Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Museum Morning with a Beach Chaser

It is a truism that in the final week of any dig, the archaeology gods start to mess with you - strange features pop up or unusual artifacts appear that throw off your interpretation. I warned the students of this yesterday and within hours odd things began to happen. Wherever I've put Quarin to dig, puzzling features have appeared in her units. On Monday we noticed a linear cut at the top of her square in CHB that lined up with the wall cut visible to the north - seeming to indicate the front of the house, although narrower than we expected. I went off to Oven Site to work on the fill of the oven and map the post holes cut into the floor, expecting Quarin would find a post hole or two to the east of this apparent cellar cut line to confirm we had the front of the house. Instead, she found a quite deliberate slope:

With only a day and a half of excavation left, we couldn't start the square immediately to the east which would inform us as to how deep this sloped cut went, but as an experiment we set a tree trunk we recently cut down along the cut to see how it lined up with the back of the house:

It turns out that they line up pretty closely:

This feature changed the way I thought about the structure - I had assumed it had a vertical front wall, but what if it was a lean-to structure with a sunken floor, built with a flat sloping roof covered with palmetto leaves to both blend into the hillside as well as to catch rainwater and channel it into the basin feature Quarin also found? Only future excavation next year will be able to test this interpretation.

Meanwhile back at Oven Site, we did a lot of mapping of features cut into the walls and floor. Several post holes lined up:

The surface fill of the oven at the back of the hearth yielded hundreds of artifacts - mostly nails, dressed stone fragments and brick, bones, and a few pieces of 19th c. ceramics - indicating the oven/hearth was being opportunistically used in the late 19th c. when the site was just a ruin.

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The lab washing from this layer alone took up two screens later that afternoon

With only Wednesday and a half-day on Thursday to excavate, we still have a lot of questions and dirt to move in the unit we have open. It's now a race to the finish, but we're certainly primed for next year with specific targeted squares that will immediately shed light on both sites' configurations.

Postscript: We learned today that the archaeology team that was excavating the 1619 shipwreck Warwick in Castle Harbour (which we were supposed to visit Sunday morning but canceled due to rough seas) lost the barge they were using as their diving platform in the sudden storm that sprang up! They are now trying to right the capsized barge and were lucky not to have added a brand new shipwreck atop the old one they were excavating! 

Today was the Best. Day. Ever.


This morning we caught the 8am express bus to go West to Dockyard to tour the National Museum of Bermuda and see its conservation lab. 
Once in Hamilton, we took the fast ferry over to Dockyard, passing scores of Newport Race sailboats tied up a the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, including Spirit of Bermuda and the winner, Rambler. It was great to approach it from the water, experiencing it as countless Royal Navy vessels had in the past.


NMB Curator Elena Strong gave us a fantastic sneak-preview tour of the soon-to-open new exhibit "Shipwreck Island" - a state-of-the-art presentation of Bermuda's early 16th- and 17th-century history told through artifacts recovered from shipwrecks. The highlight of the tour was seeing objects from the Sea Venture - which should mirror the material culture we should expect to find at the CHB site if it is the 1611 home of Christopher Carter, Edward Waters, and Edward Chard.
The NMB's new "Shipwreck Island" exhibit - fantastic! 
Ceramics recovered from the Sea Venture
Elena then took us on a tour of the Corange Laboratory, where shipwreck artifacts and timbers are studied and conserved. She explained the processes used to treat a variety of materials, ranging from iron concretions to waterlogged pottery.

While in the lab, an off-hand comment about trays of pottery sherds meant to tease Kristina about her obsession with ceramic cross-mending may have led to an internship for her: it turns out the NMB needs someone to do just this! So Kristina may be staying on at the museum after the field school ends, to get practical experience in labwork reconstructing 16th-century Iberian storage jars from shipwreck contexts. A karmic birthday gift of sorts?



After the lab tour, we spent an hour (far too little time) seeing exhibits in the beautifully restored Commissioner's House, which I remember from the early 1990s being a gutted shell ready to fall down. 

We also saw the dolphins living in the keep pond...
... and the NMB's resident sheep flock that keeps the grass on the grounds mowed short.

After a quick lunch in the Freeport Restaurant by the Clocktower Mall, we went to Warwick Long Bay and Hobson's Cove beaches - because it would be a cruel thing for the U of R students to spend a month in Bermuda and never once get to the pink sands of the south shore beaches. Amazingly, we had  the beach virtually to ourselves.


While snorkeling we saw lots of fish, including a nearly four-foot-long rainbow-coloured parrotfish. We had spectacular weather, with calm winds and lots of sun. It made all those days where we dug in the rain worth it to have such fine weather on our day off (of sorts). 

We returned to St. George's happy but exhausted to celebrate Becca's birthday - one she won't forget anytime soon, I suspect. Happy Birthday Becca!
Becca and Charlotte, with Capt. Mike on his first independent cruise


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