Saturday, June 28, 2014

Doctor's Rounds and Fill-in Friday

Final Group Photo at the End of Fill-in Friday
Apologies to all for the gap in blogging - it's been a very intense last week of digging to get all four of our sites finished while accommodating various visiting groups and then packing up the field equipment and putting the sites to bed for another year (i.e., filling in all the open excavations we made).

During this past week, I felt like a doctor making hospital rounds twice daily, checking in with our three sites. I was ostensibly based at Cave Site and even managed some digging when not leaving it in the capable hands of Sam M. and Andrew. After hitting a flat plane of bedrock fairly early at the mouth of the cave (wherein we found a deep round posthole, possibly for constructing a blind or front wall to this part of the cave), we extended a unit west to dig within the cave proper. This involved actually being inside the cave to dig, which posed a particular challenge for getting archival photos of the tops of each context.


This second square went down quite a ways, yielding lots of mammal and fish bone but few artifacts which we could date. The exception was three sherds of Astburyware, a glossy-slip thin-walled red refined earthenware produced between 1725 and 1750 - a ceramic more fitting for the tables of rich St. George's merchants across the harbour than for a rustic cave in the wilderness.

Completing this second unit gives us a good sense of the height of the cave when it was in use. The sharp slope also suggests that next year when we resume excavations we'll find a lot more material adjoining the back walls.







Mimi and Alice's artifact-rich square
My rounds at Cotton Hole Bight followed Jim's progress bisecting the front living area of the 18th c. Pitcher House strata we discovered in 2012 and the earlier quarrying that occurred here that disturbed any previously deposited material. His 4-meter trench hit successive floor layers at the western site, which yielded an abundance of 18th and 19th c. ceramics, glass, and pipestems. In the eastern half, he came down on a thick layer of small-sized quarrying rubble which we hoped would overlay intact and preserved 17th-century layers predating the Pitcher House.

Although we found a sharply sloping natural bedrock face that looked quite promising (as well as a deep vertical fissure that a visiting geologist told us was evidence of natural ancient cracking of the landscape surface), there was no underlying layer in this area, just quarry jumble atop bedrock (itself strange, since there should be a pre-quarry ground surface covered over). We did find a partly cut large square block here that resembles
a plinth with drainage cuts adjoining it, an apparent quarry feature that dates to a different period, since this was exposed to the elements for quite a while (which allowed the stone surface to harden) whereas the other quarrying evidence at the site was soft-faced, indicating it was buried very quickly after being cut.

So in the end the evidence does not support this particular site as being that of Christopher Carter's first homestead, but the area still has all the attributes of their likely house selection. The next places to look are where the valley meets Cotton Hole Bight (looking for shallop-building evidence) and at the top of the valley, near where we've found a well or limekiln feature and a level area with lots of protruding cut stones.

Smallpox Bay involved the longest walk, which gave me ample time to contemplate what is going on with what is emerging as a very complex multi-use site. Leigh laid out units both inside and outside the stone ruin in front of the door to better date the site and shed more light on its unknown occupants and uses. As previously reported, the "GR" on the wall and military buttons of the 20th Regiment and Royal Artillery  all point to the use of the site in the early to mid-19th century as either a sentry post (to monitor possible smuggling into St. David's or Smiths Island itself) or as a quarantine
medical site in 1843, when Yellow Fever hit the 20th Regiment very hard. But the story has become a bit more complex since we found clay marbles and a small cast toy cannon barrel, suggesting there were children living at the site. A report chronicling the 1853 Smallpox epidemic noted that it started in the household of a soldier living on Paget Island with his wife and provides evidence that married soldiers were apparently permitted to live off base in Bermuda, which may account for the toys. Alternatively, a non-military family may have lived here when the building was not being used for quarantine purposes. Clearly, the site was intensively used in the second quarter 19th century based on concentrations of Annularware and other ceramic types.

You may recall that last year we found a posthole in each of our three small test squares, which suggested there may have been a wooden structure predating the currently standing stone ruin. By opening up multiple squares, Leigh sought to confirm this theory and perhaps discern a pattern among postholes suggesting of building size and construction. Within the ruin and a bit out front, her team found at least a dozen more postholes of various sizes, including one that underlay the stone wall of the standing structure, thus predating it.
The same excavations also revealed the slots for floor joists set into the east and west walls, establishing that the building once had a wooden floor. This realization helps explain the relatively small size of artifacts found within (small enough to slip through the cracks of floorboards.

Kelsey at the Mitten
Given the wood floor, likely Georgian mindset of late-18th-century residents, and military regulations about trash disposal, Leigh reasoned that an artifact scatter right in front of the house was less likely than the use of middens, presumably located nearby. With only a day left to dig and enjoying a surplus of labour (due to having a few Bermudian volunteers), she sent Judd, Kelsey, and Ashley out to scout around with the vague order to "go find the midden."  And they did - within 20 minutes (except for a while they misheard Leigh and were looking for a mitten ;-). Halfway between the ruin and Smallpox Bay, a thick band of ceramics protrude from the sloping ground. A meter-square test pit put down on the final day of the season turned up an entire bucketful of artifacts, perhaps as many as the rest of Smallpox Bay combined.

 Besides working on the new sites, we also spent much of the last week sharing our discoveries with various visitors who came out to see them. An important component of archaeology and public history is to make broadly known the new knowledge that excavations generate; otherwise you might as well never had dug them in the first place. On Saturday we hosted Bermuda National Trust Director Jennifer Gray and members of the Archaeology Research Committee. The following day, the BNT ran a special tour boat out to visit us. It was so nice to see the students presenting their sites' findings and significance to visitors, demonstrating how much they had learned in the past month. One boy breathlessly asked if he could stand on the floor of Oven Site - carved out about 400 years ago, while others marveled at particular artifacts.

 For those who couldn't get out to Smiths Island, the St. George's Foundation hosted a well attended public presentation of our findings on Wednesday night at the World Heritage Center. It was cool giving a summary talk in which some of the photographs in my powerpoint presentation were only three hours old. Our final visitors were His Excellency Governor Fergusson and his wife, who came out Thursday afternoon just as the last strata came out in the remaining units at all three sites - perfect timing.

Ace shoveler Luke
But yesterday it all came to a close, even though we were still drawing profiles and finishing up the last couple of centimeters of the Cave Site as we began to fill the others. In past years, I had either filled in the sites myself (and promised never again to attempt such foolishness) or had others do it in order to leave it open for July tours. This year, we came full circle, with students ending their dig just as they had begun it five weeks ago - moving sifted backfill to protect all the work we've already done. While Jim led a small team to cover and rebury Cave Site, Cotton Hole Bight, and Smallpox Bay, I worked with the rest (and heroic volunteers Khari and Xander) to fill in Oven Site. This involved lining the sidewalls and bottoms of all the units with tarps, carefully banking dirt bucket by bucket along the bottom for the first few feet, and then forming bucket brigades and wheelbarrow teams to bring the levels up to close to the ground surface. It was hot, gruelling work especially because we had no shade (our roof tarp became the site's new trench liner), but we actually finished up an hour before our usual ending time of 3:30! Again, I'm amazed at what twelve highly motivated people can achieve when they sent their mind to it!  Mayor Rothwell hosted us right after at a post-fill barbeque at his house - a reward that certainly sustained me through the bucket dumpings in the hours that preceded it. Between the fresh fruit, swimming pool volleyball, kayak racing, wonderful dinner, cheesecake (!), and general relaxing/sunbathing, we all let the stresses of a very hard work day drain away.






Judd and Sam, post fill-in
We returned to St. George's unexpectedly by barge (Geoffrey swapped out our work boat) but this was great since we had a huge amount of equipment to return. (Most) students stayed awake through our final tally of points to win the last Gelato Cup which went to..

TEAM JIM by the closest margin yet! 1069.5 to 1065.6, or a win by 0.091%. Had Ashley not been a guest blogger, Team Leigh would be eating Gelato today.  In terms of individual achievement, every student is either an upper-level Digger or Shovel Jockey and all should comfortably achieve Archaeologist (250 pts) next week, when they finish up and submit their journals and research papers when back stateside.

We're all just back from a final feast at Portofino's in Hamilton, later than we'd hoped thanks to Bermuda's idiosyncratic (at best) bus schedule (there was apparently a phantom St. George's bus at 7:45 we weren't able to catch despite being at the terminal then...). The students all fly out tomorrow - a mix of being both eager to leave and reluctant to depart. Yes, Bermuda does that to you...


5 comments:

Sams Mom said...

WOW! all I can say is What AN Adventure!!! Sorry to see this end, I have leaned so much and really looked forward to all the updates. And best of all, daughter looked happy, healthy and safe in all the pics!!!

Sams Mom said...

OH! and be careful swimming. I hear the man of war jelly fish have quite a painful sting!!!

Ace trowel said...

True, but poison ivy can be worse and stick with you longer - can't get that snorkeling, though...

just a mom said...

Ouch! poison ivy! hope it goes away fast.

Cave Girl said...

I think that the comment box should be eliminated next year..just a thought!