Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Archaeology Intern

Material culture, or the artifacts recovered from archaeological excavations, act as windows into the lifeways and mentalities of those who came before us. The act of unearthing something that hasn’t been held in two hundred years is really an indescribable experience and is what I love about archaeology. I hope to bring the same passion that I feel on a dig to my archaeology internship at Stratford Hall.

The main priority of my internship project here at Stratford is to re-house the archaeological artifacts that currently reside in the basement of the Council House. They include artifacts from J. Paul Hudson’s excavations in the Mill Field from 1969 to 1975, and Fraser Neiman’s excavation of the Clifts Plantation in the Mill Field (44WM33) from June 1976 to January 1978, as well as numerous other artifacts that have been found at Stratford over the years. Working with Sarah Holland, the Collections Manager at Stratford, I’ve come up with the proper supplies needed for long-term storage of these artifacts. Thankfully, many of these items were conserved post-excavation. Therefore, despite the amount of time that has passed since their unearthing, most are still in a fairly stable condition, and will remain so with proper storage conditions.

Another goal of my internship is to catalog each and every artifact that is recovered from the Council House basement in as much detail as possible, with the expectation that the information will someday be expanded upon and entered into the
Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (or DAACS). This database, based in the Department of Archaeology at Monticello, is an invaluable resource for the interpretation of the slave-based society that developed in the Chesapeake, Carolinas, and Caribbean throughout the colonial period. It provides the researcher with comprehensive archaeological data from several sites within these regions that were at some point associated with slavery. Stratford Hall actually has one site, ST116, entered into DAACS, but the hope is to contribute more in an effort to further our understanding of the lifeways of enslaved peoples. For more information on ST116, an earthfast slave dwelling excavated by the Mary Washington College Field School, one can view its entry by Dr. Douglas Sanford.

Currently, I am going through the artifacts catalogued by J. Paul Hudson, which include both the artifacts he and the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Williamsburg Chapter, found in the Mill Field and those that had been recovered prior to that (about 7,000 total). Hudson, who at the time was a member of the Executive Board of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, recovered most of his finds from surface collections, though several hundred came from more intensive excavations, which revealed a root cellar (MF-1) and a refuse pit
(RP-1). Though the majority of artifacts in Hudson’s inventory are from the 19th century, they also run the gamut from Native American spear points to 18th century English Buckley earthenware to a 20th-century Stratford Hall souvenir cup (complete with the Stratford squirrel!). So, while I’ve gone through less than half of the artifacts at this point, I’ve already been privy to material culture from all stages of occupation of the area that is now Stratford Hall. 

Being a ceramic fanatic, my favorite find so far has been the Josiah Spode stone china transferware plates in the Temple pattern, manufactured from 1805 to 1830 (see picture). These could have been used by the Lees, who lived at Stratford Hall until 1822. While not as expensive as Chinese porcelain—which this blue and white, chinoiserie style earthenware attempted to emulate—this was by no means an inexpensive tableware, and demonstrates that either the Lees or the Somervilles were purchasing items with a certain amount of social cachet.

Next, I’ll be moving on to the artifacts recovered from Frasier Neiman’s excavations at Mill Field. Neiman, the current Director of Archaeology at Monticello, did much more extensive excavations, which led to the discovery of the Clifts Plantation. The land was owned by the Pope family from 1656 until its sale to Thomas Lee in 1718. Built in 1670, and expanded upon throughout the next 60 years, the Clifts was occupied by tenants until 1730, when it was demolished by Thomas Lee. As I’ve been working mainly with artifacts from the late-18th and 19th centuries, I’m anxious to explore the earlier ones recovered from Neiman’s excavation of the Clifts.

So, for the remainder of my internship, I anticipate a lot more tongue testing (best way to figure out what kind of pottery you have in your hand!) and the rediscovery of some awesome artifacts.

1 comment:

  1. Ejoyed the blog! Keep up the good work!

    Robert Woodard