I had some experience volunteering in the UMW archaeology laboratory beforehand, but I was excited to expand it by working in the field. I did not really know what to expect, as the only experience with archaeology I had before was a handful of classes at Mary Washington, documentaries, and a few visits to Mount Vernon in elementary school.
On Tuesday, we arrived at the site and I had my first experience with field work. We were sent into a field full of very tall grass (some of it was past my chest!) to dig small shovel test pits, about one foot by one foot wide and deep along a grid. The grid-based sampling via the test pits and the pattern of artifacts it would reveal, would help indicate the patterns of settlement and occupation by the Native Americans who lived there. Although my partner, Lizzie, and I were initially unsure what we were looking for, by the end of the day we had gotten pretty good at identifying the small ceramic sherds and the little flakes of quartz shatter. We also got much better at digging the test pits, as our first one was about one foot one foot deeper than it needed to be. I also made the mistake of wearing a white shirt, which ended up VERY dirty.
Wednesday and Thursday we began to dig at different location on the same site, which is located in a small section of woods nearer to the river. This time we dug test units which were five feet by five feet, although still just about a foot deep. My group ended up discovering what Mr. Strickland and Dr. McMillan hypothesized was an unplowed surface midden, which is the layering of trash what was tossed in an unburied heap on the ground. We found some interesting stuff in the test unit, including two metal knives, oyster shells, a ton of Native American ceramics, and a piece of German Westerwald pottery. I found a piece of European gun flint which had chips taken out of it, suggesting someone tried to turn it into a tool.
On Friday, we had our first day of lab work. We also cleaned the van, earning ourselves headaches from the smell of the cleaning product. The lab work was familiar to be due to my prior experience volunteering in the archaeology lab, especially as I was assigned to clean the artifacts outside. The artifacts we found in the field tended towards lithics and Native American pottery, with only a handful of Europeans goods. The artifacts we are cleaning in the lab come from Stratford Hall Plantation, and are mostly Europeans ceramics of several different types and glazes, with many, many small fragments of aqua window glass. Next week, I will learn how to catalog artifacts, which will be new.
It was not all fun and games however. I discovered several different puddles by the highly scientific method of stepping in them, just about ten minutes after my shoes had finally dried out; I got a bad sunburn on my arm because I failed to put on sunscreen after lunch; and Wednesday I was extremely sore from the first day of digging. Delaney, another field school student, even found a tick on my shirt but luckily I have not found any on my skin.
Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the first week. I am looking forward to the rest of field school and I think I have finally figured out what I want to do when I grow up!