Sunday, June 2, 2013

Perfect Digging Weather!

It's been a busy few days in Lake Woebegone Smiths Island excavations...

We're making incredibly fast progress on the two trenches at Oven Site, heading east to find the front of the house and digging south up the hillside to follow the back of the house. Our volunteers have been wonderful - Chloe came out again and Matt took a stab at it today. In the past three days, we've put up the shade/rain tarp which, coincidentally due to its pitch, gave us a wonderful sense of the size and interior space of what the house may have looked like when standing in the 17th century.
Chloe, John, Anima, Kristina, Leigh, Krystl
Jonathan's "Casual Friday" digging stance

We quickly got through three layers in the four units to end by today at the top of the house destruction layer, circa 1712 - a great place to end our first week's work, poised to both define the front of the house and start recovering material from the floor of the house when it was occupied. Several fragments of coarse slipped earthenware redeposited in the upper layers provided a promising glimpse into what hopefully is to come.
Jonathan and Matt 
Anima taking elevations with
a water level
Vertically challenged archaeology
Excavating the back portion of the house was a real challenge, since the meter squares slope sharply to the north and east. I recorded perhaps the most surreal set of elevations in unit N1E1:

The SW corner was 25 cm below the datum point, while the NE corner was 179 cm below the datum - all in the same meter square. Hiding in the rubble were two cedar logs that must have been buried there for decades, yet were in remarkably solid shape - a testament to the durability of Bermuda's famous shipbuilding timber.
All in all, very few artifacts found but we're poised next week to get into the Good Stuff - the layers associated with Oven Site's heyday in the rooms in front of the kitchen.

I put out to the blogosphere/global public a request to help me figure out what's going on with the strange, recent feature found nearby Oven Site and since cleaned out. It clearly dates to the 1970s/80s but its purpose is entirely unknown. After Kristina cleaned it out, we discovered the interior is quite deep and has a hollow pipe vertically rising from the bottom, with cross-braces. The styrofoam packed in to surround the drum and the resemblance of the shaft to a turning paddle made me think of a huge primitive ice cream maker, but I doubt it somehow. If anyone out there has seen anything like this or knows its function, please add a comment to this post to let us know!

We've also been very busy beyond our Smiths Island work. We spent a day in the Bermuda Archives discussing how archaeologists combine documentary research using a wide array of sources with fieldwork and excavations to maximize their understanding of the past and guide their searches for new sites. Jonathan and Anima embarked on independent research projects fleshing out the lives of the residents of the Old Rectory and Seven Gables, two historic houses in St. George's that date to the 1690s. We were able to see original records from the Bermuda Company period dating to the 1620s (and imagining the author penning the words by candle or lamp inside a palmetto thatched timber frame house like the one we're excavating), poring over Richard Norwood's 1663 survey map, and learning the names of the slaves who lived in St. George's homes in the 1821 colony-wide slave register.

Andrew and Carla were supportive and great as ever - two of the coolest archivists you're likely to meet...

And finally, we had our second annual outing and tour exchange with my old ship, the Corwith Cramer, which is in St. George's until Tuesday. Students came out this afternoon to tour our sites (Oven Site, CHB Site, Cotton Hole Bight) and asked a lot of great questions, especially about the environment and ecological change over the past 400 years. We had dinner aboard the Cramer and the U of R students got a sense of shipboard life and routine from talking with their students (who are midway between St. Croix and NYC, to end up at Woods Hole).
Sunset story time with Uncle Mike

After dinner, we all went out to Alexandra Battery on St. George's eastern coast, where I told them the story of Christopher Carter (the First Bermudian) and the Sea Venture to fill them in on the significance of the "Three Sailors"/CHB site we're investigating - a fantastic location to tell the tale, since we could look east to see where the Sea Venture now lies and gaze down on Building Bay, where the Deliverance was built. The site of Sir Thomas Gates's castaways' camp is likely nearby as well, although if so then likely destroyed by the many recent houses in the area. All in all, a fantastic day. Tomorrow we're off to dive/snorkel out on the western reefs, looking at shipwrecks and comparing land archaeology with underwater archaeology (not in your boat, Geoffrey!) - and hoping the poor weather forecast proves to be premature or exaggerated!

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