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

Author: Catie Steidl (Page 2 of 2)

Closing Day Excavations

After 7 days of excavation, Monday November 3rd marked our last day excavating on the Quiet Green this semester. Since we had just one last day to answer lingering questions, we approached both trenches with specific goals and used string to portion off areas of the trenches on which to focus our excavating efforts. With daylight savings time having ended the day before, we started an hour earlier than usual, but the setting sun acted as a reminder throughout excavation of how little time we had left!


Isobel and Frank working around our feature (and the water pipe!) in trench 5


The final photo of our complete work in trench 5, with the closing day’s sondage (and our feature) visible at the top

The week before, Frank came across a cluster of rocks extending from the middle of the Western section of trench 5 about 60 centimeters into the center of the trench. Our main goal for the week in trench 5 was to determine whether the feature was a surface or whether it extended further down into the ground and was part of a wall or a foundation instead. We started off by running a piece of string from the North section of the trench to the South section and decided to dig deeper only on the Western side of this divide, which contained the feature. We dug about 10 centimeters down on both sides of the feature and found very little evidence of any artifacts. After clearing some of the dirt around the feature, we realized we were able to insert a trowel directly into the dirt below the feature, suggesting the feature is a surface. With a better idea about the nature of the feature, and a suspicion that the dirt surrounding it was natural deposit due to the lack of any artifacts, we ended our excavation in trench 5. We took final closing photos and measurements of the trench and Catie and Andy taught us how to measure and draw the stratigraphy of the Western section.


Niyo, Makana, and Raff working on the sondage in trench 6 to reveal more stratigraphy

In trench 6, our goals for the final day were less clear, as has been the case throughout excavation. We worked on clearing up the Western section so that we would be able to draw the stratigraphy and we opened up a sondage along the same side to try to better understand the relationship between the gravel-based context 3 and the yellow clay context 5 beneath it. Immediately after opening the sondage, we found three separate areas, stacked North to South. The middle one of these sections was more compact than the other two, so we aimed to first take out the two areas on the edges, then finding that these sections were actually lying on top of the middle of the three sections. Overall, these last excavations suggested that the gravel layer in trench 6 probably does not run across the entire trench in the way it did in trench 5, though hopefully everything will become a bit more clear when we go back to finish up drawings. Things have never been simple in trench 6!


The final closing photo of trench 6

It was bittersweet finishing the excavations. We are excited to continue onto the carriage house this coming week to analyze the artifacts we found and hopefully piece together a more complete picture of what is going on in our two trenches, but it is strange that our relatively short time in the trenches is closed for the semester     and that we have now obtained all of the information that we will from the dirt!


Isobel Heck ’16

Family Weekend–Excavations

On Saturday, October 25, the class held a special day of excavation to coincide with Brown University’s Family Weekend and the AIA Narragansett Society’s Community Archaeology Day. We invited students, families, and members of the community to stop by, learn about archaeology, and excavate with us. Nearly every person strolling through the Quiet Green, enjoying the warm, sunny weather, stopped by the excavations to investigate — often bringing budding archaeologists to assist in the excavation!


Niyo helping two future archaeologists excavate in QG5

Niyo helping two future archaeologists excavate in QG5

During our last excavations, we uncovered a plastic irrigation pipe spanning the length of QG5 (seen in the above photograph). We received word from the Department of Facilities Management that the irrigation channel is inactive and that we could proceed with excavating beneath it. We finished removing the dirt context around the irrigation pipe until we found a uniform layer of gravel, which reminded us of the gravel cut we found in QG6 previously. With diligent work on behalf of the class and numerous helpers, we managed to remove the layer of gravel, approximately 7cm in height, entirely. Beneath the gravel was a reddish clay context, which we hypothesized might be sterile due to its similar appearance to the sterile context found at the end of last year’s excavations.


Raff and myself instructing another future archaeologist in QG6

Raff and myself instructing another future archaeologist in QG6

On our previous  excavation day, we removed a gravel cut running down the center of QG6 from the North scarp. However, the previous week’s rain uncovered more gravel north of the already excavated cut. We first worked on removing the remaining gravel, then we encountered a new yellowy clay context. We waited on excavating this context, because we still had soil from the previous context remaining around the recently excavated cut.Both QG5 and QG6 turned up ceramic, glass, brick, asphalt, and metal artifacts — including a beautiful piece of blue glass with visible printing from QG5. I’m looking forward to washing our ceramics and learning more about our artifacts in the Carriage House after the two remaining excavation days.

I enjoyed the excavations and festivities today not only because we had an amazing group of archaeologists and visitors, but also because it marks my one year anniversary with archaeology. Participating in the excavations during last year’s Family Weekend was my first hands-on experience with archaeology. I found my first artifact on this day: a piece of brick. Who knew I would find so many more pieces of brick this year? As part of a bet, I took an archaeology course the following semester. One year later, I’m taking my third archaeology course and have just declared an additional concentration in archaeology. I hope that today’s events end up producing even more archaeologists!


Here are some more photos from the day:


Andy and Raff planning out our day for the ever-complex trench, QG6

Andy and Raff planning out our day for the ever-complex trench, QG6

Assyriologist Willis getting in on the archaeology

Assyriologist Willis getting in on the archaeology

Isobel gives her sister some  excavation tips

Isobel gives her sister some excavation tips

All hands on deck for rock removal

All hands on deck for rock removal

Excavators on display

We had a constant stream of visitors–a great opportunity to talk with community members and visitors alike about our project


Frank Goodman ’16

Week 3 – Excavations

In trench 5, we cleared out context 1 (the topsoil) entirely this week!  It was quite a job – lots of sweeping.  The yellowish hard clay described last week spanned all of the trench, and clearing off the soil thoroughly enough that we could see it everywhere took a good portion of last week’s excavation and all of this week’s.  Trench 6 has also been coming down onto the clay in places, but owing in some part to the absolutely absurd amount of roots over there, it’s taken them longer to clear it thoroughly.

This week was a bit frustrating – it feels like we’re waiting to find something interesting, the few scattered nifty artifacts notwithstanding.  Starting with tomorrow’s excavation, I’m hopeful that trench 5  will start to encounter evidence of the path to the President’s House.  This being my first excavation, I’m not quite sure what to look for, but the notion of uncovering something that was placed there deliberately, instead of just small objects accidentally lost on the grass is really exciting!

I’m starting to appreciate the level of detail in the Roskams text we’ve been reading [Excavation, by Steve Roskams].  I was surprised at how easy it is to get frustrated with the work when we haven’t agreed on an at least somewhat-systematic method of excavation.  I found that sweeping all the dirt back from one side of the trench towards the other was most effective, as it’s more efficient to pick up large amounts of dirt in the dustpans at a time.  But if someone else was trying to excavate around a large rock, or was troweling more carefully to try to find the boundary between contexts in a certain spot, my technique just ended up getting in their way.  Once Catie [our TA] jumped in and gave some suggestions about the right order in which to do things, it got a lot easier.

Topsoil removed in trench 5, with the clay showing all across

Topsoil removed in trench 5, with the clay showing all across

Harpo Jaeger ‘14.5

Class in the Archives

Our in-class time this week was spent on a fascinating fieldtrip just across the street to the John Hay Library. Recently renovated and re-opened, they Hay not only boasts stunning new workspace and reading rooms for students, but it also houses the university’s archives and special collections.

The students are hard at work on their first project for the semester. They have all selected buildings on campus, and are using the extensive archives at their disposal to research the history and lives of these buildings. When and how did they come to be constructed? What existed before they were built? How many different functions have the buildings had, and have they had changing roles within the Brown community?  These are questions we ask about any structure we might excavate, but they are just as important for those that are still standing. Some of Brown’s oldest buildings have led particularly diverse lives, and their histories are recorded in everything from receipts for building materials to poetry written by the students who lived and studied in them. The archives hold a number of other materials as well–published books, personal and administrative letters, purchase and construction records, issues of Brown Alumni Monthly and student publications, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, maps, blueprints, elevations of buildings–the list goes on. Fair warning, however–we quickly discovered that once you start poring over some of these, it’s hard to cut yourself off!

As Brown’s campus has expanded over its 250 year history, many buildings have come and gone. A number of these can still be appreciated in the archives today, not just for their beauty, but also for their historical and architectural value. Unfortunately, no hint of their presence remains to be seen on campus, and our whole group was surprised to see what had come and gone, even in the last 50 years. We encourage everyone to take advantage of the wonderful resources available at the Hay–appointments to see materials must be made by request, but the staff are both extremely knowledgeable and more than happy to help.

Details about the Hay, including a list of their collections, is available here

For further history and a guide to special collections, click here

(Photo courtesy of Brown University http://library.brown.edu/about/hay/Hay-768px.jpg)




Testing Soil and Other Preparations

Last week, as we were finalizing preparations for The Archaeology of College Hill, a team of Joukowsky Institute volunteers gathered to do some text excavating on the Quiet Green. This was part of a larger soil testing project, designed to help us measure the levels of different particulates that sifting our dirt releases into the air, and to make sure that those of us digging during the class wouldn’t be exposed to anything undesirable.

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