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

Tag: history (Page 1 of 2)

The Final Week of Digging

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

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!

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

Week 4 Excavations

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 getting to work in Trench 1

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!

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

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.

Lucas Troadec ’18

Community Archaeology Day

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!

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)

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.

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

Julia Schoenewald’17

Week 3: Ceramics Begin to Appear

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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.

 

Photo 2

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.

Photo 1

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

Excavations: Weeks 1 and 2

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.

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Emma and Julia getting started on Trench 2

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(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!

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

 

Day 2_1

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

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

MB2 Context 1 Close Candid

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!

The Archaeology of College Hill is Back!

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

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/

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!

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

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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.

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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!

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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

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)

 

 

 

A new monument to Brown’s history on the Quiet Green

As part of Brown’s 250th celebrations, a new memorial to recognize the university’s connection to (and benefits from) the transatlantic slave trade will be dedicated this Saturday, September 27th. The memorial’s location on the Quiet Green – only a few yards from the house of the first president and our excavations – serves as a reminder of the ways in which the history of the university still carries weight in our daily lives. Although one of our primary research questions involves the search for remains of the first President’s House, we’re also interested in questions of all people impacting or impacted by the spaces of the Quiet Green. This new monument, and the 250th celebrations as a whole, inspire our team to dig deeper (figuratively, and literally) into the material remains of Brown’s past. You may notice our regular fencing has been removed for the weekend, to make way for preparations for the 250th celebrations and monument dedication. Fear not! You can still stop by and check out our early progress behind the yellow safety ropes.

For more information about the events of this weekend, check out the Fall Celebration Schedule.

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