Tuesday, June 23, 2015

How Far? First Week Recap



  It’s crazy to think about the fact that we are almost at the halfway point of the field school this summer. In the span of a week and two days, collectively we have done a lot and have pushed through a substantial amount of dirt. However due to the lack of predictability in weather (rain all day, thunderstorms, and possible tornado?) we have decided to take today as a washing day! Which is as important as digging is. By washing the artifacts, the field students get to really know and understand all the material they’ve collected, as well as gain a comfort and confidence in the field when identifying objects. So far we’ve been coming into contact with an array of different types of metal (e.g. wire, different cut nails, electrical accessories, etc.), varying types of ceramic (creamware, redware, pearlware, bowl pieces, rim pieces), many fragments of bone and animal remains (giving some insight into what the owners of the home may have been consuming), and other little oddities like fragments of figurines, marbles, and pieces of jewelry. So, one could say we’ve been off to a fantastic start, especially considering the size of this year’s field school in comparison to last year’s (18:2).

Washing aside, I wanted to go into a little bit of detail pertaining to the dig thus far, the artifacts, but most importantly what we are finding the articles in and how this is important in helping us paint the narrative of the family who lived here.
While digging we get many people who come up and are very inquisitive and interested. They like to ask us questions such as “What are you looking for?” “What are you digging to?” “How far will you be going down?” Often times they expect us to have the answers laid out neatly and concisely, pedicured just like the units we nail out, but that isn’t always the case. Excavations take time, a good amount of attention to detail, but more importantly with an eye ready to look over the bigger picture. Context is key, and so as important as the objects that humans leave lying about are, much of the time it’s the features in which these objects lay in that really help us piece together a more clear picture.
While digging the Yeaton-Walsh house, we had an idea of what we wanted to uncover, that being the builder’s trench: A trench dug during the construction of the home that, when filled, helps secure the foundation. The builder’s trench is able to tell us when the house was built and will act as the earliest time capsule for the house. In this time capsule, we wanted material culture that would aid us into the daily life of the Walsh family that lived there; thus, allowing us to have a deeper understanding of the Irish immigrant experience here at the Banke.
Up until now we haven’t come into contact with any sharp definitive lines or soil change that would indicate the builder’s trench, however we have come into contact with four features which we’ve assigned the title ‘post hole’ to.

    As we peeled back the topsoil, the second layer’s surface exposed four circular ashy features, each methodically spaced out, seemingly. Naturally we thought these features were post holes belonging to an early fence, although it was very close to the house. However, quite unlike post holes, when we bisected them we discovered that they didn’t go nearly deep enough to be concluded as such, with one of them turning up a great deal of charcoal, ash, and discarded bones/shell – (food discards?), and the others disappearing completely. We decided to label these new features as a type of ashy refuse pit. We are now in a silty grey fill, which extends pretty deep, deeper than we expected, giving credit to why the foundation of the house is falling apart. Due to the shallow fill of the builder’s trench, the security of the foundation is compromised, and thus the need to restore and rebuild.

    So for now with the help of all the volunteers and students, we will continue digging (hopefully with clear skies and warm weather), and I will continue to post here about all the treasures we discover, with context of course!

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