Celebrating the history and archaeology of Brown University and Providence, Rhode Island

Month: October 2016

Halloween Digging

Lena Milton

Today, we had a spooky time excavating at the Moses Brown site on October 31, or Halloween. Although we didn’t find any skeletons, we still had a very productive day, and the weather was perfect for digging. Both the trenches were a little messy today, with soil moved around the surface, considering it rained for most of the day yesterday. In both trenches, we have started to reach a new, yellower soil that has more clay in it. Trench MB4, which had Sean, Alok and Sasha working in it today, was trying to reach a new context (Context 4) by digging down to the clay soil in all areas of the trench. Similarly, trench MB3 was also trying to uncover the yellow soil more uniformly.


Before talking about today’s excavation, I’ll give a brief history of excavations in both trenches so far. In MB4, we dug down 10 cm. and then started context 2, where almost immediately we hit a soil change when the dirt got very gravelly. Then, we created a new context, context 3, which is where we began today. MB3 went down two contexts and then created context 3 when the dirt became mottled yellow and dark brown (2.5Y 7/8 and 10YR 3/2 respectively, according to the Munsell Soil Color Chart).

I worked in MB3 today, where so far we have uncovered a few larger rocks on the north side of the trench. We began by simply scraping a top layer of dirt off to get rid of any soil changes due to the rain. After that, we spent most of the class period uncovering yellow dirt. We found a large nail, about 8 cm long, where we think the corner of the house should be if our GPR-based (Ground penetrating radar) trench placement is correct, as well as two more large nails along the north wall. (See nails next to slate in the picture below). We’ve also found a lot of brick pieces in that area as well. After a while, it became apparent that the northern side of the trench is very clearly dark brown dirt and rocky, while the rest of the trench showed the yellow dirt. It’s unclear what this division is coming from, but it did prompt us to close out context 3 in order to create two new ones, context 4 and 5, the northern side with brown dirt, and the rest of the trench with yellow dirt.


In the picture below, you can see five of the artifacts found today in MB3. The thin reddish piece in the upper left is brick, as is the squarish piece to the right. To the right of that is a piece of coal. Under that is some sort of rock that we think may be asphalt, but are unsure, and last, the bottom left is a large piece of flat slate.


I’m very curious to uncover more of these large rocks, and to figure out why we may be seeing this split between the dark and light dirt in MB3. All in all, it was a productive day, and as we have very little time left to dig, we’re hoping to continue getting deeper next week.


2016 field update

Moses Brown Week 5, 10/24/16 
Danielle Morshead
Today is our fifth week digging on the Moses Brown site. There are 6 of us in the class, which is titled “Archaeology of College Hill.” We started out our first couple digs learning to use trowels and picks, which we use to work our way through the dirt. Trowels are better for gently scraping away at a layer, while picks are useful when a large amount of dirt needs to be moved in a short amount of time. We use dust pans to scoop up the dirt into buckets. We then “screen” the dirt by shaking it over a wire grate, which separates out the dirt from the solid objects (mostly rocks, sticks, and dirt clots). This way, we won’t miss any artifacts that may have been scooped up among the dirt piles.
 The site we are excavating is on the Moses Brown school’s campus. It is located on the Northeast corner of the intersection at Lloyd ave and Hope street. We know that there was a house on the property that existed from 1885 until about 1940. We want to find out more about the people who lived there and we hope to do so by uncovering their past via artifacts and features that they may have left behind.
Our goal for today’s dig was to “move a lot of dirt.” We are trying to get through context 2, which is at a depth of roughly 10cm to 20cm. Context one was just below the topsoil, from 0cm to 10cm. We determine the change in context either from the change in depth from decimeter to decimeter or else if there is a change in soil characteristics. We judge the soil characteristics by the amount of rocks, the color, and the consistency. We determine the color of the soil using the Munsell Soil Color Chart, while we determine the soil type by wetting it and testing its content for clay, loam, and sand. We also track our progress through the different contexts by measuring the depth of the pit in comparison to a fixed point using a line level. The pit I was working on today, MB4 (Moses Brown 4), went down to roughly 20cm-24cm.
Today some of the artifacts and objects of significance we uncovered included a few brick pieces, lots of slate, a piece of vessel glass, window glass, some metal fragments, and coal. In the MB3 pit, there are lots of large stones that may be paving stones from the old house. In the past couple weeks we have found a pipe stem, a piece of bone, a few ceramic sherds, glass shards, many nail and metal fragments, and lots of modern refuse including a spider man action figure head, wrappers, and styrofoam.
By the end of today’s dig we are nearing the end of context 2, and potentially will open context 3 next week. We noticed some soil color changes in MB3, which suggests we are reaching a new layer of soil. Stay updated to see what happens next!
Danielle Morshead