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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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!
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.Julia Schoenewald’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.
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!
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).
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/
As you trudge up the steep path of College Hill from downtown Providence, the Van Wickle Gates and University Hall welcome you to the main campus of Brown University. University Hall’s administrative offices, bell tower and timeless colonial style has assured its place as the center of Brown’s campus. University Hall started out as the only building on Rhode Island College’s campus. It was built in 1770, modeled after Nassau Hall at Princeton, although it ended up being slightly simpler than its New Jersey counterpart. Robert Smith designed Nassau Hall in 1756 in the Georgian-Colonial style and – just like Brown’s University Hall – Nassau Hall was designed to house the entirety of New Jersey College at that time.