Joey Savino: The Ex Situ Series. Volume 1: “Foundations”

In this series, Joey will be exploring his ideas, thoughts, feelings, and experiences in archaeology from the field to the lab, and ultimately to a final research project focused on the Sherwood Forest Plantation site.


There’s something special about Virginia clay.  There’s a special magic in it.  It has a certain soft give, yet firms up if you push too hard.  It’s got a scent, appropriately earthy, all musk and damp and slightly tangy sweet.  It’s also earthy in the sense of raw, sleeping potential, something ready to be worked and put to form.  But the real magic is the color.  Virginia clay is a complex red.  It can be a somber brownish red or a vibrant garish red.  Sometimes it’s a medley of the two, or of others, or some shade in between.  But damned if it doesn’t stain everything it touches.  It seeps into your clothes, your tools, colors your skin, fills your nostrils and your brain, inviting you down to feel its coolness.  Its touch, a lingering sense in the back of your mind and on the back of your tongue, a flavor you can’t quite recreate, a sensation you can’t quite place.  Virginia clay is a subtle color.  It starts slow, where you only see some of it here or there, then suddenly it’s all there is, all you can see, whether in the ground or in the skin.  It’s strange to think, that in this land so stained in mind, of Union blue and Rebel grey, of forgotten native and colonial white, of enslaved and silenced black, of countless multitudes crossing these grounds, whether in travail, train car, hold, or hearse, singular or across generations, that each may have been stained by the same clay, by that magical Virginia red.  Each carried something of it away.  All may have had that same, shared sense, that taste they could never quite place, that almost spicy sweet.  But each, I suppose, would be stained somewhat different.  There’s a magic in that, too.  Beyond the stains that color the skin, there’s a certain something that stains the soul.  It builds up slow, seeps in by layers, until it’s all there is, all you can see, all you can taste.  It colors everything, and is stubborn against removal.  Maybe that’s part of the magic.  Virginia clay has a sticking power, a staining power.  At least, that’s been the magic to me.


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