Saturday, June 22, 2013

Stratigraphic Resolutions and Manning the King's Castle

Sunset tonight, from Charles Island
With less than a week left in the field school, we're at crunch time trying to tie up the loose ends at Oven Site and also get some basic dating and function assessments of the new Smallpox Bay site. Except the Oven Site is refusing to cooperate - yesterday we found YET ANOTHER packed limestone rubble layer where a nice firm bedrock floor should be. The layers we had just taken out were classic remodeling material: broken bricks, mortar fragments showing where the bricks had been held in place, and a very dark silty matrix with lots of charcoal - dismantling the lining of the oven for which the site is named. But nooooooo... The layer seals two large postholes in a line and at 12-foot centers, which presumably were the first structural supports for the house before later remodeling shifted the framing techniques AND the packed layer at least one of the postholes cuts through is actually the new compressed rubble layer, fill of a trench about 6 feet wide with parallel sides. But I believe we're close now - we have the front and back of the house - now we just need to firm up the middle...
From left to right: up high a 19th c. fence rail, cut into stone floor at a slight angle, posthole with a round stone cap, middle unit LOOKS like bedrock but isn't, dark brown layer at right end is the bricks/mortar/charcoal destruction layer and in the lower right corner the newly revealed  posthole at the house front by the stairs.
Examples of the brick and mortar fragments
coming out of the dark brown layer
 We have also been establishing our site grid for the Smallpox Bay cottage site. While the students and volunteers worked at Oven Site yesterday, I was stringing up the new units when a downpour inundated Smiths Island - about 2 inches of rain fell in about half an hour, and I know because there was no shelter at SPB! (I almost brought a tarp with me, but figured a student would bring it later!) I did make one important discovery - I sheltered under a palmetto and learned that its leaves naturally channel water into rivulets - I filled my empty quart water bottle from one such leaf-channeled stream in about five minutes, demonstrating how effective early settlers would have found palmetto thatching for rain catchment. After the sun returned, mapping, paperwork, elevations, photos and actual digging commenced - under the newly installed tarp.

Tomorrow is the Bermuda Government's Historic Heartbeats public tour of our sites, so we spent much of today making everything look pretty and taking out ankle-height stumps and roots that might trip people up. People who visited us this time last year will hardly recognize the Oven Site - so much bigger than expected, and we still need to define how long the house was - thirty to forty feet long would not be unexpected, but that's next summer's project!

On the social side of things, we attended a wonderful dinner hosted by Margie Lloyd and took the opportunity to dress up. Jonathan and I took a stab at formal Bermudian...

But tonight's outing was truly epic in scale. With light winds and calm seas, we were able to take our little boat out around St. David's Head and Cooper's Island to get to Castle Island - planned but never achieved last summer. A big thanks to Drew Pettit for granting permission for us to land and study the sites! The complex of fortifications on Castle Island is perhaps the most impressive in all Bermuda, considering that the platforms and buildings were essentially built between 1619 and 1621 and remain largely as they were designed nearly 400 years ago. 
Looking out (and down!) from the ramparts of King's Castle toward Southampton Fort, we could quickly appreciate how foolish an enemy would have been to try to force entry into Castle Harbour... 

Devonshire Redoubt a little to the north was also impressive, a hexagonal tower with guns that would rake any ship that got past the King's Castle's two gun platforms.

Impressive as these fortifications are, I was most interested in the two oven features by the King's Castle. Dating probably to the 1610s, these look remarkably like the ovate cut-outs and ovens we've found at both Oven Site and CHB - note the smoke-hole/flue above the two shallow ovens.

Afterwards, we anchored the boat by nearby Charles Island's beach and had a wonderful snorkel and picnic as the sun was setting. We found several very cool caves at the waterline of Castle Harbour and saw some very impressive-sized jacks and snappers.

 The trip home as the moon rose was magical, something I won't soon forget! 


1 comment:

Thomas Mahoney said...

The Landward Fort, on the western tip of Castle Island dates from the 1650's. There was also a fort on Charles Island, Charles Fort, from around the same time. I believe it fell into the sea.

Your work is exceptional. Thank you for your time and effort. I would like to volunteer to help.