Excavation Update: Group Three

This week’s update on the progress of excavation group three comes courtesy of ANTH60a student, Erik Howden. Erik is a Brandeis University undergraduate student majoring in Anthropology.

Things were really heating up on Day 3 of our excavation of the McGrath Farm site when scorching ground and bright sunny skies greeted our arrival at our old test pits in Operation 1, now stripped of topsoil. While the group at Operation 3 back towards the river had some dappled shade as they finally laid out their test pits after working so hard to clear the area of debris, those of us over in Operation 1 squinted at the ground as we troweled our way down past the topsoil and into the next layer of more artifact rich dirt. My group was among those chosen to excavate the site attributed to an old bunkhouse in the front yard and, unlike the other two test pits whose next layer remained similar to the topsoil above, we found that the ground below our feet changed almost immediately to a lighter colored and gravellier rocky soil. This was exciting for my team because not only did it make sifting through soil that much easier without nearly as many roots, but it eased our worries that we wouldn’t be able to identify the start of our next layer by any change in soil. This different color soil matches closely with what we saw on the surface of the sight, where fewer plants grew on the rising mound that our group was digging on and less plant material was then deposited back into the ground.

Erik and Jenn of Group 3, screening for artifacts
Erik and Jenn of Group 3, screening for artifacts

Moving our way through this second layer our group mostly found rocks and the occasional piece of charcoal until a sudden glint of white caught my attention against the back of one of my teammates trowels. We rushed back to see what the piece was an identified it as a beautiful piece of bright white porcelain, the design on the molded edges catching in the sunlight. Looking excitedly at our first inorganic find at the site, we identified the artifact as a porcelain shard by looking at the broken side of the fragment and recognizing both the sharp edges and how the bluish-white color of the fabric, or interior body of the pottery, was uniform throughout the shard because of the high temperatures that porcelain is fired at.

Porcelain flatware sherd found in Unit 102 (Op. 1) by Group 3
Porcelain flatware sherd found in Unit 102 (Op. 1) by Group 3

Once our group had our hands on this first exciting find, we were hooked on digging for more. Moving our way further along to even rockier dirt, our first chance to sift through our buckets of soil began turning up our first heavily corroded pieces of iron and some iron nails. These small nails held our attention as we checked every twig we found to make sure it was not some small nail in disguise. The other constant in our layer of soil was a heavy concentration of small pieces of charcoal that could have come from some sort of fire or might have acted as a potential heat source in the bunkhouse.

Iron chain segment found in Unit 102 (Op. 1) by Group 3
Iron chain segment found in Unit 102 (Op. 1) by Group 3

Just as we were finishing up with our first bucket, Professor Parno comes up to our team with a rusted chunk of metal that he said that he had pulled out of our site right underneath where we had left off digging along the northwest edge of our pit. All jealousies aside, our team turned our attention to the artifact and identified the shape of the metal as a set of iron chain links, one linked to the other, that may come from old farming tools or have held something in the bunkhouse in place. These iron chains sparked such interest because most other metal artifacts larger than a nail that we have come across are largely unidentifiable because of the heavy corrosion on their bodies. While each of the other two groups joining us in Operation 1 were discussing the pieces of glass, one embossed and clear and the other green but un-embossed, that each of them had respectively found, our group contented itself with our porcelain find and all of the metal artifacts we pulled out of the ground. It remains to be seen why our test pit differs so strongly in its contents from the other two test pits we must hold constant vigilance in relation to each other as we figure out how these differences relate to the bunkhouse that once stood here.


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