Thursday, June 25, 2009

2009 Field School Findings

The 2009 Field School students departed on June 19 after 5 weeks of excavating in the field west of the Oval. Most of the test units are now backfilled, leaving just a few open for future study. The weather this summer was fairly cooperative since the intermittent rains kept the ground soft for digging. We enjoyed having the students here and will miss seeing the daily flurry of activity as we drive around the site.
The exciting discoveries for the season were two large postholes for an earthfast building close to the present paved road. These postholes, found during the final days of the field school, have other features associated with them which were probably storage pits within the building. The students found plenty of artifacts, such as pieces of ceramics, glass wine bottle fragments, iron nails and large amounts of crumbled brick, throughout the excavation area. These artifacts basically date from the same period as the artifacts found in other parts of the Oval site. The units also yielded evidence for gardening and fences.

The spacing of the postholes will allow field school director Dr. Doug Sanford to estimate where other postholes would likely be located. We will probably find out how large the structure was (and what it was used for) when the field school returns for another season. We thank the University of Mary Washington for making the 2009 field school season possible.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Barn Swallows

This blog entry is from our Collections Manager, Sarah Holland. I've posted it for her this week.

The sounds of baby birds chirping in their nests are usually welcome in the spring and summer months. Unfortunately, when birds decide to use a historic structure for the base of their nests, the sounds are not so pleasant. Bird nests—and their owners—present an enormous problem for Curatorial staff members, Preservation Specialists, and visitors.

Currently, some of the outbuildings at Stratford Hall are the summer homes for breeding families of Barn Swallows. Barn Swallows have off-white underparts and blue upperparts and favor open country near water. During May and early June each year, Barn Swallows will return to the same area to nest where easily accessible man-made structures provide a perfect location to build their mud pellet nests.

Stratford Hall’s Outbuildings, which interpret Slave Life, Coaching, an Overseer’s Quarters, and a Gardner’s Shed, are open to the public during visiting hours and are a perfect location for Barn Swallows to nest. To an average home-owner, Barn Swallows create a nuisance that is easily managed by installing plastic eaves and netting to the sides of their homes. Unfortunately, in a historic structure these deterrents are not a possibility.

Plastic eaves and netting hanging from the ceilings distract visitors from the atmosphere of a historic site and also cause unwanted changes to a preserved building. Simply removing the nest is also not an option. Nesting birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and removal of the birds, their nests, and other trappings is illegal.

Yet the dizzying distraction of birds flying in and out of buildings, feces on objects and building materials, and the health hazards that nests generally pose is a unique problem. We are currently letting the birds finish their mating season prior to removing, cleaning, and re-housing objects. After that, we will be working on cleaning the historic structures and using alternative methods, such as plastic owls, to deter the birds from re-nesting next year. Any suggestions are welcome. Thus, when you visit Stratford Hall, please enjoy nature at work and give the fledglings a little flying room!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Archaeological Field School at Work

The 2009 Field School in Historical Archaeology is currently exploring the field near the Oval excavations in hopes of locating additional structures associated with the farm site there. Thirteen students from the University of Mary Washington's Department of Historic Preservation are participating in a five-week summer school class to learn basic archaeological skills under the direction of Dr. Doug Sanford and two seasoned crew members. While students master excavation techniques, Stratford also reaps the rewards of their efforts--information about the landscape when the Lee family lived here.

From 2001 to 2008, previous field schools concentrated on the grassy Oval area just south of the main house, finding evidence of a complex of buildings on the site. These structures ranged from a 16 by 20-foot earthfast building with adjoining 8 by 16-foot building with brick-lined basement to a large 20 by 40-foot earthfast structure probably used as a barn. This farm complex of utilitarian structures dating from the mid-eighteenth century would have presented an aspect quite different from the present pristine view from the main house.

The excavation units opened so far have produced a wealth of artifacts--including a tremendous amount of crumbled brick. A variety of ceramics and building materials such as window glass have been found, along with prehistoric artifacts that are routinely discovered throughout the plantation. A final update on the findings of this year's field school will be posted in a few weeks.