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

# Tag: archaeology

Moses Brown Week 5, 10/24/16
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!

Time to draw some stratigraphy! This week in the field, we were yet again blessed with outstanding weather that allowed us to stay warm and keep the trenches well lit for our drawing purposes. We originally intended to work for half the period then wash more artifacts from our dig but the light allowed us to work for the entire time! I was in trench 1 with both Lucas and Emma, and we had the difficult task of drawing the stratigraphy of our somewhat confusing cross section.

Essentially, a stratigraphy drawing is an illustration of the differences in soil that accumulate over time. As time passes, soil changes or new sediment is introduced, leaving layers of differing content. These differences can range from changes in color, texture, or material found, to more complex indicators like pollen or chemical molecules that might need the assistance of devices. We can do a lot with this stratigraphic data, but primarily it is hoped that we can use it to both date what we found within the layers and also make inferences to what might have been happening during that period of time.

Unlike Trench 2, we were tasked with a complicated, but interesting, soil change matrix. [Editor’s note: a friendly rivalry has developed between the trenches. All assertions herein are the author’s own.] Trench 2 followed the textbook example of appearing like a seven layer cake, with each soil layer being relatively flat and in order. Trench 1’s stratigraphy was less orderly, with rock inclusions and rogue layers abounding throughout.

We started off by first looking at the wall of the trench we were about to draw and picking out the important layers that needed to be rendered on our graphing paper. After deciding on what layers to draw, we used our trowel to mark the layers themselves. After this, we lined up the tape measure along the side of the wall and corresponded each 10 centimeters along the wall to a point along the marked line. All in all, we had 20 points along the 2 meter long wall for each layer. It was actually surprisingly tiring! We had to squat in the trench without hurting the wall while also keeping the measurements accurate. Once we got to the rock inclusions and the strange layer in the middle, we certainly were feeling exhausted!

A drawing of the stratigraphy from Trench MB 1, by Emma, Lucas, and Axel

After corresponding each point along its respective layer, 6 in total, we looked at our drawing, and I realized how I was both impressed by how different the soil can be from layer to layer and also frustrated because this illustration served as a reminder that our trench was difficult to dig in for a reason! I soon came to realize though that this frustration I was feeling was somewhat unwarranted. Of corse we were not able to dig as much as we might have wanted to keep our data as pure as possible, but what was told to me multiple times over the corse of the dig finally started to resonate. These complicate layers have their own stories to tell, and that in itself is exciting! Sure, the ceramic sherds and metal pieces have their place in our digs, but they should not necessarily play a bigger role in our discussions just because they can be washed and held in our hands! I am really interested to see what we can gather from this soil, because to the untrained eye, it might be just dirt, but something tells me that we are going to find out a lot more about earth underneath our feet.

Axel Getz ’18

This week was our last week digging. Spirits were high and the weather was warm, but everyone was sad for digging to end. Our final passes did not yield any signs of house structures, although there was plenty of evidence for life at the corner of Lloyd and Hope. Because it was the last day, everyone was especially focused at efficiently (and correctly) moving a lot of soil in order to see what was below.

Our digs thus far did not reveal any visible evidence of house structures, so rather than excavate the entire trench we dug sondages in order to go deeper. Sondages are narrow deep trenches within the larger used to evaluate site stratigraphy deeper in the trench. Our sondages were 50 cm wide and went lengthwise north to south in the trenches. The sondages didn’t reveal any new stratigraphic units in the soils. In MB 2, the soil were slightly darker with depth, but were likely part of the same context. MB #1 had a large number of large rocks concentrated in their sondage, which could be archaeologically significant and indicate either a wall or backfill. As it goes with discoveries made on the last day, we may never know.

Axel and Maggie working in MB #1. The concentration of rocks in the MB#1 sondage is seen here

Despite no changes in stratigraphy, we did find multiple artifacts in MB #2. These included multiple pieces of white ceramics, as well as glass, slag, and a rusty nail! A lot of the ceramic pieces were small enough to go straight through the sieve, meaning some pieces were probably missed in our excavations. We also must consider the processes that created such intensely worn ceramics. Questions like this are an essential component of archaeological analysis, and were discussed in class. In his book, Excavation, Steve Roskams states that total excavation of a site is impossible, and the best way to fully understand and study a site is through interdisciplinary archaeological study. For our site, I think soil micromorphology has a lot of potential to show us interesting changes in the soils with depth.

Lucas and Julia were excited to find artifacts while sieving!

Daylight-savings time meant we finished under the light of a nearby streetlamp. Everyone was sad for the digging to come to an end. This was an awesome experience for learning field archaeology methods. All the wonderful members of the class (instructors especially!) made the dig a positive educational experience.

We will return to the trenches to finalize our stratigraphic sketches of the site and fill in the trenches, but next week we start in the lab and will more closely examine the artifacts we collected. What will they show? Check back soon to find out!

Sources:

Roskams, Steve. Excavation. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 2001. 32-33. Print.

Ned Willig ’16

The fifth week of our excavation brought beautiful weather: sunny and 54 degrees Fahrenheit. We tried to take advantage of the sun, as the following week brought Daylight Savings Time and consequently darkness for the second half of our class. It was also our second-to-last excavation day so we wanted to be as productive as possible.

L to R: Axel, Lucas and Maggie diligently sifting soil from Trench 1

I was digging in Trench 2 this week with Julia, Ned and Charlotte. Since the week before Trench 2 had closed Context 2, we decided to get as close to closing Context 3 by the end of the session as possible. Since Trench 1 found a soil change when they began digging Context 3, we decided to all begin by digging on the northern side of the trench and proceed with caution. Unless we found a soil change around ten centimeters below the top of Context 3, we would define Context 3 as an arbitrary layer, used for locating our artifact finds stratigraphically.

L to R: Emma, Andy, Julia and Char taking notes and discussing how to proceed in Trench 2

It was cramped having four people digging on the same side of the trench, but we pretty quickly realized we were not finding the same soil change that was occurring in Trench 1. As a result, we defined Context 3 as an arbitrary layer and continued to remove soil as quickly as possible while maintaining a watchful eye for potential finds. As we dug, we noticed many small rocks and a few large rocks, though they did not appear to have any structural significance. Still, we dug around the larger ones carefully and did not remove them unless they were naturally dislodged from the soil as we dug deeper. We also found one piece of ceramic!

Ned keeping a careful watch over Trench 2

The soil in Context 3 was mainly sandy loam, with some gray clay-like inclusions and darker soil in areas. By the end of the session we still could not find a clear soil change, so we decided to level the floor of the trench as much as possible, and take an “in progress” closing picture, in case we decided to continue Context 3 at the next session. It was definitely sad knowing it would be our last full digging session, but I am excited to process our finds and try to interpret our results in the lab.

Closing picture for Context 3, Trench 2

Emma Byrne ’17

After an exciting Family Weekend at Brown University, with parents, children, and curious people paying us visits on the Moses Brown excavation site of The Archaeology of College Hill, we are back at it, excavating trenches one and two, hoping to discover yet more artifacts and meaningful finds.
Family Weekend, if anything, has been the occasion to move forward drastically in the excavation of our two trenches—leading to trench 2 starting the digging up of context 3, and trench 1 retracing the delineations between context 3 and 4.

L to R: Axel, Maggie, and Lucas aren’t put off by having to navigate the messy stratigraphy!

Trench 1 is indeed facing a peculiar stratification structure, with context 3 (representing the clear, sandy beige soil change) not spreading across the whole surface of the trench. The soil change seems to disappear under a thin layer of beige sand on the west face of the trench. While the original soil change goes deep in the other faces, the north-western face creates a junction between the clear brown soil change and a darker, sensibly moister soil very similar, if not identical, to context 1. Our incentive is, then, to excavate context 4 in order to retrieve another soil change—one that could be connected to the soil of context 3.

This is exactly what we found; just about ten centimeters under the level of context 3 lays another soil change. This new soil change spreads all over the now-excavated northwestern face of the trench. Separated by a clear line, the deeper soil is darker than that of context 3. It is, however, a clear change in color and texture that contrasts with the soil of context 1, bearing more resemblance to the sandy beige color and texture of context 3’s soil.

Our TA Eve lends an enthusiastic hand with the sifting!

Trench 2, although not confronted with further soil changes, kept excavating context 3, and discovered more ceramics and pottery. After a growing list of artifacts (including nails and pipe pieces), trench 2 reaffirmed a high density of artifacts, which contrasts with the fewer finds in trench 1.

L to R: Emma, Julia, Char, and Ned are hard at work in Trench 2 and excited about all those artifacts

Despite the weather getting sensibly colder with October coming to an end, excitement among the students of the Archaeology of College Hill only intensifies, as bonds between our small team get stronger.

On a beautiful, sunny Saturday morning, our class and fellow archaeologist students from the graduate school gathered for Community Archeology Day! With the extra hands, we were excited to make a good deal of progress in both of our trenches. Both trenches were working on context two, and we were able to identify a similar sienna-colored, sandy soil change in each trench, that would begin context three. It was very interesting to talk to the graduate students about our project and their projects and interests. We also learned a lot about their digging techniques and strategies while working in the trenches with them.

This weekend was family weekend for both Brown and the Moses Brown school, so we had quite a few families stop by to check out what we were doing and see some of our finds. We all took turns describing our project and our goals to the visitors, and showing them some of our finds. Some of the visitors even got down in the trenches with us to help dig!

Our friend Leo learning to dig! He really rocked the Shark hat!

We uncovered a few exciting artifacts during our dig. Trench 1 noticed a fair bit of coal and charcoal inclusions while digging. In trench 2, we found about 6 nails primarily in the middle to east side of the trench. We also found quite a bit of slate in this part of the trench.  Additionally, we found a piece of a pipe stem, and judging by size of the hole through the stem, we deduced that it was from the 19th century – right around the time period our house was first inhabited! We also found a clay marble, which is pictured below next to a modern day marble that one of our visitors happened to have in his pocket!

Clay marble found in trench (left) next to modern day marble (right)

It was awesome to have so many people from the archeology department to come work with us on Community Archeology Day. Talking to our visitors and fellow archeologists about our project got everyone really excited and more invested. It was also great to make a lot of progress in our trenches and to have some neat artifacts to show for it! I am looking forward to see what we find next, especially as we approach context 3 and 4! I am having a lot of fun working together with my class mates, and we are all learning so much.

Karl and Matt, two JIAAW grad studets who came by to help us out

Julia Schoenewald’17

A large piece of pottery from Trench 2 that may have been part of a vessel or a component of the architecture. Pencil for scale.

This past Monday marked the third week of excavation at the Moses Brown site, and we are all feeling much more confident in our ability to utilize our tools. This week, the soil was very moist because of the large amounts of rain that we received over the weekend, which made digging much easier in both trenches. At the end of the second week, both trenches were able to close context 1, so this week was very exciting as we moved on to context 2. In trench 2, there was a very dramatic soil change in the northwest corner, which does not seem to match the soil at thislevel in the rest of the trench. Here, the dark-brown, silty clay began to change into a beige, sandy soil. We are not exactly sure what this soil change might be, but we hypothesize that it might be a part of where the foundation of the house was demolished and then filled. However, we will not know more about this until we can dig further.

Sherds from a transfer printed vessel in Trench 2. Pencil for scale.

This week was very interesting in terms of artifacts! This week we were able to recover large pieces of glass from both trenches, as well as a large amount of coal from trench 1. In trench 2, we found a large piece of ceramic, which looks like it may have been a piece of a brick from the facade of the house or a piece of pottery (see left). In trench 2, we also recovered some pieces of what looks like ceramic dining-wear, some of which has a blue pattern printed on it (see right) and some of which is all-white (see below left). These new finds are very encouraging, and they indicate that we are digging in the right location.

All-white sherd of possible dining ware from Trench 2

So far, I am thrilled to be participating in this course. It is such a cool hands-on experience that I really have never had the opportunity to partake in. Finding artifacts is one of the most amazing sensation, not only finding the artifact but connecting that to a real family that actually lived in this site almost 200 years ago. It is a uniquely thrilling experience, and I literally cannot wait to get back into the trenches, though my arms are still sore!

Maggie Gray ’17

We are two full weeks into our dig season now, and the project is off to a great start. We have been getting oriented at our new site, and everyone is getting used to our process for excavation and documentation.

Emma and Julia getting started on Trench 2

(L to R) Maggie, Axel, Ned, Lucas, and Char all finishing our sifting at the end of the day

Our students have opened up two trenches, and we have placed them where we hope we will run into the buried foundation of the house that was once on the property. We’re currently moving through top soil, and this past week, we came down on our first (very dramatic!) soil change in Trench 1. What exactly this might mean is still up for debate, and we’re excited to get back to work on Monday!

Week 2: Maggie, Char, and Julia finishing a pass through Trench 2

Week 2: Ned and Axel showing off their finds at the sieve

Week 2: Emma and Lucas coming down on our major soil change in Trench 1

Week 2: Char, Julia, and Maggie celebrate the closing of our first context in Trench 2

We’ll also be continuing our research into the history of the house we’re investigating, including the history of the family that lived here.  We’ve been discovering a great deal about the family of A. Albert and Alice Sack, who built the house in 1884 and lived there until their respective deaths in 1925 and 1933. Their son took over living in the home in 1933, and the property was sold to the Moses brown School in 1939 before the house was demolished in 1940. The whole class will be working on this research together throughout the semester, and we’ll be posting our findings here, along with some of our student projects that look at the history of buildings in Providence. Check back for the results of our research, and our students’ thoughts on their excavation experiences!

Classes are finally off and running here at Brown, and we are excited to have a great new group of students enrolled in the Archaeology of College Hill. This year, we are moving our excavations from Brown’s campus to the campus of our neighbors at the Moses Brown School. We have picked out an area for our trenches, and will be putting our trowels in the dirt for the first time on Monday.

This year’s class will be investigating what was once a separate property at the corner of Hope St. and Lloyd Ave. (next to the Moses Brown sign), where a house owned by the Sacks family stood from approx. 1884-1939. We have been doing some preliminary research at the Rhode Island Historical Society, where we’ve come across some wonderful maps like the one below, which comes out of the New Topographical Atlas of Surveys, Providence County, Rhode Island (1895).

A close-up of the Sacks Property at the corner of Hope St. and Lloyd Ave, with the Moses Brown School property to the northeast

Check back throughout the semester to hear from our students, and follow our progress as we discover more about the Sacks family, the Moses Brown School, and Providence at the turn of the 20th century! You can also follow us on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Archaeology-of-College-Hill-177595895764616/

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

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