Excavation Update: Group Four

This week’s update on the progress of excavation group four comes courtesy of ANTH60a student, Megan McClory. Megan is a Brandeis University undergraduate student majoring in History.

September 18 marked the third week at the McGrath farm site, week two of actual progress; after a quiet bus ride, the last twelve students rumbled onto the gravel driveway, jumping out into the heat. It was a beautiful day, although the high temperatures drew us into the shade of one of the buildings, where Professor Parno gave a quick lecture on the different kinds of soil, an important clue on this scavenger hunt of ours. By three o’clock, the groups had separated, some heading out back where they would finally break ground and the rest of us gathering our tools: trowels, dustpans and metal buckets (sadly, no Indiana Jones style whips were found in the trunk of the teaching assistant’s car).

Group Four sifting soil from Unit 103 (Op. 1)
Group Four sifting soil from Unit 103 (Op. 1)

First, we put our new found knowledge on soil to the test in order to finish up our notes from the week before regarding the largely undisturbed top layer of dirt, called topsoil. Then everyone eagerly set to work. The three groups at the front of the property, stared down by the Barrett Farm House across the road, crouched around their respective units, each mind dancing with the possibilities of what may lie beneath the dusty soil. At unit 103, this appeared to mostly consist of ever-so-exciting-roots. At first, we were as gentle with the soil as if it were a child, but eventually, as the amount of dirt inside the buckets seemed unchanging, we put some force into each stroke, shearing the dense roots in half and pulling layers of dirt into the dustpan. Every now and then, the trowel would produce a musical ding! as rock was struck and, like Brother John being called to morning prayers from the children’s song, the three of us would look up eagerly. Several times we were fooled, until Andrew’s trowel uncovered a “stone” that was an interesting shade of red. Cautiously, we dug around it, careful not to scrape it directly with our tools for fear of damaging our first potential find. Eventually, I was able to pry it from the earth- a chunk of brick, perhaps the size of a golf ball. We grinned as we placed it gently in the artifact bag, but were quickly overshadowed by the most exciting find of the day. The eastern most unit had uncovered a large shard of glass, clearly the remains of a bottle with letters etched into its side; perhaps not the most glamorous of finds, but absolutely essential in our investigation, as this old bottle can potentially be used to date the site. Everyone’s hearts began beating. What will we find next?

Brick fragment discovered in Unit 103 (Op. 1) by Group Four
Brick fragment discovered in Unit 103 (Op. 1) by Group Four

Eventually, Unit 103 had two buckets of dirt and brought it over to be sifted, the same way one would drain the water from fresh-cooked pasta. Emma’s eyes proved sharp as she exclaimed “glass! Glass!” She held up a clear shard of finger nail sized glass. After that, we found yet more pumpkin seeds, another smaller chunk of brick, a small piece of reddish ceramic and an iron chip at first thought to be rock until its weathered colors became clear. This was the second piece of iron of the day: the western most unit had uncovered an even larger piece just before us.

Small sherd of glass found in Unit 103 (Op. 1) by Group Four
Small sherd of glass found in Unit 103 (Op. 1) by Group Four

We returned to our unit and I noticed something smooth in the south eastern corner, just below the stake that marked the edge of our unit. As this was firmly embedded in the wall of dirt, in took some maneuvering to retrieve until we held a chunk of green glass; our eyes gleamed- until we were told that it was a modern shard of a wine or beer bottle. Not everything can be old, even in an archaeology site.

We had just enough time to sift through two more buckets of dirt (which really were just buckets of dirt) before it was time to pack up for the day. Papers were scribbled on, tools were returned to trunks of cars, units were covered in tarps and the other two groups trudged, just as dirty and sweaty as the rest of us, from the back of the property. They finally began their search for evidence of an old barn that townspeople recall playing in as children. We chatted about our finds as we piled into cars and the van, eagerly anticipating cold showers and next week’s search.

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