Saturday, August 26, 2017

Baby Teeth and the Elusive Manor House: The 2017 Season in a Nutshell

Apologies, dear readers, for the long gap in posts. Digging in Bermuda in August is brutal, we've found, and exhausting and the last weeks of the dig were a frantic crush of activity. Work hard, play hard and all that. When the typical day is a high of 86 and a low of 82 and high humidity, it's hard to muster the energy to regularly blog! The students were troopers, though, and pushed through the whole season with no heat stroke casualties and good morale through the end.

We have now completed our 2017 field work and I can report that at Oven Site  we excavated 54 contexts in two areas. Our initial exploratory trench 35 feet north northeast of the cistern straddling two courses of a dry Bermuda stone wall (Oven Site B) identified apparent footing of a now-lost wooden structure dating to the late 19th or early 20th century (right). 

Most of the season’s focus was on the Cistern, which was stratigraphically connected to the rest of Oven Site through a clearing excavation and was spatially defined through strategic clearing excavations to reveal its four corners.  The tarris-lined cistern measured 3.4 meters by 1.5 meters and was 0.9 meters deep, surrounded by a 30 cm-wide flattened area cut into the bedrock in preparation for its construction. Given these dimensions, the tank when filled would have held 1,300 gallons of water. Plaster samples confirm it was composed of a quicklime/mortar/brick dust slurry which set as a water-impermeable surface.  Its last use was in the 1820s, as revealed by stoneware sherds found in situ in a concrete lime mortar mixture left in place when the feature was abandoned, presumably associated with nearby 19th-century quarrying activities.
3D digital model of the extent of 2017 excavations. North is to the right.

Two meter-square units of cistern fill were excavated in late 2015 and this year, yielding more than a thousand artifacts (mostly bone but also numerous Raern stoneware and North Devonshire coarse earthenware sherds) otherwise consistent with the 17th-century date attribution of Oven Site.

To the southeast of the cistern and cut into the bedrock construction cut of the cistern, we excavated two primitive oven-like features similar to those found in vertical walls elsewhere, which presumably were made and used for cooking by the craftsmen who made the cistern.


A six-meter long exploratory trench was excavated perpendicular to the cistern’s north wall in search of the foundation of the main house, which was presumed to resemble that of Oven Site: a horizontal flat plane cut into native bedrock. Excavations instead revealed a natural sloping bedrock surface, but punctuated by at least four deep postholes.

Two of these postholes had Devonshire coarse earthenware at their bottoms as well as fragments of Bermudian stone daub with imprints of wooden/palmetto leaf wattle, which apparently dates them to the 1630s/40s rebuilding and expansion of Oven Site to the south.

All told, we recovered 1,667 artifacts were recovered at Oven Site B and the units adjoining the cistern, including 742 bones, 416 coal/charcoal fragments, 110 shell, 64 ceramic fragments, 18 pipestem/pipebowl fragments, and one 1878 Victoria half-penny.

The cistern feature we uncovered is the first of its kind yet found and is much larger than originally thought. It seems to have had a long lifespan and was in continued use long after the 17th century structures of Oven Site farm had vanished. Continued recovery of 17th-century ceramics in and near the cistern and far from Oven Site suggest we are quite near the main house. Fieldwork next summer will hopefully locate it through additional targeted testing to the northeast and northwest of Oven Site and the cistern.  As Cubs fans used to say, "we'll get 'em next year!"

Smallpox Bay

Our work this summer aimed to recover additional quarantine site cultural material to shed more light on the mixed-use occupation of an ostensibly military site and to reveal additional postholes that show distinct architectural patterning. 

Excavations at Smallpox Bay started with a quite recent and highly datable artifact: I wonder who could have written that???

Field work this summer totaled 62 contexts, 50 of which were associated with feature fills and feature cuts, exposing numerous new post holes.

3D models and orthophotos reflecting the feature plan for Smallpox Bay reveal some patterning to past and recently exposed postholes, particularly a six-post linear series set at 80 cm centers that bisects the later stone ruin wall, but further clearing is needed to definitively expose the full extent of various overlapping buildings though to have occupied the site.

In terms of assemblages, we recovered twice as many artifacts from Smallpox Bay than Oven Site, reflecting the general proliferation of capitalistic material production and global networks of circulation and distribution between the 17th and 19th centuries. A total of 3,227 artifacts were recovered from the site this year, including 185 ceramic sherds (127 refined earthenware, 42 coarse earthenware, 11 stoneware, and 5 porcelain.) One sherd of Surrey Borderware and five sherds of a sand tempered unglazed coarse earthenware were found within a posthole, indication of the very early occupation of the area.

Three large flakes of deliberately worked knapped English flint were recovered from the bottom of another deep posthole. This is an intriguing find not connected our evidence of late 17th-century stone tool-making at Oven Site associated with Boaz Sharpe's nine Native American slaves, and is hard to explain given our current conjecture that the postholes at this site are associated with Governor Moore's short-lived 1612 town. There were no Native Americans on the Plough and the first firmly documented arrival of an Indian in Bermuda is 1616 (a single pearl diver, likely from the Venezuela coast). The stones are clearly worked - long thin fluted flakes exhibiting deliberate preparation and not retouched or chipped in ways that would suggest they were used to light fires. And found as they were at the bottom of deep, early postholes indicate a presence at the construction of these early earthfast timber buildings. Let's hope we find additional examples associated with artifacts that can more firmly date the post hole buildings next season.

Other artifacts further reinforce our current interpretation of the site as a 19th-century refuge for British Army regimental soldiers and their families. With the recovery of a 26th Regiment button, we have now have a high correlation between garrisons hit by Yellow Fever (1843, 1853-54, 1864) and buttons found on the site - and a complete absence of buttons from regiments not afflicted with Yellow Fever.

The presence of children on the site was strongly suggested in past seasons through the recovery of toys such as marbles and a miniature cast brass cannon. This year, we found the arm of a porcelain "frozen Charlotte" doll and a human deciduous tooth - an upper canine "baby/milk tooth" according to Katrina, whose mother is a dentist.

In the end, this season’s findings at Smallpox Bay are consistent with and further support the ongoing interpretation of this site as potentially Governor Moore’s brief 1612 town and as a refuge for 19th century military personnel and their wives and children in times of yellow fever epidemics. While marbles and children’s toys such as a cannon barrel and ceramic doll’s arm have suggested the presence of children on the site, the recovery of a baby tooth now definitively establishes their presence. Future excavations will focus on expanding our window into post hole configurations to the east and north of the stone ruin and perhaps definitively establish the site as Moore's first capital.

Field School Activities

Awed by the Hall of History
This year's curriculum was somewhat abbreviated, since the season was only four weeks rather than our usual five and spanned Cup Match. Sadly, this was the year without a Seventeenth Century Day (perhaps a blessing, since hearth cooking and sleeping rough in an 80-degree wattle and daub cabin would no doubt have been trying), but we did many of our usual favorite activities thanks to the generosity of our many Bermudian supporters. These included touring the National Museum of Bermuda's many excellent galleries...

... and exploring nearby Fort Cunningham and taking on the Paget Island ropes course thanks to the Bermuda Police Outward Bound staff's hospitality.

Xander and Sean try to take home a little souvenir -
an 800-pound RML cannon shell.

Students also did (and did well!) the usual lab work in Reeve Court and documentary research in the Bermuda Archives.

And we enjoyed an unforgettable last night with a bonfire on the little beach at the end of Grenadier Lane, listening to the Cup Match concert in Fort St. Catherine and swimming by moonlight.

We were fortunate to be joined by Lisa Wright from the University of Rochester's Rush Rhees Library Digital Scholar's Lab for a week, as well as nine Bermudian volunteers who earned their shirts. Lisa photographed most of the diagnostic artifacts (ceramics, some glass, small finds, and unique or distinctive objects) recovered since 2010 to link with our databases, help site analysis, and enable collaboration with other researchers, as well as students doing fieldwork.

Jim returned to help out for a bit and did a celebrity cameo dig at Smiths Island's western bay to test whether Christopher Carter and company may have built their shallop there. He and Karemy fought through two very densely packed feet of stratigraphy to rule this possibility out, although they did find evidence of a forest fire many hundreds or thousands of years ago, before settlement, in their bottom-most layer. 

Their one-by-two meter-square unit looked remarkably like a grave when it was finally excavated...

Finally, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the many people and organizations that made this successful field season possible. Ty Stewart, Ted Pagano, Jacqui Rizzo, and Heather Morens at the University of Rochester helped me throughout the previous year to set up and enroll students in the field school and navigate the red tape of administering it. Dr. Deborah Atwood and the members of the Bermuda National Trust Archaeology Research Committee provided essential help in securing immigration permission and authorization to dig, as well as essential equipment and lab space and resources, without which our work could not have been done. BNT Executive Director Bill Zuill and St. George’s Foundation Director Peter Frith organized one public talk and two public tours of our sites, which helped disseminate our findings and get Bermudians interested and invested in their cultural heritage. Board of Trustees Governor Garth Rothwell and Principal Mary Lodge generously allowed us to stay in the St. George’s Preparatory School during the field season, and Garth continued to allow us to use his dock and cottage on Smiths Island. Geoffrey Redmond provided the use of two workboats in July and early August, which were vital for commuting across the harbor to work daily. Karla Ingemann and the staff of the Bermuda Archives provided advice and support to field school students undertaking historical research and made available important maps of early Bermuda and Smiths Island. Phillip Anderson gave us a fantastic historical boat tour of St. George’s and Castle Harbours to expand students’ understandings of maritime Bermuda, and Dr. Atwood also guided us through earliest Bermuda’s history at the National Museum of Bermuda. Mr. Ramotar and Chef Ryan at Somers Market contributed truly vital resources to fueling the field school – calories in the form of PB&J bread and numerous dinner dishes, while the Cook and Zuill families gave us welcome late-season respites from our usual fare at their Crow Lane and Flatts houses. My greatest thanks go to the staff (Leigh Koszarsky, Katrina Ponti, Jim Rankine, Lisa Wright), students (Ryan, Ewan, Fengyi, Sean, Karemy, and Xander), and volunteers (Clementine, Charlie, Luke, Laura, Lisa, Evelyn, Jade, Hannah, Adrian, Tatiana) who worked hard in physically quite demanding conditions in field and lab alike to make our discoveries possible. 




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