Signing up for field school this summer has led to many amazing opportunities. One of the biggest surprises was the opportunity to stay at Stratford Hall Plantation. Stratford Hall, built in 1738, is best known as the birth place of Robert E. Lee and home to the brotherly signers of the Declaration of Independence. While staying on the plantation we have been given the chance to live in the renovated barn that is located right down the road from the Great House. Having the opportunity to roam the plantation at night is incredible and it really shows a different side to Stratford that not many get to see, one of an eerie beauty. While at Stratford for our five weeks, we have been given the chance to process and analyze artifacts in a remote lab that the Department of Historic Preservation has set up on site. Archaeologists from MWC/UMW excavated various sites at Stratford for over twenty years and they now have a backlog of artifacts that need to be cleaned and cataloged. Two days a week we head to our lab to get to work on the artifacts.
The first step of lab-work is washing artifacts. Washing artifacts can mean either using a dry toothbrush to scrub dirt off bone, metal, or other delicate materials or using a wet toothbrush to scrub most other types of artifacts, such as glass, rock, and ceramic. Cleaning artifacts can be very fun; but, it can also be very tedious. Getting to see the dirt wash off and reveal the glaze of a ceramic is exhilarating; however, cleaning a pipe can be stressful because you don’t want to damage the artifact. Having only a little bit of lab experience, I found learning how to catalog artifacts to be interesting and complicated. I had volunteered in the Mary Washington lab on campus in the past and cleaned many artifacts but, this was the first-time cataloging. Cataloging is our way of keeping track of the different artifacts we find, by labeling the data we can look back at any time and see all of the information needed. It also allows us to look at the “big picture” and see everything found on the site. It is a tedious task because you must be sure to correctly input the information so as not to falsely label the artifact. You must be able to identify an artifact, note anything special about it, weigh it, and record a variety of other inputs, such as manufacturing date, which provides a TPQ. When cataloging you are given the chance to learn so much about an artifact: what it is and what it was used for. The many artifacts we get to handle are so fascinating and many are things I never had the chance to handle before.
One of the first artifacts I had the pleasure of cataloging was a projectile point. Projectile points are one of my favorite artifacts to find because they are all so uniquely different. When cataloging a point, you must weight it and take several different measures, but you must also identify what type it is. The base of the point can help to identify it and tell us a rough estimate of when it was made based on known chronologies. Over time the size and shape of projectile points changed, the more recent points tend to be smaller as they went from being used to hunt megafauna to small woodland creatures. The point I had the chance to identify was likely a Guilford Lanceolate point, which would have been made about 6000-5000 years ago (MAC Lab). Having learned so much in such a brief time really excites me for the future and all the other things I will get the chance to find and explore.