Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Father's Day Presents

It is a truth universally acknowledged that in the last week of digging any site, really strange things happen...

There seems to be some cosmic connection between the Smiths Island Archaeology Project and Father's Day. Momentous things happen. Back in 2012, for instance, a freak near-tropical storm materialized right over St. George's. This year, Father's Day was more fantastic than fractious. Indeed, we figured out most of our main questions about Oven Site in a series of startling breakthroughs.

The discoveries started after we removed the 2- to 2-foot thick layer quarried limestone blocks and rubble (Master Context 005) and approached the bedrock floor. Our working hypothesis thus far (based on staircase and the eastern wall cut, which we interpreted as a porch room) is that the Oven Site house was T- or cross-shaped, with the kitchen/hearth room in the back - something I realize now is a rather Georgian mindset assumption that work/private rooms are hidden behind front "public rooms." The placement of this year's 4-meter by 2-meter trench was done to find the "front" (eastern) and southern walls of the house. Instead, as we got into the layers sealed by 005, we discovered a clear corner (or at least the corner during first construction phase) of the house.
The fill of this corner was equivalent to that which we excavated in the lowest layers of the 2013 trench, comprised of more charcoal than soil, broken bricks and the mortar that once held these bricks to line an oven - almost certainly the one right next to this unit. Luke and Sam O. dug meticulously, exposing the outlines of these bricks as they brought the layer down.
Their patience paid off toward the end of Sunday, when they exposed a bone-handled knife and a curved iron plate in situ.

No sooner did we come up with the southeast corner than Mimi, Sam M. and Alice found a matching corner to the north, along with a new medium brown dirt floor underlying (and thus predating) the brick oven removal event chronicled in Luke and Sam O's square. Even better was the ceramics coming out of their unit: Metropolitan ware, a London-made coarse earthenware manufactured between c. 1630 and 1660, and Surrey Borderware, a London-area ceramic generally dating to the first quarter of the 17th century or earlier. Although the wall cuts have curves and do not quite line up perfectly, the new features suggest the core of the house was a two-room affair measuring 14 feet by 24 feet and faced north toward Town Harbour - the compactness of the floor layers in this corner compared with the same layer elsewhere suggests heavy foot traffic here.

Iron sheet, with two post hole features in the foreground

And the good luck continued today as well.I brought a metal detector to conduct a preliminary survey of the areas surrounding Cotton Hole Bight and Smallpox Bay, where we will be shifting our efforts in the next day or two. Just to test the machine's self-adjusting function to new soil types, I waved it over the still undug floor in this square and got a steady hit over a large area on the southern side of the unit where Sam M noted claylike soil. As Sam removed the layer, we discovered the "clay" was really a very fragile sheet of iron pressed right onto bedrock - more rust than iron, actually.We were thus able to carefully expose its extent and record it in situ, but won't be able to remove it any time soon, since it extends into the adjoining square. Had it not been for the chance testing of the metal detector, we might have easily troweled into this very fragile and ephemeral find.
Mimi and Sam, with their iron sheet and postholes
How does a 6'6" guy dig? However he wants...
as long as he keeps finding cool stuff
Meanwhile, Andrew and Judd worked the north face of Hell Hill (as Jonathan Z. christened it last year) to connect the southern wall cut of the house with the 2012 trench. In the 17th-century floor layer, they found the tip of a chert (stone) projectile point which had been pressure-flaked on both faces to create a serrated cutting edge, as well as another very thin chert flake from manufacturing.

The rest of the crew were not idle, however: we've divided the students up to excavate at Cotton Hole Bight, Smallpox Bay, and the new Cave Site and those not needed at Oven Site have been prepping these other locations for imminent excavation. Indeed, Jim opened the first new squares at CHB today, while Leigh completed a massive dead tree clearing operation in front of the SPB ruin, in part thanks to a loaner chainsaw (thanks, Danny!).

Throughout this frantic few days of discovery, we were joined by Peter S., a retired engineer from Virginia with a keen interest in Bermdian history, who heard about the dig via Jamestown. He worked amazingly hard on this holiday and today earned his Field School shirt along with Matt

A final Father's Day present from the site: just as we were leaving for the day and while I was shuttling the first group back to St. George's, a Canadian family arrived at our dock and wandered up the path. Jim overheard that the leader of the group (Jonathan) had grown up on Smiths Island. After getting all the students back to civilization, Jim and I met up with the family and we had a mutually excellent tour - we showed them our excavations and they told us all about the layout and work during the 1970s farming days - where now-gone buildings were located and their functions, what crops were grown in which fields, what the various odd metal bits and pipes we find all over were used for. The funniest story Jonathan shared was about the cave site we're about to excavate. When he was 12 his parents were going to send him off to boarding school and he planned to run away that day and hide in this cave so they couldn't! Didn't catch the end of the story, but by reasoning that he's not a mad hermit still living in said cave, I guess it didn't go as planned. On reflection, the timing is not unlike the Jamestown/Deliverance/Fourth Supply story: if we had left a bit early, or they had arrived a few minutes late, we never would have crossed paths and my knowledge of recent Smiths Island would be so much the poorer. The Archaeology Gods have truly smiled upon us this year.

Our laser level in action, or the last thing
many an Imperial Stormtrooper saw before dying

Ashley sifting

Sam O.


Sams mom said...

wow, cant believe how deep the hole are getting!!! after this group of diggers leave, will another group continue digging???

Smiths Island Archaeology Project, 2010- said...

Actually, we fill it all in at the end in order to protect the layers in the off season and dig out the backfill first thing next year. A lot of work, but necessary to preserve the sites.