Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Breakthroughs Galore!

Like American Football, archaeology can be a game of inches. When an archaeologist prepares to excavate a site, he or she imposes a uniform three-dimensional grid across the site in order to relate everything to each other - layers, features, artifacts. There is a nail in a tree at the Oven Site that is the center of our local universe - the zero point of all three planes. Although this grid is laid out along a north/south axis, the placement of the zero point is somewhat arbitrary. By the axiom of Murphy's Law, the corner, posthole, or other feature you predict a location for and seek will inevitably lie just outside the units you've excavated...

This week, the archaeology gods smiled upon us and our grid captured the very edge of what might prove to be an extremely important feature. While cleaning up the sidewalls of the unit where the bedrock cut signifying the front of the cut, we discovered a very narrow perfectly straight wall with a very pronounced offest rectangular cut at its end - which looks to me like the edge of a bulkhead ramp or stairway leading down into the quarried house floor. Today we opened up the adjoining unit (N2E6) to discern exactly what's going on here - stay tuned!

To the east of the front of the house, a strange feature emerged cutting into the bedrock and filled with compact brown loam. It did not intersect with the house front cut but seemed to predate it, since its orientation was at a 60-degree slanting angle to the north-south oriented floor cut. We opened another unit to the  east to define the dimensions of this puzzling feature and found that it kept going east through this square as well. In order to define what exactly we had here, we bisected the portion in N3E7 to see it in profile - and discovered that it was a shallow, irregular, and probably natural feature, with no artifacts in the fill layer - perhaps made centuries or millennia before our house was built. A much better outcome than it turning out to be a grave or some other nasty and complicated surprise...
Kristina having fun with rocks
Our third new development (in part to see how far the above feature extended) was to open a new unit to the north of the front house cut, both to follow this wall out and also because a projection from the north wall sections excavated last summer suggested we might find the northeast corner of the house in this square (or just north of it). So it was once more through the building destruction rubble layer...

... And when the rocks came out, we found another alcove-like feature carved into the front wall of the house - just like the one in the center of the western wall but more regular and cave-like than the shrine-like feature we found cut into the north wall last summer. The residents of the house clearly had some purpose in mind for making several of these types of features, but we are still at a loss as to what function they served.

We also excavated the occupation layers in the main trench and came up with a plethora of artifacts - mostly fish and mammal bones (very few birds), coarse red earthenware with a green lead glaze, a few pieces of delft, some dark bottle glass (case and round bottles), poorly fired brick fragments and - most significantly, another eleven chert stone flakes, reflecting past flint-knapping activity. This further supports the historically documented presence of Native American slaves within this household and our identification of the Oven Site as Boaz Sharpe's 1707 household. 
We also found what appears to be the broken tine of a fish-gig - a trident-like spear commonly listed in early Bermudian probate inventories used to kill fish from a boat.
Similar fish-gig in Carter House Museum

We've been blessed with many volunteers in the past few days. Over the weekend, Scott Amos and his daughter Kelsey helped us out, along with Alaina and Jason. Jillian was back Tuesday and today, and a former grad student of mine, Jim Hermann, came all the way from Penfield to get dirty.
Alaina and Jason



And finally, fed up by her brief stay in the seventeenth century, Anima made use of our modern oven to bake two big batches of AMAZINGLY GOOD chewy chocolate chip cookies. Yum!
Don't you wish you were here?  We drank half a gallon of milk to get them down properly

1 comment:

Lori Z said...

I see the cookies but wondering where's the coffee?? hahaha!! :)
Lori... Jim Hermann's employee!!
Have fun!