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

Tag: sifting

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!

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.

Excavation continued on the Quiet Green on Monday, September 30th. We had another spectacularly beautiful day and made a lot of progress.

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑