their patience paid off toward the end of Sunday, when they exposed a bone-handled knife and a curved iron plate in situ.















No sooner did we come up with the southeast corner than Mimi, Sam M. and Alice found a matching corner to the north, along with a new medium brown dirt floor underlying (and thus predating) the brick oven removal event chronicled in Luke and Sam O's square. Even better was the ceramics coming out of their unit: Metropolitan ware, a London-made coarse earthenware manufactured between c. 1630 and 1660, and Surrey Borderware, a London-area ceramic generally dating to the first quarter of the 17th century or earlier. Although the wall cuts have curves and do not quite line up perfectly, the new features suggest the core of the house was a two-room affair measuring 14 feet by 24 feet and faced north toward Town Harbour - the compactness of the floor layers in this corner compared with the same layer elsewhere suggests heavy foot traffic here.

Iron sheet, with two post hole features in the foreground


And the good luck continued today as well.I brought a metal detector to conduct a preliminary survey of the areas surrounding Cotton Hole Bight and Smallpox Bay, where we will be shifting our efforts in the next day or two. Just to test the machine's self-adjusting function to new soil types, I waved it over the still undug floor in this square and got a steady hit over a large area on the southern side of the unit where Sam M noted claylike soil. As Sam removed the layer, we discovered the "clay" was really a very fragile sheet of iron pressed right onto bedrock - more rust than iron, actually.We were thus able to carefully expose its extent and record it in situ, but won't be able to remove it any time soon, since it extends into the adjoining square. Had it not been for the chance testing of the metal detector, we might have easily troweled into this very fragile and ephemeral find.
Mimi and Sam, with their iron sheet and postholes
How does a 6'6" guy dig? However he wants...
as long as he keeps finding cool stuff
Meanwhile, Andrew and Judd worked the north face of Hell Hill (as Jonathan Z. christened it last year) to connect the southern wall cut of the house with the 2012 trench. In the 17th-century floor layer, they found the tip of a chert (stone) projectile point which had been pressure-flaked on both faces to create a serrated cutting edge, as well as another very thin chert flake from manufacturing.


The rest of the crew were not idle, however: we've divided the students up to excavate at Cotton Hole Bight, Smallpox Bay, and the new Cave Site and those not needed at Oven Site have been prepping these other locations for imminent excavation. Indeed, Jim opened the first new squares at CHB today, while Leigh completed a massive dead tree clearing operation in front of the SPB ruin, in part thanks to a loaner chainsaw (thanks, Danny!).


Throughout this frantic few days of discovery, we were joined by Peter S., a retired engineer from Virginia with a keen interest in Bermdian history, who heard about the dig via Jamestown. He worked amazingly hard on this holiday and today earned his Field School shirt along with Matt


A final Father's Day present from the site: just as we were leaving for the day and while I was shuttling the first group back to St. George's, a Canadian family arrived at our dock and wandered up the path. Jim overheard that the leader of the group (Jonathan) had grown up on Smiths Island. After getting all the students back to civilization, Jim and I met up with the family and we had a mutually excellent tour - we showed them our excavations and they told us all about the layout and work during the 1970s farming days - where now-gone buildings were located and their functions, what crops were grown in which fields, what the various odd metal bits and pipes we find all over were used for. The funniest story Jonathan shared was about the cave site we're about to excavate. When he was 12 his parents were going to send him off to boarding school and he planned to run away that day and hide in this cave so they couldn't! Didn't catch the end of the story, but by reasoning that he's not a mad hermit still living in said cave, I guess it didn't go as planned. On reflection, the timing is not unlike the Jamestown/Deliverance/Fourth Supply story: if we had left a bit early, or they had arrived a few minutes late, we never would have crossed paths and my knowledge of recent Smiths Island would be so much the poorer. The Archaeology Gods have truly smiled upon us this year.






Our laser level in action, or the last thing
many an Imperial Stormtrooper saw before dying


Ashley sifting

Sam O.