Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Power of Twelve

The 2014 team except Leigh, who had been abducted
by cats
It's been a whirlwind couple of days and I've been too busy to post, but if I don't I will fall hopelessly behind... The difference between a field school of five and a full team of twelve is pretty incredible, I can report, and I know now we're going to get a huge amount done this summer!

My nine students drifted in on Saturday and Sunday from eight different states - Sam M and Judd had to overnight in Toronto, en route from California. They are now dispersed to Convict Bay, Featherbed Alley, and the Police Barracks and getting along great. Since the field school requires no prior archaeological experience or knowledge of Bermudian/Early American history, we spent Monday (Bermuda Day observed) in the classroom covering these foundational basics. Charlotte Andrews was kind enough to loan us the World Heritage Center for the day, which served as an excellent lecture hall and also had our museum exhibit of key Smiths Island artifacts found last summer.
First leap into St. George's Harbour

But it wasn't all work - we celebrated Bermuda Day, fittingly with a cookout on the beach.
I had been missing grilling all through a long and very cold Rochester winter and spring and it was the perfect ending to a great first day. We even snorkeled around the shipwreck of the Taifun just off our beach and I tried out my new GoPro camera to good effect.
Sam M by the rudder of Taifun

On Tuesday we made landfall on Smiths Island, intent on clearing out last year's backfill and clearing back the brush and trees for the new units at Oven Site. You may recall that last year we established that this house was much larger than previously thought - 24 feet wide, or two rooms deep. This season's first goal is to determine the length and layout of the building, so we are putting a new trench perpendicular to last year's, following the front of the house. With nine students and two supervisors, we now need two trips across the harbour each morning and had a lot of equipment to transfer. On arrival, Oven Site looked heavily overgrown and past years' units filled with several tons of dirt. I thought we'd spend most of the week prepping the site and perhaps dig new units on Saturday... In actuality, we started three new units TODAY.

A team of twelve is a force to be reckoned with - they hit the site like a hurricane, or manic ants, or really enthusiastic workers. Five attacked the filled in units throughout the day and had most of it out by mid-afternoon.
Others followed with cleaning up the bedrock floor and the sidewalls in preparation for drawing a long contiguous profile. The morning's biggest achievement was moving the giant yellow steel tank, which was lying exactly where we think the northeastern corner of the house should be - but we flipped it end over end and moved it about forty feet away. We ended the day with a brief tour of the other Smiths Island sites and a public lecture reviewing our past fieldwork and this season's goals at the World Heritage Center - and recruited several Bermudian volunteers to boot. The students stayed through it all even though they were tired and ravenously hungry. I'm also pleased to announce that Somers Market has renewed its support of our fieldwork by again donating their hot food leftovers at 7:15 each day, which promptly vanish by about 7:45.
The biggest change to Oven Site is the extensive clearing necessary for expanding out to find the large house footprint and beyond. With a length likely of at least 24 feet and a front projecting porch room of unknown dimensions, we had to cut down a fair number of Mexican pepper and allspice trees. The site now warrants a full 30- by 50-foot tarp, which went up today to save the students from the grueling sun. In putting up the tarp, however, we had to dispatch several big ornery Mex Pep trees but a chainsaw-wielding Smiths Islander came to our rescue!
 With full shade and a much more open and spacious site, the fine clearing of past years' excavations was more civilized.
 The other great advancement this year is upgrading our technology from ancient Greek to the 21st century, in terms of taking elevations. We now have a laser level that let us shoot in the five points in each new unit is a minute or two - much nicer than wrestling with 35 feet of water-filled tubing. (We still have the tubes, though, since they don't require batteries/always work!)

Amazingly, an hour before the end today, we broke ground in three of six new units. Leigh ran everyone through the recording procedures necessary to document the Context About To Be Destroyed - photos, elevations, description, Munsell soil color identification - and then three pairs of students got a couple of buckets filled. Tomorrow the rest of the students will get their squares and we'll shoot a series of photos to create a new and better integrated 3D model of all of Oven Site. We're off to a fantastic start!
Mimi and Sam proudly showing off their new square, S2 E6.

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